After the recent Passover terror attack in San Diego, native Israeli Almog Peretz and his relatives may be feeling either lucky or unlucky, but if they are inclined to look at their recent experience through spiritual eyes they may agree that they are fated, destined or chosen.
Depending on which news report one believes, while either visiting California or having recently emigrated to the United States from Israel a few months ago, Peretz left his former home in missile-plagued Sderot Israel to witness and provide heroics during the tragic shooting at a Jewish synagogue in Poway California that resulted in one death and three injuries.
Were it not for Peretz’s presence, who was credited with having saved the lives of several children during the attack, the casualties would have been far greater. “It doesn’t matter where we go, we have to look out for ourselves…” Peretz told an Israeli radio station after the shooting.
Peretz was right, of course, and he was wrong. While it is true that Jews worldwide have become unable to hide from feverishly growing antisemitic terror, it does matter where they go. The irony of Peretz’s having left his home in Sderot, sadly but aptly nicknamed The Bomb Shelter Capital of the World, only to confront live weapons fire in a serene suburb of San Diego, brings to mind a story by Somerset Maugham about fate’s relentless nature based on an old Middle Eastern folktale entitled Appointment in Samarra.
[Death is the narrator]
There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, “Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now, lend me your horse and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”
The merchant lent him his horse and the servant mounted it and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threating gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”
“That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
Like the servant in Maugham’s story, Peretz, 34, though he had travelled halfway around the globe away from Israel, could not avoid his fate. “A person with a big rifle, like an M16, entered the synagogue and started shooting everywhere,” Peretz told an Israeli TV station after the shooting. “At first we thought the ceiling had collapsed but then I turned around and saw he was aiming his weapon at me.
“There were many small kids next to me. I took a little girl who was our neighbor and three nieces of mine and ran. I opened the back door and we ran with all the children to a building in the back. I hid them in that building.
“As I picked up the girl, the terrorist aimed his weapon at me. I was injured in the leg.”
One of the children Peretz rescued from the terrorist’s bullets was his niece, Naya Dahan, 8, who was attending the synagogue with her two sisters and was transferred to a children’s hospital after suffering shrapnel wounds in one leg and in her face.
Naya’s family left Israel eight years ago to live in a safer community after both her mother and father, Israel Dahan, were injured by Gaza rockets. They had believed “that everything is good here [in America],” Dahan said. “Today we noticed this is not even close to…regular life.”
A few years before the shooting, Dahan said, their home in America was sprayed with swastikas. Now his children no longer want to live in the U.S. After the shooting, Dahan said, the children asked him one question. “Why are we staying here?”
Their question is becoming increasingly relevant to both Diaspora Jews and those now living in Israel. While Diaspora Jews will most likely continue to struggle to find an answer, Israelis can point to ancient Israel’s prophets—who foresaw these troubling times through millennia—and use their insights to call their brothers and sisters home.
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