The orphan, the nanny, and a tale of hope from Mumbai

Son of the rabbi killed in the terror attacks is building a new life in Israel with the carer who saved his life

Looking at the rosy-cheeked toddler kicking over his building-block tower in an Israeli living room with typical childish abandon, it is hard to imagine that just two weeks ago, and a continent away, he was wailing forlornly, his parents lifeless beside him, their blood soaking into his baby clothes.

Having escaped the clutches of the militants who brought carnage to the streets of Mumbai, Moshe Holtzberg is now – quite literally – in safe hands. They are those of Sandra Samuel, the Indian nanny who heard his cries and whisked him out of harm's way.

The last time the world saw the two-year-old, it was at a memorial service for his parents in the Indian city, his anguished cries for his mother, "Ima, Ima, Ima", reverberating through the hushed ranks of mourners. Now the boy dubbed the Miracle of Mumbai is dancing along to songs ahead of the Jewish Hanukkah holiday, and excitedly exclaiming "big candy" at images of sweets that pop up on television.

"He is like a normal kid, just enjoying himself. He has gotten used to other people surrounding him," Ms Samuel explains. "He loves it here. He is in very good condition, just like normal. He is having his breakfast, lunch and snacks and he sleeps very well now."

The nanny and her charge are staying at the home of Moshe's great uncle, the orthodox rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman, the spiritual leader of this small town in northern Israel and head of its Migdal Ohr educational institution. In a few days, they are due to move to the home of the toddler's maternal grandparents in nearby Afula.

Ms Samuel has been Moshe's live-in nanny since he was 10 days old, tending to him round the clock, feeding him in the morning and reading him nursery rhymes at night. The 44-year-old has two grown-up sons of her own back in India, but has no intention of abandoning her young charge any time soon. Israel will be home for six months, maybe a year, "it depends on how the baby is getting used to his family".

She is clearly satisfied that Moshe is well. But she dismisses the idea she is a hero, saying it is inconceivable that she would not have responded to Moshe's cry. "How could any baby call a person's name and that person not go at once. How could it be?" And she voices deep regret at not having thought about the boy's parents – Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg and wife Rivka – during the ordeal. All thoughts were on the child. "I'm not an angel. If I was brave I would have given the baby to Jacky [a colleague] and done something for my rabbi and Rivki ... I didn't think. The baby was more important to me so I took him."

The Holtzberg family ran the Chabad Jewish religious centre and guesthouse in Mumbai, buildings that were to witness one of the bloodiest hold-outs in the series of attacks that rocked Mumbai last month. Army commandos rappelled from helicopters on to the roof; others blew a hole in a wall to get in and oust the stubborn militants. Yet despite these efforts, seven people at Chabad House were to die at the hands of the militants. And had Ms Samuel's son come to collect her for the evening as he did most Wednesdays, that death toll would probably have included little Moshe. But her son didn't show and so she was there at the time of the attack. "God kept me there because God already knew what would happen," is the explanation given.

When the militants' assault began late on Wednesday, she hid between two refrigerators in a first-floor storeroom with a fellow worker, and stayed there until she heard Moshe calling her name the next morning. "I heard bombs that sounded like balloons and I came from the kitchen shouting at children, 'Why are you making noises?' As I went to the corner of the first floor, I saw one boy shooting at me and I moved back and closed the door. I still didn't think it was serious but then I heard lots of shots and bombs going off. Even now it seems like a dream, it's not settled in my mind."

In the storeroom, Ms Samuel recalled, "I was saying God's name, Jesus's name, the Holy Spirit's name. There is strength from these names." She said she kept thinking about Moshe. "I was thinking of the baby, I was not thinking of Rabbi Gaby. I had full hope he would come out of it. I was telling the Lord, just keep my baby safe."

On Thursday at 10.45am she heard Moshe crying one floor above her. "He was just crying my name – 'Sandra. Sandra'," she says. When she got to the room from which the cries emanated, she saw the child's parents on the floor. "They were not hurt. Rabbi Gaby had a little fresh blood next to his feet. Rivki was on the floor, it was like she was sleeping. They looked like they were asleep. I gave a look, picked him up and ran. I ran without anything. Just his doll. I picked the doll up because he is used to that doll."

For the first four nights after the attack, Moshe would wake every night, wanting his parents. Now, Ms Samuel says, he sleeps soundly and no longer mentions mum and dad. "He is not even asking for them now because he is too happy. He loves it here. He has swings, a garden, a see-saw." The trappings may be those of an ordinary toddler, but the little boy enjoying them is anything but.

Readers wishing to donate to The Moshe Fund can do so by calling 00 972 4849 5570

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Life and Style
healthMovember isn't about a moustache trend, it saves lives
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities