Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, are seen in this undated photo provided by his family. ((Associated Press))

An American rabbi and his wife slain in a hostage-taking at a Mumbai Jewish centre were remembered for their dedication to their faith by members of the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Canada.

Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who ran the Chabad centre in Mumbai, were among five hostages found dead on Friday, a spokesperson for the movement said Friday.

The couple's 18-month-old son was one of three people rescued from the centre on Thursday.

Rabbi Schneur Silberstein, director of the Ville-Saint-Laurent Chabad Centre in Montreal, said his brother knew Gavriel Holtzberg.

"They studied together in yeshiva," Silberstein said. "My brother is a rabbi, a Chabad rabbi, in Westchester. And … he's taking it as hard as we all are."

Silberstein said the Holtzbergs decided to dedicate themselves to their mission shortly after they married.

"They moved out to Mumbai in India selflessly," he said. "Her family lives in Israel. His family lives in New York. On their own, they moved out there, and they established a really wonderful little community."

The Chabad centre in Mumbai had a synagogue, a social hall and apartments for guests, Silberstein said. It was set up to give Jews visiting India a place to feel at home, to get kosher food and to connect with their heritage.

The death of the Holtzbergs was mourned in Western Canada as well.


Rabbi Dovid Pinson, of the Edmonton Chabad Centre, knew Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg as a child growing up in New York City. Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, were among five hostages slain at the Chabad centre in Mumbai. ((CBC))

"It is really hard,"  said Rabbi Dovid Pinson of the Edmonton Chabad Centre. "I cried last night."

Gavriel Holtzberg was friends with Pinson's brother, and he had lived just a block and half from his home in New York City.

"I always remember him being studious, studying, always kind, always friendly, always had nice things to say,"  Pinson said. "I remember him and my brother studying at different times together and doing things together."

Pinson said he spoke to his brother Friday morning, and the news was hard for him to take. 

"When we hear this news, we just have to encourage ourselves and be strong and do more acts of goodness and kindness," Pinson said.

In Montreal, Silberstein said that the performance of good deeds is the way to counteract the destruction, death and darkness that attacks like the ones in Mumbai bring to the world.

"Our objective, as well as all of the good people in the world's objective, is to bring light. We fight darkness with light," he said.