Saturday, November 26, 2011

Zohar - Good-bye, Norma in jeans

Norma Schvatzblatt-Rabinowitz
Gil Zohar
26 December '08

(Three years ago today, 26 November '08, the terrorists struck in Mumbai. The author of this article and I had a chance to speak Thursday night about Norma, one, whose life was taken in the attack on the Chabad House. Y.)

JERUSALEM - If in today's global village we are all linked by six degrees of separation, in the hothouse of contemporary Israel people are even more intimately connected. The entire country boarded an emotional roller coaster last Wednesday when news broke of multiple terrorist attacks in Mumbai including the city's Chabad House - a well-known oasis for Israeli backpackers and businessmen in India.

Thursday my colleagues and I on a trip to Jaffa were glued to our cell phones for breaking news. Friday we got a respite for Shabbat.

But the news only got grimmer following the weekend. We soon learned with certainty that six people had been murdered at the Lubavitch centre, along with at least 164 others killed during the deadly three-day rampage.

The bodies of the Chabad House's saintly staff Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg were identified, along with those of Yocheved Orpaz, Ben Tzion Chroman and Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum. All were Israelis or Jews living here.

The identity of the sixth of the shattered corpses remained unknown.

Then Monday I picked up Haaretz to see a blurry passport picture on page 1 with the headline "6th victim at Chabad House identified."

The fuzzy photo showed a short-haired brunette with a slightly familiar countenance. Reading the article, I had a sickening feeling of recognition. I quickly realized it was my friend Norma Shvarzblat-Rabinovich, 49, a multi-talented artist and multilingual bon vivant from Mexico City who I had met on vacation in January in Sinai, Egypt - and who had accepted my invitation to join my wife and I at our Shabbat table in Jerusalem.

Norma, a vivacious peroxide blonde in blue jeans, had confided in us about her difficult divorce. She wanted to reconnect with her two adult children living in Israel, she said. I encouraged her to consider making Israel her home, an aliya spiel I invariably give my overseas Jewish guests.

Norma said she first wanted to travel to India, partly to be with Irene Young of Britain, a fellow global traveler she had met at our Sinai campsite.

The two trekked through India, even as Norma considered what I had told her about Israel being a welcoming place to repair her life and reconnect her family. Settling at Mumbai's open-door Chabad House, she opened an immigration file with the Jewish Agency office there.

On December 1 she was scheduled to fly home to Israel on a one-way ticket. The travel arrangements would allow her to be with her son Manuel, studying at a Bnei Brak yeshiva, on his 18th birthday. Instead she was buried the following day at Jerusalem's Har Menuchot cemetery.

One day short of becoming a citizen, Norma's funeral costs were paid for by the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel from its Fund for Victims of Terror. The Fund, set up in 2000, has provided support to thousands of victims of terror attacks and their families totaling more than NIS 100 million ($25 million).

Even in death Norma has joined the quarreling family of Israelis. To the outrage of her daughter Jean Goldy, 24, the State of Israel's National Insurance Institute denied her and her brother the benefits allocated to relatives of Israeli terror victims since technically Norma never landed - alive - in Israel to complete her immigration process.

Norma was a woman of great faith, recalled her brother Moshe, who came to her funeral from his home in Lakewood, New Jersey. "She would tell me how she sees God every step of her life. 'God is always guiding me,' she used to say. 'God opens the door wherever I go and stays with me.'"

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