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Remembering 26/11: A tour of the Nariman Lighthouse

Nandana James Mumbai | Updated on December 30, 2019 Published on December 30, 2019

File photo of Rabbi Israel Kozlovsky next to a wall riddled with bullet holes after the renaming of Nariman House as Nariman Light House, which was one of the targets of the November 26, 2008 attacks in 2018   -  REUTERS

Rabbi Israel Kozlovsky wants visitors to transform after visiting the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack site formerly known as Nariman House

By the end of a narrow, nondescript bylane in Colaba, the Nariman Lighthouse stands tall, its walls still speaking stories of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.

Being one of the many sites of the terror attack, it still bears remnants of its past horrors, unlike the others. The walls and ceilings of the fourth and fifth floor are ridden with holes left by grenades and bullets. And at the rooftop, shafts of sunlight illuminate the names of all the victims of the terror attack, which are inscribed on a greyish-black monument.

The top three floors of this six-storeyed building were reopened as a museum and memorial by the Chabad of India Trust, which owns the museum, two months ago. Now flanked by a huge fortified entrance and bulletproof windows, this Jewish community place was previously known as Nariman House.

However, the museum is still a work in progress, so to speak.

While a monument with the names of the 26/11 victims has been built at the rooftop, the fourth and fifth floors are mostly empty spaces: its walls and ceilings symptomatic of the ravages of the terror attack.

Rabbi Israel Kozlovsky, the trustee who heads the Nariman Lighthouse, said that the trust wants the museum in its completed form to be more than just a museum, and that it shouldn’t just be a mere repository of information about the past.

He said, “We are not only looking at the past, but what we are looking for is, after understanding what happened in the past, the next phase is, what now? The core of the place is, what am I going to do about it? What am I going to do when I walk out of this place?”

Kozlovsky emphasised on the need for every individual to have a sense of social responsibility, which is what he envisages the museum in its completed form to accord people with.

After the expansion plans are completed at the fourth and fifth floor, Kozlovsky envisions the ultimate goal of the museum to enable people to see what happened in the past, come face-to-face with those disconcerting details, and leave the place not unfazed, but with a sense of social responsibility to engage in acts which are in stark contrast to what instigated the attacks.

So far, as direct investments, the trust has raised ₹2.5 crore, which has mostly been directed towards creating the monument at the rooftop. It would need to raise more than ₹20 crore for the museum’s expansion plan to be completed, he said. Once the funds are procured, the trust is looking at finishing the expansion plans in nine-ten months.

It is keen to collaborate with Indian partners for the planned expansion. Being a local NGO that was started in 2005, the Chabad of India Trust is fully dependent on donations from companies for this expansion plan to materialise.

After 26/11, the place was reopened to Jews in 2012. Even after four years, the walls bore bloodstains and was in a shambles, as dearth of funds had stalled its renovation. The same year, Kozlovsky and his wife Chaya Kozlovsky, assumed positions as co-directors of the Chabad House, and set out to restore and rebuild the same. The museum has been in a conceptual stage for the past five years, with the actual work around the memorial on the rooftop having started a year and a half ago.

Experience centre

Currently, a typical tour of the museum starts with the monument on the rooftop and proceeds to the fifth and fourth floors. A tour guide explains the events that unravelled during those three fateful days, while also recounting stories of the survivors.

The museum, in its completed form, is meant to enable people to relive the horrors of the attack, so that they are galvanised to defeat the very repugnant forces behind it, Kozlovsky said.

For this to happen, he wants the experience centre they are planning at the fourth floor - where people were held hostage and killed - to make people “lose their ground” and be impelled.

The experience centre would start with pitch darkness, fraught with sounds of explosions and other details of the three-day siege. This would be followed by areas of light, replete with positive messages centering around the theme ‘from darkness to light’.

This is not an abstract concept, but only acts of goodness, symbolised by light here, can nullify the darkness in society, says Kozlovsky.

He cites the example of movies about wars and conflict, and how people often find themselves far removed from it, to drive his point home. “As you watch it, you could be having popcorn. It’s not something that surrounds you, that immerses you. The experience centre is designed for the visitor to actually get the real shock of it and for it to then motivate and move you towards taking action.”

The fifth floor will focus on what is considered the miraculous survival of two-year-old Moshe, who was saved by his nanny and a worker, while his parents — Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his pregnant wife Rivkah — were killed in the attack. The fifth floor in its final form will also provide a glimpse into Jewish culture and life.

The three-day long attack in Nariman House claimed the lives of Holtzberg, his wife Rivkah, four persons visiting the Chabad House and one of the NSG Commandos engaged in the rescue operation.

‘We need to take action’

“26/11 was 11 years ago, but has the world turned to a better place in these past 11 years? I am not sure, I think probably not. It means that we need to take action, we need to understand what we need to do, how to deal with the issue. You may not be the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister, but even as civilians, there is something that we need to do. It is extremely important that we as a society, as human beings, we take this responsibility,” Kozlovsky said.

Published on December 30, 2019
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