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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A tale of two engineers

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with one of two engineers whose stay at the Mumbai Trident-Oberoi overlapped with my own.  I'm not saying they work for my company... but you could be forgiven for making that assumption.  Whatever... it's not cogent to the story.

Anyway, when the grenades started exploding and the sound of gunfire and breaking glass started echoing around the Trident Oberoi Hotel, both of these engineers found themselves by luck, chance or divine providence, up in their rooms... blissfully ignorant of the events unfolding somewhere below their feet.

In fact, even though at least one of them had felt a small tremor in the building and a 'booming' sound in the distance, the first they knew of the emergent nature of their situation came when their cell phones rang a few minutes apart (they were in separate rooms on different floors of the hotel).  The calls were from their company's security officer checking to see where they were and if they were okay.

Once it was ascertained that they were both in their rooms and - at least for the moment - safe, they were immediately given the following hurried instructions:

  1. Stay there.  Don't move from your rooms. Don't make a sound.
  2. Double lock the door and, as quietly as possible, push any movable piece of heavy furniture in front of the door.
  3. Stay away from the door... don't even look through the peep-hole.
  4. Don't open the door for any reason, and don't respond to knocks at the door or voices from the hallway... even if they are saying that everything is okay and that the emergency is over.
  5. Do not use the hotel phone for any reason since it might draw attention to the fact that the room is occupied.  The switchboard must be assumed to be in enemy hands.  Use cell phones only.
  6. Stay silently in the rooms until a security officer from the Israeli Consulate personally comes and identifies himself in Hebrew and tells you to open the door.

This plan worked like a charm, and after several days a security officer from the consulate did indeed show up to free them from their luxury prisons high above Mumbai.  They are now both safely back in Israel. 

However during, and after their period of captivity, something interesting occurred. 

One of the men is religiously observant, so he had a suitcase full of manot hamot (cup-o-soups), tuna, kabanos (sort of a kosher peperoni stix) and other such nonperishable kosher food. 

But the other engineer is a secular Jew and had not brought any food with him, having intended to eat the readily available (and by all reports, delicious) food at the restaurant of the 5-star hotel.  So his only course of action during his long wait to be rescued was to raid the hotel Mini-Bar in his room.

Once safely back in Israel, as is often the case, each of the engineers manifested the stresses of his brush with death in vastly different ways. 

The religiously observant engineer went to synagogue and 'Bentched Gomel' (recited the blessing for one who survives a dangerous situation).   He won't hear about quick acting consular security officers or Indian Commandos.  He has unwaveringly assigned full credit for his deliverance to G-d above and no one else... and nobody can tell him otherwise. 

The other engineer is equally grateful to be alive, and wants to get the names and addresses of the Consulate Security officers so he can thank them for acting so quickly and efficiently to ascertain and ensure his safety.  But as of yesterday, he is also reportedly sick with worry that he is going to be charged for the small fortune in candy bars, exotic nuts, soft drinks and wine from the Mini-Bar in his hotel room, that sustained him throughout the ordeal.

We all grasp at whatever is within reach when life tosses us unexpectedly into the icy water.  For the religious, G-d is often the nearest thing at hand... and for the secular, exerting attention towards tangible, more manageable things may be the way to mitigate the fear.

But if the events of last week show us anything, it is that none of us will ever know for sure (in this world, anyway) if our lives are really saved by G-d, man or a humble (but overpriced) bag of Macadamia nuts. 

I believe one thing and many of my friends believe quite another.  It doesn't really matter who is right... or if anyone is right.  All we can do is be grateful for the timely rescue, and try to be worthy of our continued enjoyment of this mortal coil.

[note:  This post makes no judgment on how either of the engineers reacted to their ordeal.  Take what you like from the story and feel free to comment, but keep in mind that until we are tested, none of us knows for sure how we'll act - and react - during, and after a crisis.]

Posted by David Bogner on December 2, 2008 | Permalink

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could not resist the temptation of writing the first comment in your popular blog. Not sure why, as it is not a competition is it? happy that you have resumed writing, assume you are fully recovered. (Baruch Hashem). Am off to hospital in a couple of hours for an op will have 7 days of catching up when I come back home. Please God they should pass peacefully in the world and in particular in Israel. (threats of terrorist attack earlier today in Tel-Aviv).

Posted by: yaffa glass | Dec 2, 2008 12:55:28 PM

What a story. It's nice to get reassurance that in emergency situations, we Israelis know what we are doing.

Posted by: mother in israel | Dec 2, 2008 1:18:46 PM

But neither of them starved, right? It's not like the kosher food saved the observant engineer's life. It just might have saved him some money. :)

Posted by: mother in israel | Dec 2, 2008 1:21:22 PM

An absolutley perfect post, perfectly balanced.
Lots of messages

Posted by: Batya | Dec 2, 2008 1:47:27 PM

what a story! take home message for me is that both individuals used the resources available to them to get through their ordeal. but you must follow up if the one guy gets a bill for the mini-bar.

Posted by: Debbie | Dec 2, 2008 2:05:34 PM

Thank G-d there was a mini-bar in the room!

Posted by: triLcat | Dec 2, 2008 2:34:58 PM

I wonder whether the secular engineer didn't say some prayers in his heart during the time he was waiting... ;-)

Posted by: Lila | Dec 2, 2008 3:49:06 PM

Thank you for writing David. What you have written so far about this has helped me feel more connected to what happened in a meaningful way. I am really looking forward to seeing what you will write about the Holtzbergs- I am sure that your gift with words will greatly honor their blessed memories. As for the secular engineer, thank G-d he found food in the minibar. In a case of danger when there is no other food available, it is a mitzva to eat non-kosher food :-).

Posted by: Yosef | Dec 2, 2008 4:25:40 PM

The secular engineer was "reportedly sick with worry that he is going to be charged for the small fortune in candy bars, exotic nuts, soft drinks and wine from the Mini-Bar in his hotel room, that sustained him throughout the ordeal"? After what he went through, that should be his biggest worry!

I don't think there's any harm in crediting Hashem AND the Israeli security services AND the minibar AND the religious guy's kosher stash AND fate for seeing them through this disaster. Added up, those are a formidable set of allies in a crisis.

Like Job, we weren't there when Hashem created the world, so we have no idea why things happen, and it's not our job to. If the Holtzbergs were the remarkable individuals they've been described as being, I think they would wish for the survivors to be grateful and (after sufficient recovery time) joyous that they survived. Mourn them, seek justice, but also take inspiration from them and how they lived.

Posted by: Shimshonit | Dec 2, 2008 4:51:38 PM

Pardon a moment of levity here, but it is very much on point. Reading your posting brought to my mind a scene from The Simpsons. Upon hearing catastrophic news for the town of Springfield, everyone shrieks in horror. The church empties out as everyone streams into the bar next door. Simultaneously, everyone in the bar pours out and heads into the church.

Posted by: Drew | Dec 2, 2008 4:54:00 PM

No one knows how he will react until he is actually confronted with such a crisis. Perhaps more to the point: no one truly knows where he has placed his faith until so confronted.

For quite opposite reasons two persons might react in the same way, but one will be assured that there is a purpose beyond his comprehension; the other will merely realize that there are circumstances beyond his control. One is a victor, the other a victim.

Posted by: Bob | Dec 2, 2008 5:36:47 PM

A well stocked mini-bar can be a good friend in a strange city.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 2, 2008 7:08:00 PM

May G_d help both men to recover from any post traumatic stress, however it manifests itself!

Posted by: Noa | Dec 2, 2008 7:58:57 PM

I congratulate their companies for their good policies or quick thinking. I think the religious guy is right to ascribe it completely to G-D, but at the same time, he should be grateful to all the people who followed G-D's plan to keep him safe.

Posted by: Channah | Dec 2, 2008 8:43:06 PM

Well written Trep.(A good start)

Posted by: Rami | Dec 3, 2008 7:08:11 AM


Sounds like you are processing... good on ya...

I am (being inclined to religiously observant, to the point where my lack of commitment to G-d and being religiously observant is one of my personal sore spots) often put in mind of Daniel's peers before King What's-His-Name, and their moving and -- to me -- honest declaration before him:

(and here, I lapse into a paraphrase that would probably do justice to Tevye):

"Our G-d will rescue us, O King. But be it known, even if he does not rescue us, we will not bow down to you."

I would like to be the kind of fellow who ever keeps that sentiment in my back pocket, for emergencies.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Dec 3, 2008 9:58:14 AM

i agreee with you. we will never know exactly why these people were saved. i do think that its a combination of hashem and the people who instructed them of what to do. in any event , b"h these men were saved and both had food to eat during this troubled time.

Posted by: frum single female | Dec 5, 2008 7:44:14 AM

Pretty much repeating the common sentiment--G-d does many things, but He often makes good use of people to do them. Thanks are due to both-to G-d for sending help and to the people who (conciously or no) answered His call to duty.

Posted by: Gila | Dec 5, 2008 11:13:04 PM

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