Aliya in a coffin, but ola in the end

Crisis, a restoration of faith and a victory over the NII in a lawsuit for compensation tell story of the daughter of a Mumbai terror victim.

Shvarzblat Rabinovich 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shvarzblat Rabinovich 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On November 28, 2008, Jean Goldi Horta became the “child of a terror victim” when her mother was brutally murdered by Pakistani terrorists at a Chabad House in Mumbai, India along with five others.
In another time, another place, Horta would have been content to spend her time discussing the overlap of eastern and western philosophy. She had never wanted anyone’s attention, certainly not their pity. But life never asked Horta what she wanted.
Her tragedy is particularly poignant when one considers that her mother, Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, was only days away from making aliya. She had already purchased a plane ticket to permanently join two of her children in Israel.
The tragic irony continues.
Rabinovich did arrive in Israel on the day she was due to make aliya, only she did so in a coffin.
As Horta told The Jerusalem Post, “she came when she was supposed to come.”
But the story is several years old and the last official state ceremonies honoring the families of the victims of the attack ended in 2010. So why, aside from being one of many tragic Jewish stories of the past, is this still relevant now? It is still relevant because the second part of the tragedy was not brought about by Pakistani terrorists, but, as Horta tells the story, by the State of Israel – in the shape of the National Insurance Institute. The very state to which Horta, her brother and her mother were so committed that they were willing to make it their home, leaving their native Mexico.
Whereas the family of the murdered Chabad rabbi received the immediate and full compensation from the NII due “family of terror victims,” Horta – at the time 24 and not remotely economically self-sufficient – was denied the same.
The non-Jewish Indian nanny of the Chabad rabbi’s surviving child was given honorary citizenship, but Horta’s mother’s citizenship was invalidated by the NII.
Why? Because the Pakistani terrorists had murdered her mother days before she could fully complete her dream of making aliya.
During an extensive interview with the Post Horta was for the most part, unexpectedly calm and reserved. One of the few times that her voice rose, her chin shook and her eyes became teary was when she discussed the NII “helping the terrorists.”
Horta’s point was that NII was “helping” destroy her mother’s dream by saying that her murder, at the hands of terrorists, before she set foot on Israeli soil made her not a full citizen.
NII’s rejection on the one hand and the generosity and encouragement of One Family Fund activist Nava Formansky, Kadima MK Ze’ev Bielski and volunteer attorney Uri Zamberg on the other, led her to challenge the NII in court.
Only recently, threatened by a lawsuit, did NII relent and compensate Horta. The amount she will receive is due to be announced shortly.
The NII also got into hot water not long ago when it initially refused to process the burial of one of the terror victims of the shooting in Toulouse, France in March – due to citizenship issues.
Horta, who had been living in Israel for seven years when the court case started, began to confront thorny and complicated questions. These questions went to straight to the root of what she had thought was her unchallengeable Zionism.
At 18, Horta was a Zionist who organized her own trip to a kibbutz. Her commitment was that much more impressive because she came to Israel at the height of the second intifada, despite the fact that her original trip was canceled.
Everyone thought she was crazy to come at that time, she said.
At this point in the telling, Horta sighed in her characteristic philosophical manner, pondering the cruel irony that she had come away without a scratch while her mother – who had been on a vacation in India – had arrived in Israel in a coffin.
Despite being a ardent Zionist, the entire experience with the NII conjured up new issues for her: Was she alone and separate from the Jewish state that she had worked so hard to be a part of? In terms of being let down by the country, Horta said, “I made aliya partly because I was taught Israel was a place for pioneers, turning the desert into forests.”
She continued, “I’m supporting the country and government [so] that when it comes to killing,” they should do what they think they need to do to defend the country, “they’ll go all the way, but when it comes to recognizing that someone else died for it,” they say “you don’t fit the profile and if you get f***ed on the way to Israel and you’re stuck between the chairs then tough s**t, we can’t help you.”
And although she would not want to highlight it, Horta’s entire experience of her mother’s tragedy was one of being alone.
When she first learned that her mother had not survived the attack, she was in Japan on a year abroad from her philosophy degree program at Tel Aviv University. She had only been there for a few months, and had no family, no roommates and no real close friends. At first, she was told her mother survived, only later to be told she was killed.
It was not until after the state ceremonies and the shiva were over that Horta finally cried in the arms of one of her aunts. She said she “finally felt safe,” and that she could “mourn her mother as a person,” not just as “the daughter of a terror victim.”
Horta explained how upset she became when her water bottle was taken away at the airport security check en route to her mother’s funeral. Noting that water is a basic element of living, she became animated, paused, snapped her mouth shut determinedly and then her eyes filled with tears. “It makes me afraid that they’ve won…they want to prevent…stop our happiness.”
But Horta emerged victorious and with some newfound hope, as she discovered there were those who did stand by her in her moment of need.
From Formansky to Bielski to Zamberg to Labor Court Judge Ornit Agassi, there were people who restored Horta’s faith and connection to the state, beyond the question of the money. There were those who reminded her that she, and others who have been victims, will never stand alone.
Many would say the case represents a frequent and current storyline in the state: Sometimes significant errors are made and there are those who seem to have lost the spirit of what brought millions of Jews back to Israel.
But there are always others ready to rise up and remind the rest of us that the modern Jewish state stands for something deeper which unites us all.