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Sunday, August 01, 2010

The sharp edges of our tiny Jewish world

A week or two ago I wrote about a 'small Jewish world' experience where I was able to reconnect an Indian client of mine visiting Israel with his long-retired former headmaster living in Rishon LeZion.

For me, this was a wonderful experience... not only because I got to vicariously enjoy the reunion of these two people more than 40 years after they had inhabited the same proximal sphere... but also because I got to make the acquaintance of an Indian Immigrant who I would otherwise never have met.

The fact of playing the Israeli host and being able to take part in such a joyous visit to a complete stranger was wonderful.

This Shabbat I was in Mumbai and attended services at the old Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue there.  While there, I was able to reconnect with the gentlemen who had suggested to my Indian client they he look up their former headmaster during his Israel trip. 

When I approached this gentleman after Friday night services to personally thank him for making the connection, I was unprepared for his reaction.  The old man's face fell, and he looked positively stricken.  After a moment, he said, "Oh my... you must have just arrived and missed the news".

I have to admit that when I'm abroad I tend not to follow Israeli news too closely because it can really play with my focus... so standing there I had to shake my head and ask him what he was referring to.  The only events I was aware of were some relatively small exchanges of hostilities with Hamas in Gaza, and a tragic Israeli Air Force helicopter crash during a training exercise in Romania... but I couldn't imagine that either of these were what he was talking about.

He explained that the retired headmaster I had met with my client had suffered a terrible personal tragedy.  One of the officers killed in Romania had been his grandson... the child of his oldest daughter. 

As he told me, the scene played back in my mind of our last few minutes with the old man and his wife in Rishon.  As we'd stood in their homey foyer preparing to say our good-byes, they had proudly pointed out all the family photographs of the children they had brought from India to Israel, as well as the many grandchildren they had raised to be proud Israelis.  In my mind's eye I could still see the photograph of their oldest daughter and her children, smiling sometime in the past... blissfully unaware of a future tragedy. 

On Friday, just hours before I received this terrible news from an Indian in Mumbai, the remains of the fallen Israeli airmen had been returned to their families for burial... and one by one, just a few hours before shabbat, each of these grieving families buried a part of their lives... a part of their dreams.

How strange that an Indian visiting Israel should cause me to make the happy acquaintance of this former headmaster.  And then only a few weeks later, I would find myself in Mumbai learning that I would have to phone this same headmaster as he and his family sat grappling with such a horrible loss.

As shabbat was ending here, I sat here in my hotel room watching the sunset over the Arabian Sea... knowing that it would take several hours to move far enough across the sky towards Israel so that Shabbat would be over there, and I could make that phone call.  It's almost time.

Yes, there are some wonderful aspects to being a part of such a small, interconnected community.  But there are sharp edges to this tiny Jewish world of ours. 

Posted by David Bogner on August 1, 2010 | Permalink

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Ohhhh...I'm so upset after reading this...Baruch Dayan Emet...that poor man and his family. The sharp edges of which you speak are profoundly far-reaching. It hurt to read this news.

Posted by: Erica | Aug 1, 2010 11:01:41 AM

A personal connection to a story that might otherwise have blown over you, like a harsh wind. Consider it a blessing and a gift.

Posted by: Morey Altman | Aug 1, 2010 4:02:30 PM

The connection that you made with him, while painful in a way, will also allow you to be yet another person who can give him comfort.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Aug 1, 2010 6:23:04 PM

So very sad!

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Aug 1, 2010 9:51:26 PM

Morey said it better than I. Perhaps take solace in the fact that the old headmaster was able to share the joy his family has brought him, so that you can share in his grief.

Posted by: Jethro | Aug 1, 2010 10:03:53 PM

So sorry to hear.

Posted by: Dina | Aug 2, 2010 9:37:47 AM

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