I kept pestering him. When you say Indian-Israeli Jews are mostly “right of center,” what do you mean? When you say you are “left of center,” what does that mean? Israel, I reminded him, is a turbulent soup of political parties, some palatable, some indigestible. Hit me with something meaningful.
Yitzhak Ashkenazy, an Israeli businessman from Calcutta, set aside his tuna fish salad and looked at me as if I had just landed at his table. We were sitting in the Sheva Kochavim (Seven Stars) mall in Herzliya. A cavernous sprawl of food, gowns, shoes, shampoos. Every level was as crammed and identical as every other. The undifferentiated topography made me lose my way coming back from the bathroom. A kindly mall Sherpa had to guide me back to Ashkenazy.
“I was not going to mention this, but since you keep asking about the politics of Indian-Israelis…” He fell silent, perhaps considering whether to just drop the entire subject. “I am a survivor of a suicide bombing. The only suicide bombing ever in Herzliya.”
My tape recorder at that moment looked to me like some stupid device that had no place at the table. A squat, silver and black alien that I had brought in.
“It was at the Jamil Restaurant, a shwarma restaurant (2002.) The terrorist was right behind me. The blast sent me flying across the restaurant, but I was not hurt. My son Jonathan, who was eleven then, lost an eye. A teenage girl was killed. She died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.”
His soft, uninflected words threw me. What had I thought? That the impact of such a narrative would break glass? It hadn’t occurred to me that the breaking of a father’s heart was a silent act.
“Indian-Israelis were pushed to the right by the suicide bombings, just like many Israelis. My wife, from Argentina, had always voted for Meretz, a left-wing party. Ever since then, she supports right-wing Likud. Jonathan also votes for Likud.”
“But you don’t. Why not?”
“I think if there is a peace candidate to vote for, we should vote for peace. But I don’t see anyone I can vote for. Also, I am not sure the other side wants peace with us. I have my doubts. I don’t know how we go forward from here.”
I didn’t say so, but I wanted to say I thought it was done his way. By stepping into the darkness with a foot that knew the depth of darkness, but was still willing to engage it. By looking for a seam of light through the absence of a son’s eye.
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Robert Hirschfield is a freelance writer and photographer whose work appears in Ode Magazine, The National Catholic Reporter, Outlook (the Indian newsweekly), and the London Jewish Chronicle, among other publications. He has travelled most recently to north and South India, and to Israel and the West Bank.
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