She went to Israel to have child in a ‘peaceful’ environment, recalls a shaken Chabad House

Six months ago, when four-year-old Yousef, the eldest child of Mira and Schilach Rabbi Schumel Schraf, left Chabad House in Delhi's Paharganj area for Israel, he drew a caricature of a man with a hat, three lines marking the contours of his face and his moustache half done in black ink on a piece of paper. Perhaps he would have completed it on his return to India two weeks from now. The room he and his two younger siblings left behind is intact — the cartoons on the doors, the half-folded clothes, a rattle, a bib in the wooden crib.

Yousef, his parents and his two siblings — Chana (2) and Geoulah (9 months) — left in a hurry that day; their visas were expiring soon. The couple went to Israel as Schmuel was on his way to a global conference of rabbis in New York. It was on Mira's insistence that they left for Israel since she wanted to be in a more "peaceful" environment as she was expecting her fourth child. Before leaving, her last words to the acting Rabbi Akiva and his wife Chaya were "spread happiness, help all".

Little did anybody know that would be Mira's last visit to India. She was among the three Israelis killed in a militant rocket attack Thursday as the conflict over Gaza escalated. Hamas militants fired rockets on the small southern town of Khiriyat Malachi and blew up the top floor of a four-storey apartment, killing three, including Mira, 27. Schmuel, 30, and Yousef suffered "medium injuries".

"The incident has come as a shock to all of us," said Rimon Ezra, the sponsor of the Paharganj Chabad House, who knew Mira well. "Such a peace-loving woman she was. Although frail, she was highly energetic and always ready to reach out to those in need. She was a pioneer in running the establishment along with her husband. We lost two people; Mira and the baby inside her."

Mira belonged to the 'Aohan' tribe — a small, orthodox community all of whose members usually work as priests. The Schrafs first arrived in India five years ago, and since then, would spend six months in Israel and six months in India, as per their visa permit.

"Mira was devoted to her service and helped everyone. She ensured every visitor to the Chabad house was well taken care of, and was the centre of all activities. She was a very religious person. How could she have been made a target?" said Ezra.

Chaya said she had spoken to Rabbi Schmuel, and he was trying to be brave. "He was upset he couldn't attend his own wife's funeral in Jerusalem since he was in hospital. He is stable now. All the shrapnels have been removed from his body and head. He told me we should all be strong and continue the way Mira wanted the Chabad house to function," said Chaya, who is helping her husband run the house in the absence of Rabbi Schmuel.

Adding that Mira "will live in us forever", she added: "This house is not simple to manage. Mira changed her regular lifestyle only to come down to India and help people here, to give to people she didn't even know."

Cook Gopal, who has been at the Chabad house for three years now, remembers Mira as a "quiet and reserved woman who was very helpful and always had a smile on her face. She never treated us as inferior to her and helped us with the cooking and other household chores".

At the house, visitors have organised prayers in her remembrance. A packet containing a candle and a note in Hebrew which reads "Everyone will put more light in the world for Mira Schraf... At 17:05 everyone will light the ' shabbat' candle in India and the world over" is being distributed.

The poster next to her picture on the wall reads "Everyone will do one good deed for Mira, her husband and their three children, to help each other and be kind and happy".

Pointing to the room in a corner on the second floor of the Chabad house where the Scrafs stayed, Chaya said: "It was hard for me to sleep yesterday... My husband and I slept in the same room as they did." The room is bare but for a bed, a wooden cupboard and a full-length mirror.

Rimon said he feels for the children. "The children were always a great presence in the house. Yousef is a very intelligent boy. Although four, he behaves like a young Rabbi participating in one activity everyday. I don't know how the children will deal with their mother's death. We have lost a piece of an ornament. She was the nucleus of the house. Words fall short. This is a great loss."

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