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Monday, December 1, 2008

After Mumbai

A reader wrote in, asking me to post this article, which is the most complete account I've found so far of the siege against the Mumbai terrorist attack.

mumbai terrorist attack, chabad houseIt's been a long Thanksgiving weekend. I know, today's Monday and we're back in work mode, but it feels like the weekend isn't over yet. It was a hard holiday; harder for other people than for us, but thinking that doesn't make it any easier. At our Thanksgiving table was my cousin's boyfriend, who's from Mumbai and whose parents are safe, but who still hadn't heard from his friends; my wife, whose sister is scheduled to go on vacation in India later this week and who's still thinking of going; and all of us, most of whom aren't religious, though we've all been guests at a Chabad house at one point in our life or another.

It's scary. It's mind-boggling, and anger-inducing, and it's pretty messed up. It's hard to pinpoint the exact point of origin for our sadness -- another terror attack, another few hundred people killed -- but the sheer mass of casualties, together with the randomness of the attack itself, which targeted Americans and Britons but took the form of bullets sprayed into crowds of people, gives me a place to start.

As the reports poured in, conflicting reports gave us hope. I was twittering about it all day. I hit refresh on the New York Times frontpage with a frenzy I hadn't felt since 9/11. I was addicted. I wanted to know what was next. Like watching a TV show on DVD, I wanted to keep popping in discs, watching the episodes one after the next. We left to go to my uncle and aunt's for dinner. My uncle and I sneaked away to his laptop, refresh after refresh. I finally stopped twittering with the news that the survivors had been rescued. I could breathe again.

The next morning, we got a call from a friend with the news. The siege was not over. But the bodies had been recovered.

Itta and I both lost it. She pulled the car off the road and we both cried. Her uncles, her friends and most of her cousins ran Chabad Houses. All over the world, they were supposed to be the refuges of innocence, the place you ran away to whenever you needed something. Sure, some Chabad House rabbis are insane -- you almost have to be, to set up camp in a random city and open your door to whatever strangers come knocking. But by and large they are selfless people. Itta kept saying, "They had a deal with God. God was supposed to protect them." And, yeah -- God kind of screwed this one up pretty badly.

On one hand, there's the miracle of the rabbi and rebbetzin's almost-2-year-old son, Moishe, and his escape. On the other -- if God let their son escape, why not everyone else? And why not the hundred-and-whatever other people who were killed?

Right now I'm watching my daughter boogieing to Prince's song "Let's Go Crazy," one of her favorites. Times like these, you don't question where you get your wisdom from; you just take it. Prince is doing a dramatic voiceover: "Life means forever and that's a mighty long time/But I'm here 2 tell u, there's something else: The afterworld."

I'm trying to wrap my head around it. We spent Shabbos with Rabbi Shem Tov, who said that, as good people, we can question what happened -- and we almost need to -- but there's no way that we can understand it. It's impossible, he said, for the human mind to comprehend the way God operates. We don't know how the world stays balanced, and why evil has to exist in order to let good continue to exist too. But it's hard not to look at the result of the equation -- crazed terrorists: 1; good people: 0, and lying in a pool of blood -- and keep up the good faith.

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