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The Knot in the Pit of My Stomach: Reflections on Mumbai

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The Knot in the Pit of My Stomach

Thanksgiving has come and gone. Some are still suffering from too much of a good thing.  Many rushed off before dawn’s early light to do some power shopping. You won’t find me  out there.  I’m a poor shopper in the best of times.  Getting up early to stand in line in the cold and dark does not appear on my list of  favorite activities.  So, the Black Friday boycott is no stretch for me.

Thanksgiving was lovely but exhausting.  I got organized a week or more out, our crowd was smaller than usual, but the holiday still takes a lot out of me.  Also, it was the first Thanksgiving in nineteen years that Mick, our youngest, is not with us.  This year, he’s enjoying an academic program abroad. While we were sitting around our festive table,  he was gallivanting in Greece. Next week he’ll be in Bulgaria.  And, at some point during the year, the plan is to head to India, as well as other exotic destinations.  

Which brings me to  what’s been going on the last few days in Mumbai.  If you watch television regularly, this story would have been hard to miss.  In fact, one website protested about how much coverage CNN and BBC were giving this story. Brasscheck TV saw this as just another example of media distraction, when the media should have been focusing on the billions of dollars that are going to banks, essentially rewarded for their bad behavior.

Since I was busy in the kitchen the last few days and concentrating on the upcoming holiday, I was only dimly aware that anything was going on Over There. In fact, when I received the email from Brasscheck, I posted it to OpEdNews without thinking too much about it.  The corporate media do spend too much time changing the subject.  Only later did I realize the extent of the terrorist attacks and the number of casualties – 160 dead and over 300 wounded.  And then it started – that knot in the pit of my stomach.

I was initially unaware that the Chabad House, referred to by CNN as the Jewish Center, was one of the ten terrorist targets. There are Chabad Houses in some far-flung and remote locations; the one in Mumbai is quite popular.  Many Jewish travelers pass through Mumbai; it is a large urban center, the country’s financial capital, and home of Bollywood, their native-grown film industry. Chabad Houses welcome everyone, regardless of their level of religiosity.  In intolerant times, they are a notable exception. The Chabad movement is famous for its outreach; many college students away from home for the first time, seek out Chabad as a link and reminder of their Jewish roots.  The same is true for Jewish travelers, longing for a taste of home.  
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The news coverage that I saw tended to focus primarily on the two hotels under attack and it was hard to discern exactly what was happening at Nariman House, as the Chabad facility in Mumbai is known.  Hostages were trapped inside. The rabbi’s two-year old was whisked out of the building by his nanny, his shirt covered in blood.  There were reports that the rabbi and his wife were alive but unconscious.  Things did not sound promising.

I heard a few hours ago, that the siege of Nariman House is finally over but that the American-born rabbi and his wife were found dead inside, along with three other hostages. My heart went out to their toddler, now an orphan.  And the knot in the pit of my stomach remains.  

The Chabad House was an institution catering to foreign guests in the same way the two targeted hotels did.  At the hotels, Indians and many foreigners were killed but Americans and Britons were singled out. The terrorists asked the hotel receptionists for lists of the guests, by nationality. The Chabad House was targeted solely because it is a Jewish site, with Jews inside.  If you are both American and Jewish, that makes you doubly vulnerable. I hate that feeling.

Terrorists can pop up literally anywhere, at any time. Luxury liners can be invaded in the middle of the ocean.  It happened in 1985, when the Achille Lauro was hijacked by terrorists off the coast of Egypt. A wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, was murdered and dumped overboard. Nowhere feels very safe these days. And let’s not forget our homegrown crazies who blow up federal buildings killing hundreds and injuring hundreds more (Oklahoma City), disgruntled students slaughtering their fellow students (Columbine and elsewhere), and others who go “postal” for unknown reasons at shopping malls, universities, and post offices.

My son is traveling the world now and I admit that I fear for him.  I’ve done my best to teach him to use good judgment, to make good choices.  But sometimes, things happen that have nothing to do with our choices or our good judgment. I realize that, even if Mick were home now, my usual, low-grade anxiety would not disappear.  That is simply a function of being a mom.  It’s in the small print of the job description.  Once you give birth, you get a long-term, lifetime contract on worry.  Still, this is different.

There’s something very yin/yang about the timing of all this.  Here we were, right in the middle of our Thanksgiving celebration, grateful for family, friends, and our good health. And, once again, we were struck by the very precariousness of it all.

I got an email from my synagogue a little while ago in response to what happened in Mumbai.  People are gathering this afternoon and walking over to our local Chabad House to offer solace, solidarity, and Sabbath prayer.  I liked this option a lot.  It’s something we can do, together. It doesn’t make the pain go away but it does help. I think I feel that knot loosening a little.
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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Joan:   Just read your message/posting below.... by Mike Ridgway on Saturday, Nov 29, 2008 at 2:27:50 AM
"Terrorists can pop up literally anywhere, at... by Mad Jayhawk on Sunday, Nov 30, 2008 at 12:35:25 AM
 thanks for writing.i did leave off 9/11 and ... by Joan Brunwasser on Sunday, Nov 30, 2008 at 7:06:07 AM
...the U.S. is gearing up for something nasty (par... by Jill Herendeen on Tuesday, Dec 2, 2008 at 8:16:02 AM