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Mumbai Doctor Smashed Idols and Became a Jew with Holtzbergs

In a powerful echo of the Biblical story of Abraham, a Mumbai doctor smashed his father's idols and later became a Jew in the Nariman Chabad House.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 11/19/2009, 4:31 PM / Last Update: 11/19/2009, 10:54 PM

In a powerful echo of the Biblical story of the patriarch Abraham, a Mumbai doctor smashed his father's idols and eventually decided to become a Jew in the Land of Israel.

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Dr. Aharon Abraham, left his position as Director of the ICU Medical Center at British Kennedy in Mumbai, India after terrorists murdered his spiritual guide and his wife, Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg one year ago.

Abraham was born Vagirds Frads to a Hindu cleric who worshipped idols, and a mother who prepared food for them.  As did the Biblical Abraham, young Vagirds could not understand how his father could honor a man-made statue, nor why his mother would cook for them. "Sometimes I eat it in secret," he confided in an article that appeared in Hebrew in Sichat HaShavuah.

Unlike the patriarch, however, he waited until after graduating high school to confront his father, asking how he could believe "such nonsense." But when there was no reply, his anger led him to take a hammer and smash the idols, exactly as Abraham had done. "The gods are angry!" his father shouted at him, he recounted, and recalled his reply: "If they're angry, let them do something, reconstruct themselves..."

It was while studying medicine at the University of Mumbai that he first read a Bible, given to him by Christian students. Amazed, he read the story of Abraham and many others. "A new world opened before me," he said.

The woman he married, a nurse, was equally interested in his Bible studies, and after their wedding the couple changed their family name to "Abraham," to honor the patriarch. Vagirds became Aaron, because "the priest was a wonderful person, full of glory," he explained.

Eventually the couple decided to convert, and began studying Judaism in earnest with Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, Chabad emmissaries to Mumbai.

"Our whole life centered around the Chabad House," said Abraham. "It was the only place where we could get kosher food. Gabi and Rivky were our guides, we did not move without them. We began a process of true conversion and found the extraordinary beauty of the Torah commandments."

It was the brutal murder of the Holtzbergs and their four guests at the Nariman Chabad House that changed their lives forever, however. "They took away my Master... But what we learned from Gabi and Rivki will accompany us and our children forever."

This week, the couple completed their conversion and remarried in a truly kosher Jewish ceremony at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron, on the first anniversary of the murder of their friends and spiritual guides, Gabi and Rivky. 

The couple's three children also have new names as well: Sarah, Shmuel Gavriel, and Sharonah Rivka, in memory of the matriarch Sarah, wife of Abraham, and to forever keep alive the memories of Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg.

The Jewish community of Hevron will be holding their annual dinner in New York this Saturday night.