Susan Bloch

Susan BlochSusan Bloch is a writer and management consultant. Susan has recently published in The Huffington Post, Seattle Business Magazine, Secret Histories, Tikkun, and www.234journal.com. She has also co-authored four books on leadership including The Global You and How to Manage in a Flat World and Complete Leadership.

A London based business consultant to many Fortune 500 companies, Susan spent three and a half years living and working in India, after her husband passed away. She was an insider and witness to the Mumbai Massacre. “The Mumbai Massacre” is an excerpt from her memoir-in-progress, tentatively titled, Monsoon Meshugas: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Daring. Susan now lives in Seattle. http://www.globallearnings.com

 

The Mumbai Massacre

Day 1: My Mumbai Apartment

November 26, 2008, began as a typical evening in Mumbai. Mothers kissed their children goodnight, set their alarm clocks and bid their servants a pleasant evening. Apartments turned dark. At Habad House, a Jewish learning center and home to the Holtzberg family, two-year-old Moshe dozed off sucking on his pacifier. A nightlight glowed in the electric socket near his crib so that he would not be scared of the dark.

That night no one had a clue that the benign hubbub of India’s cosmopolitan city was about to be shattered. Not the security men chatting at hotel entrances; not the families licking lollypops on the promenade; not the young lovers perched on large boulders and gazing at the rising moon. No one noticed the dinghy bearing ten terrorists from Pakistan, members of the Islamic terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, sneaking through the maze of fishermen’s boats.

Armed with hand grenades, AK-47s, Colts, machine guns and satellite phones, the gunmen clambered onto the shore. They fanned out through the downtown tourist and commercial districts, and went on a rampage, targeting popular tourist hotels and restaurants.

A call from a colleague alerted me that there had been “sounds of shooting” downtown. From my Mumbai apartment, I could see an orange cloud rise above the smog. Explosions ripped through the city and a charred smell filled the air. Recently widowed I’d moved from London to live and work in India, hopeful that a change of scenery might help me deal with my grief. I’d defied all logic, resigned from a leadership position in a global consultancy and rented out the family home in Islington, London. Vibrant colors, spicy food, scenes of extreme opulence and heartbreaking poverty became my new way of life. I learned to smell the fragrance of ripe mangoes, taste green cardamom in curry gravies and enjoy sensual midriffs shyly peering out from under silk saris. There had been so much solitude after asbestos poisoning robbed my husband, John, of his life. And me of my cherished partner. Now, the energy all around was bringing me back to life. Importantly, I didn’t feel lonely anymore.

As the Chief Learning Officer of an international Indian conglomerate, I worked alongside teams all over the country. We reviewed operations and strategic plans in the retail business, financial services, iron ore mines, and the fertilizer factories. I was recovering some balance and living a normal, productive life when the terrorists attacked.

I stared at the newscast as I fumbled with the cap on a bottle of water and gulped it all down in one go. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. These terrorists had struck right at the heart of the modern acropolis. Without realizing it, I crushed the water bottle in my hand.

One of the terrorist spokesmen called into the NDTV newsroom.

“We want you must release all the Pakistani mujahedeen, our Islamic brothers that your government is holding in jail in India,” he shouted over the background din. Screams and cries echoed through the microphone. “Until we have them we looking for Britishers, the Jewish, Israeelees and Americans. This is no joking.”

Before his location could be traced, he cut off the call from his satellite phone. Hotel guests sent texts and tweets to the outside world describing how they were hiding in closets and behind shower curtains; how they’d been smacked across their cheeks, kicked, and pushed onto the floor face down. How they’d been stripped of Rolex watches, wedding rings, credit cards and cash. The Indian police and army struggled to coordinate a response. In the midst of the pandemonium, newscasters bellowed above the explosions.

“You can see the Taj Mahal Hotel, it is burning,” shrieked a distraught reporter, crawling along on her belly like a soldier under fire. Her face was barely visible through the smoke. “My god,” she sputtered, “there are so many people in that inferno. In there dying. Someone just jumped out a window.”

It seemed surreal. Earlier that evening I’d dined at the Taj Mahal Hotel with Vijay, my company’s Director of Operations. The legendary hotel was a regular haunt of mine, with lush Persian carpets and Ionic columns gracing the lobby. Over a feast of potato samosas, lentil soup, curried vegetables, garlic naan, chili crab, saffron rice, and fresh coconut, we talked shop. After dinner, we drank spicy chai and made plans for the leadership team’s workshop. Only a few hours later it was hard to believe that those plans were futile. The hotel was now a war zone and the city in lockdown.

I knew what it was like to be under attack. Trapped, ambushed, unprepared, and terrified. I couldn’t help but remember my time in Israel at the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur war when Egyptian tanks crossed the Suez Canal determined to destroy the Jewish state. Those wailing ambulance sirens that I could hear in Mumbai — rushing the wounded and dying to emergency hospital rooms — sounded all too familiar.

As a young wife and mother in Tel Aviv, I’d been through numerous unnerving terrorist incursions. When invaders from Lebanon had hijacked a bus towards the city and then escaped into nearby orange groves, I’d sat alone in the dark living room of our small house, a revolver in my lap, cringing at the slightest noise. My son and daughter, both under the age of nine were asleep in their bedroom.

Now, in my Mumbai living room watching the horror on television, I wasn’t quite sure why this attack felt different. Maybe it was because I felt so isolated and alone in a foreign country. My chest felt heavy. My head began to throb. This time round would I be able to cope?

I closed my eyes and wished my family weren’t so far away, on the other side of the world. I feared that I might not see my kids and grandchildren again. Distraught, I went out onto my verandah. I leaned over the rusty railings tormented by the nearby flames. Was I far enough away from the disaster zone? The only white person in my huge apartment complex, they’d find me easily by threatening the receptionist at the gate. I was an obvious target. What would I do or where would I go if I needed help? Would I have the guts to jump out a window like those other victims? Probably not. I wiped my clammy palms on my T-shirt.

 

Day 2: The Israeli Consul’s Apartment

Early that morning I learned that the terrorists had invaded Habad House, home to Rabbi Gabi, his wife Rivka, and baby Moshe. Overwrought by the news, I rushed to join a small group of Israelis in the Israeli Consul’s apartment. We were desperate to know if the Holtzbergs were okay. We had no clue as to whether they were still alive. Were they raping Rivka and torturing Gabi? How could their two-year-old possibly survive?

I’d become friendly with the Habad House’s young rabbinical couple who’d welcomed anyone who wanted to practice Judaism, take the mikvah  — a ritual bath — eat kosher food, or simply meet other Jews and Israelis. My local Israeli and Jewish friends had insisted that the Holtzbergs welcomed ordinary as well as ultra-religious folk. An atheist Jewish woman, I had long given up on religion and did not wish to feel any pressure to attend synagogue services. I did, however, follow tradition and enjoyed celebrating Jewish holidays with the local community.

Although my grandfather had been a rabbi in Volksrust  — a small town in South Africa — my parents had focused on the importance of strong family values rather than the orthodox traditions of what we were allowed to eat or wear. We had never kept a kosher home. Religious Jewish behavior and thinking hadn’t played any part of my life since high school. It had been decades since I had attended synagogue, and then only for my son’s bar mitzvah. I hadn’t seen the point in praying in ancient Hebrew — a language that I didn’t understand. I’d even developed a prejudice against ultra and orthodox Jewish elements — annoyed by their views and behavior towards women as second-class citizens.

So it had been quite a step for me to become friends with Gabi and Rivka and visit them at the center. Once a guest in their home, though, I understood that they were far more tolerant of others’ beliefs and opinions than I was. I felt disappointed with myself for holding such an anti-religious worldview. The couple was charming, hospitable, and friendly, even to infidels like me. I felt guilty that it had taken a while for me to accept them for who they were, as good people, rather than stereotype them as religious fundamentalists. 

Recently, my Israeli friends and I had partied in the Habad Center’s courtyard, feasting on typical Israeli dishes — hummus, tahini, falafel, pita, and barbecued chicken — a meze seasoned with fennel, oregano, garlic, and cilantro. We’d linked arms in the courtyard and sung Israeli songs. Baby Moshe had clapped his hands and toddled around in circles. His giggles had risen above the singing. It had felt good to bond so closely with the Jewish and Israeli community — the Jewish jokes, the Hebrew slang, the love of Jerusalem’s old city, and the piquant cuisine. Moshe finally flopped asleep on his young mother’s lap.  

We crowded into the Consul’s living room. Eyes fixed on the television, we waited for more news about the Holtzbergs. Intermittent blasts resounded across the city as the terrorists continued their carnage in South Mumbai. Hundreds of hostages were still stuck in the smoking hotels — including a number of delegates from the European Parliament. The terrorists had done their research to make maximum impact.

A member of the Israeli team ran into the Consul’s living room flushed with the latest news.

“Apparently. the terrorists knew that there is this high-profile international meeting here in Mumbai. These guys planned their timing,” he announced.

He stared at a computer printout in his hand. His voice cracked.

“I have a report,” he stammered, “in addition to the Holtzbergs , many well-known politicians are in danger. Sajjad Karim, the British Conservative Member of the European Parliament (MEP), was in the Taj lobby when the attackers began their shooting. Also the Spanish MEP, Ignasi Guardans, has barricaded himself in a hotel room, and the President of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, was shot while he was checking in at the Oberoi. They are saying that the Indian MP, N.N. Krishnadas, and  the UK’s Lord Gulam Noon, were having dinner at a restaurant in the Taj hotel. No one seems to know if they’re okay.”  

We sat stiffly on leather couches in the Consul’s living room, rattled, apprehensive, uneasy, and addicted to the news. One of the burly Israeli security officers, Amit, (not his real name) let out a deep sigh. Even in the air-conditioned room, dark stains appeared under the armpits of his blue denim shirt.

The television cameras spared no grisly details. First they focused on people charging out of the main train terminus. Then we saw porters, accustomed to hoisting heavy loads on their heads, slumped on the ground. Satchels, fingers, flip-flops, feet, magazines, mobiles, glasses, newspapers, ears, laptops, legs and Cadbury’s chocolate bars were scattered across the platforms.

The TV cameras also transported us to Leopold’s restaurant, where I’d often dined on juicy tandoori chicken and vegetable biryani. Diners had been shot as they mopped naan bread into masala gravies; beer fountained into the air as bottles splintered; curry sauces smothered with blood spilled onto the floor. I felt nauseated.

“You can’t believe how well equipped these bastards are,” the newscaster announced. He’d removed his tie and opened the top button of his crumpled shirt. He wiped his brow. “They have so much hand grenades and automatic weapons. They are attacking the luxury hotels — the Taj Mahal and Oberoi, and also Leopold’s. They’re looking especially for foreigners and tourists.” He took a sip of water. “We’re not knowing what’s happening at the Jewish house. Now the police are there, but they are also not knowing what to do. This is so much terrible.”

Outside our window, smoke hovered in the blue sky. I picked at the cuticle of my thumb until it bled and then wrapped it in a tissue. Was it really possible that no one had any idea about what was happening? When it would it all end? Even the army spokesman admitted that he didn’t know how many terrorists had landed via the Indian Ocean, or if all the terrorists’ dinghies had been found.

Amit’s cell phone rang. He dropped it and swore as he picked it up. “I’ve been told that 200 hostages from Australia, Canada, the USA, Israel, France, and Germany, escaped through hotel windows, using ladders, very late last night,” Amit announced. 

We stared at him hoping for news of the Holtzbergs. The furrows in his brow deepened. We were all thinking the same thing. Maybe Gabi and Rivka and baby Moshe had escaped too.

“No, nothing about Habad House,” Amit murmured as if reading our thoughts. He lowered his eyes to the floor and leaned against the doorframe. “The Indian police won’t let us near the place. I feel so helpless, so powerless.” He was twice the size of the rest of us.

The television went blank as he spoke. A siren wailed. The television burst back into life. A pale baby with a blank look on his face filled the screen.

“My god, that’s Moshe, the Holtzberg’s son, and his Indian nanny, Sandra.” The Consul flew out of her chair knocking over a cup of coffee. No one moved. On the street near the “Jewish House,” a bewildered Sandra stared at the cameras. Perspiration dripped down her face onto her beige shirt. Her hands shook and her lips quivered as she clung to the boy. 

“I’m not knowing how I got him out of there,” Sandra panted. “There is so much shouting and shooting.”

Somehow, she had managed to pick him up off his mother’s chest, run down the stairs, hide in a stairwell, dash out of the front door, out the gate, and into an alley.

In the Consul’s living room there was huge relief. For a moment the atmosphere was defiant. Even some “high fives.” Maybe there was also hope for his parents. But my eyes filled with tears. I stared at the TV screen and wondered if I could ever find the courage to be so fearless.

“How on earth did Sandra manage to do that?” murmured the Israeli Consul.

 

Day 3: Israeli Consul’s Apartment

Habad House remained under siege. We couldn’t think of or talk about anything else. In the Consul’s living room the flat-screen television babbled on continuously amidst the endless comings and goings — Indian officials, security guards, and the Israeli Ambassador from Delhi. We were all riveted on the same scenes again and again. Especially those of the terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, caught on CCTV with his AK-47 at the Chhatraptati Shivaji train station. 

Then images focused on Habad House. A helicopter flew above the building. Three Indian soldiers clung onto the rope that swung back and forth under the chopper and rappelled onto the flat roof.  Was there any hope at all of finding the Holtzbergs alive?

As we’d suspected, the soldiers found it was far too late to rescue Gabi and Rivka. The young couple had been dead for hours, maybe even days. The Hevra Kadisha — a Jewish burial team — had already flown in from Israel to prepare the bullet-ridden bodies for burial. According to Jewish custom, every shred of flesh and bone would have to be carefully collected and buried together, ensuring the ritual cleansing of the body and respect for the dead. 

Later that day I met a young local rabbi, Yitzhak, (not his real name) who’d assisted in the gruesome task. He was suffering from panic attacks after seeing Gabi and Rivka’s mutilated bodies in the Habad building.

The Consul knew that I’d trained as a psychologist and later a trauma therapist during the Yom Kippur War. She asked me if I would counsel him. Fluent in Hebrew, I was seen as the perfect candidate. I wasn’t sure I had the qualifications for the task, but here was at least one way I could help.

When I met Rabbi Yitzhak in the Israeli Consul’s apartment he was lying on his back on a bed in one of the kids’ bedrooms. He couldn’t stop trembling. Ultra- orthodox Jewish protocol forbids any physical contact between men and women so I sat down cross-legged on the floor next to him.

 Rabbi Yitzhak rolled over on his left side to face me. His face was pale, and he did not make eye contact. Instead, unexpectedly, he thrust out his arm from under the traditional tasseled prayer shawl and grabbed my hand. His fingernails were gnawed to the quick.

“Please don’t leave me,” Yitzhak pleaded in Hebrew.     

His clammy palm felt glued onto the back of my hand. Unaccustomed to any physical intimacy in a professional setting, I struggled to throw my awkwardness aside. I stared at the black yarmulke clipped to his hair and wondered how it must have been for him to have me — a woman  — as a therapist. Perhaps he was too exhausted to care?  

“Please, please stay with me,” he begged again. “Don’t leave me on my own.  Every time I close my eyes all I can see are dry brown pools of blood on the floor and bits of skins splattered on the walls.”  

Yitzhak gripped my hand as he pulled me towards him. Trickles of perspiration ran down my back. My whole world seemed upside down. Normally, it would be the rabbi’s job to counsel the members of his congregation and not the other way round. After all, how could I, a non-believer, be of any real support to a man of God?

I hoped he couldn’t sense my unease. All the professional trauma counseling skills I’d learned decades earlier seemed to evaporate. I felt he wanted more than I was capable of giving.  But I knew that if I listened to what he’d seen, that would be a step in the right direction.  

He described one gruesome detail after the other: chunks of hair chopped from Gabi’s beard lying on the stairs, a discarded Pepsi can dribbling on a

Siddur —  a Jewish prayer book,  bullet shells, smashed glasses, flies settling on a sneaker soaked in urine, ants crawling on half-eaten sandwiches on the kitchen floor, and wrappers from chocolate wafers covered with blood. I swallowed to stop myself from retching. 

After all this, how could he possibly believe in the existence of a God who’d allowed this to happen? I struggled to comprehend how I might, through my atheist lens, counsel the traumatized young religious leader. Perhaps it was the sense of crisis in a world gone mad, but I realized I had to push my own beliefs aside, and see his shattered world. Immersed in his trauma, I struggled to keep my professional distance.

As he spoke, I put my free hand on top of Yitzhak’s. I wanted him to know I was there with him as he tried to come to terms with the savage murders. He didn’t blink or pull away from this improper conduct between men and women. I realized that solacing his pain was more important than all the religious laws we make.

“I can still smell the stench of their putrid flesh,” Yitzhak continued shakily. “You are the only person I can tell how scared I feel. No one else will understand that my lungs are still burning from that taste of hell.” He raised himself on one elbow and continued. “We also found the mangled bodies of four other Israeli visitors on the stairs. Blood everywhere.”

Whatever remaining religious boundaries there might have been between us finally dissolved as he talked. Yitzhak’s rigid body began to relax. He rolled onto his back, still holding my hand. When he recounted how the terrorists had defecated on the putrefying bodies, I cried and trembled along with him. Nothing had prepared me for this. Not my experiences in the emergency room in Tel Aviv during the Yom Kippur War, not my work with families who had lost loved ones. Not even my own grief as a recent widow. All I could do was be there for Yitzhak, and this seemed to calm him, but my hand wouldn’t stop shaking. Finally, when Yitzhak started to doze off, I uncrossed my legs. He flinched. Half asleep he rolled over to check I was still there with him.

Yitzhak helped me realize that compassion knows no boundaries. His religious convictions no longer mattered to me. I was living with him all the way through his nightmare. I simply gave some comfort to a man whose friends had been dismembered, battered, and butchered. Yitzhak’s sweat mingled with mine, and his stale breath clung to my hair.

When regular and gentle snores filled the room, I stood up and walked down the stairs into the living room. Amit had an arm over another security officer’s shoulders. They looked scruffy and unshaven. I bummed a cigarette off the policeman guarding the front door and went out onto the balcony. I hadn’t smoked for decades and it tasted foul, but I inhaled a couple of deep breaths before I went back in — a futile attempt to calm down, and convince myself that we were safe.

Every so often someone pulled me into a corner to talk to me, but I had no advice to give. All I could do was listen and recognize how violated and fragile we were feeling. I wiped away tears, made endless cups of tea and coffee, smeared canned tuna on white bread, topped it with mayonnaise, and then sliced piles of sandwiches in half.

The Consul’s 3-year-old daughter sensed that she was in the middle of a crisis. To calm her, and probably myself, I helped her take a bath. The fragrant scent of soap replaced sweat and the suffocating air. It was a relief to be distracted. I wrapped her in a soft towel and also felt comforted. Wasn’t it always children who kept the world going round? Or so I thought until I was also asked to meet and counsel the little boy, Moshe, and his nanny, Sandra, who were staying at the apartment of the Consul’s Secretary. 

 

Day 4: Home of the Israeli Consul’s Secretary

Moshe stood in the corner of a stuffy study. Fists clenched, hair matted, diaper heavy, T-shirt stained with blood. Walnut eyes dull, lifeless. He couldn’t and wouldn’t move. There was no laughter, no crying, no talking. Sandra, his rescuer, sat on her haunches beside him gazing at the baby boy. The baby who’d heard screams, wails, yells, cries; the baby who’d smelled blood, gunpowder; who’d seen terrorists fire guns and hurl hand grenades; who’d seen his parents collapse and go still. Baby Moshe who’d known horror, pain, anguish, shock, and trauma, and he was only two years old.

I crouched on the floor next to Sandra and rubbed her back.

“I don’t know, myself, how I did it,” Sandra said grabbing my forearm. “I just did it without thinking. Thanks to God, I got the boy. I only remember running and running and running.  But just look at him. He is so scared from what he saw. Many bad thoughts also wandering constantly through my mind.” Sandra continued squatting. “This poor boy and his loving Mama.” She kept trying to rock Moshe in her lap.

Sandra was grateful that someone had taken the time to listen to her. She seemed to have been forgotten in the chaos. But Moshe didn’t forget her. He finally fell asleep in her arms. I wanted to wrap my arms around them both.

Moshe’s grandparents, Gabi’s mother and father, had arrived from Israel to collect their children for burial in the Holy Land. They were also Moshe’s official guardians but he refused to go near them. They sat on the leather sofa staring into space. They distanced themselves from me when I suggested they try to play with him. I ached to fill their hearts with some warmth.  Perhaps it was because I wasn’t one of their ultra-orthodox clan. They probably sensed that I couldn’t identify with their claim that “it was all God’s will.” I wanted them to be there, with and for their grandson. I wanted them to sit on the floor with Moshe, talk to him, read him a story and coax him to eat and drink. A sandwich, a cookie, yogurt, some ice cream.

Perhaps I’d been too harsh on them. They had ended up unexpectedly with a grandson they hardly knew and had to come to terms with the brutal murder of their son and daughter-in-law. Perhaps they had no energy to try to play with Moshe, feed him, change him, or even to comfort him. I was relieved when Moshe’s grandparents finally agreed to take Sandra with them to Israel for an extended period. She was all Moshe had left.

The air-conditioner droned on. Eyelids drooped. Chatter ceased. I felt drained from hours of non-stop listening and counseling. I’m not sure where I found the emotional strength to deal with all the surrounding pain and tragedy. It was as if I’d detected a renewed sense of purpose and identity. A quest to find out why. Why me? Why us?

Even though I’d been nowhere near the attack at the time, I too felt extremely vulnerable, even shopping for food. And not surprising — the facts were grim. More than 168 innocent people had been killed, and hundreds more injured and unaccounted for. Among the dead were 138 Indians, including 17 policemen and National Security Guard, (NSG) army commandos, and 28 foreigners — Americans, Germans, Canadians, French, Italians, Dutch, Japanese, a Jordanian, Malaysian, Mauritian, Mexican, Singaporean and a Thai. An additional 27 other foreigners of different nationalities — Australia, USA, UK, Germany, Canada, Spain, Norway, Finland, Oman, China, Japan, the Philippines, and Jordan were injured during the horror of those November days.

“Mumbaikers” became one big family. Everyone seemed to know someone who knew someone who’d been affected. We learned that nine of the terrorists associated with the Pakistani terror group had been killed by the Indian forces. Security cameras had captured a photograph of the lone survivor, Kasab, walking through Mumbai’s main railway station with his AK-47 assault rifle and a rucksack crammed with ammunition. Thankfully, he’d been captured. He became an enduring image of the attack.

 

Day 5: Mumbai Synagogue

A memorial service for Gabi and Rivka was held at the Magen David Synagogue in Mumbai. It was then I learned that Rivka was pregnant. I squeezed into a row packed with dignitaries and ordinary local people — Muslims and Christians as well as Jews. Rabbis, imams, priests, businessmen, schoolchildren, cleaners, shop owners, teachers, ambassadors, waiters, soldiers, nurses, doctors, photographers, and journalists. Towards the end of the service Moshe started calling for his mother. He wriggled and screamed, “Ima, Ima, Ima,” — the Hebrew for Mother — in the arms of the late couple’s cook. His cries lacerated my heart. Sandra wasn’t there to soothe him. She was completing the formalities for her Israeli tourist visa application. Moshe could not be consoled. His anguish rose to the top of the high domed ceiling, clinging to the blue and red stained glass windows. I couldn’t stop sobbing. Even the men had tears in their eyes. It was impossible to conceive that our God was listening.

The following day I met the family for the last time as they were leaving for the airport. Sandra’s dedication was remarkable. She left her adult sons behind to go and live in a strange land with a strange language, strange food, strange dress and a strange culture. Her only luggage was a small plastic bag containing a change of clothes.    

Rivka and Gabi were buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, along with their six-month unborn child. Yitzhak stayed on in Mumbai, and we had several therapy sessions. I was the only outlet he had for his anguish. Newlywed, he was also deeply concerned for his wife who was four months pregnant. He couldn’t stop looking over his shoulder, waiting for another attack.

Life seemed to return to normal, but my colleagues and friends stared at strangers suspiciously. Hotels put up barricades, searched vehicles and guests bags. There were security checks at airports, cinemas, concerts, supermarkets, and restaurants. It took two weeks to get a new cell phone, and foreigners could not get a sim card for their cell phones without a police check. At work, all we could talk about was India’s 9/11. Even though the attack was over, we sat for hours every day glued to the television, watching the same scenes over and over and over again. There was little financial or emotional government support for locals who had lost breadwinners or limbs. The psychological scars were raw.

*****

As the weeks went by I was haunted by Moshe’s empty eyes. When I closed my eyes at night I tried to see my own grandchildren’s radiant chocolate and saucer blue eyes. It was a struggle to find them. I hadn’t realized what a strain the past few weeks had been. I lay awake staring at the ceiling fan turning around and around and around, hoping it would hypnotize me to sleep. I tossed and turned, drenched with perspiration. A vibrant culture of energy, color, beauty, and warmth had been transformed into a land of sorrow and bewilderment. All that seemed to matter was hugging my own family.

Now I know that Moshe’s vacant eyes, wails of despair, and rigid body had shaken my belief that India might become my home for at least a few more years. Shortly after the attack I began planning to move once again, and this time, to become an integral part of my own family’s daily lives. In the midst of the horror, my company’s share price, profit margins, and the overall strategic direction seemed less relevant. Yet a silent bond of a shared traumatic experience bound my colleagues and me together. I couldn’t leave them in the lurch. But I knew I also needed to prepare myself for yet another move to another completely different city, Seattle, where my daughter and her family were living.  

Sandra remained on in Israel where she was named an honorary citizen in recognition of her extraordinary courage. She works at an institution for physically and emotionally challenged children and visits Moshe on weekends. I often think of her and wonder what she’ll do when Moshe is older. Sandra has continued to remain an inspiration and a role model for me. I hardly knew her, but I believed she was selfless. She gave up so much to stand for what she believed: loyalty and love.

Five days before the fourth anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the lone captured terrorist, Kasab, was hanged for his role in the carnage. The long drawn-out trial was finally over. I hoped this might bring some sort of closure for families and friends of the victims. When I close my eyes, I can still visualize the blue wall in baby Moshe’s bedroom. His parents had marked several little pencil lines watching him grow. Thankfully, as a young boy, he is now living with Rivka’s parents, the Rosenbergs, in the north of Israel.  

The Habad community from around the world took it upon themselves to finance the rebuilding of the destroyed center in Mumbai. Six years after the attack Habad House enjoyed a grand opening supporting the unshakeable belief that it would serve as a beacon of light to overcome evil.

Terrorism — whether in Israel, London, New York, or Mumbai yet again had affected the way I saw the world. It shook some of my beliefs and assumptions. The massacre in Mumbai and my conversation with Yitzhak had yet again destroyed the idea that there might be a safe home — anywhere. I’d finally come to grips with the concept of universal trauma. That what happened in Mumbai could happen anywhere to anyone. And that there was a life afterward — even if it was veering off at a completely different angle.

It was to be another year before I would be able to leave Mumbai, but Mumbai has never really left me.

14 thoughts on “Susan Bloch”

  1. In your careful recounting of the horrors and intimacies of that time, you remind us that there are no winners in terrorism and cruelty (of any scale). But there are heroes in tragedies when people stay close and bravely face terrifying unknowns for the sake of others and their unjudged human needs. My hope is that your story will soften hearts and harden resolves of individuals to be their bravest most-caring selves. Thank you for reliving that shattering time for the sake of others.

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