Terror in the heart of the US heartland

There were many things that I missed, the ocean, the Knicks, but there was a sweetness, a feeling of safety, cleanliness and family that grew on me.

HARRY BARSANI at his Nazareth deli. (photo credit: LARRY LEVINE)
HARRY BARSANI at his Nazareth deli.
(photo credit: LARRY LEVINE)
Two weeks after I graduated high school in Smithtown, Long Island, my family moved to Columbus, Ohio. To say that this was traumatic is a vast understatement. I was a 17-year-old kid, a new driver, and to me, I was moving to a desert. To New Yorkers, Ohio was known for cows and football.
There were many things that I missed, the ocean, the Knicks, but there was a sweetness, a feeling of safety, cleanliness and family that grew on me.
Weekends in the summer were filled with the sounds of disc jockey Wolfman Jack and people “cruising” It was almost like you were in a time warp. I had a thick New York accent and the attention that I received as an “exotic” person wasn’t too shabby for a 17-year-old.
One thing that I couldn’t get used to was Jews with accents.
That was a hard one for me, but the longer I stayed there the more I became one of them, well sort of.
Columbus was always a friendly, racially diverse town to me. There was none of the tensions that I had read about in other cities.
There are always problems anywhere you go but in Columbus not so much.
You would watch the local news and they would say, another murder on Parsons Avenue that would make 16 for the year. In New York that was a good weekend...
Forty years have passed and I have a family with five kids, a successful business, and I have watched Columbus grow up to be a thriving, growing city, still diverse and friendly.
Twenty-five years ago Hany Barsani moved from Israel to the United States to live the American dream. I don’t know how he felt about the move but since we are close in age I would think that he had many of the same feelings that I had x10. A new country, language, customs certainly was a change that I cannot fathom.
Hany opened up a small restaurant in a strip mall with a bowling alley in it. At the time that he opened his center was already past its prime. As the neighborhood changed Hany took a chance and moved farther out to the suburbs.
If Columbus was the all-American city, Gahanna was certainly at the heart of it. Voted the best place to live in America a few years back, Gahanna is a lovely, small friendly community that is diverse and clean. Hany’s new location was thriving. In fact he just contracted to double the space to accommodate his growing business.
Hany is a real character. He walks around his restaurant holding a baseball bat while asking you if you liked the food. When you speak to him he is fiercely patriotic to his former country, Israel, and to his adopted country, the United States.
When you enter his restaurant you see an American flag and an Israeli flag. Behind the cash register on his wall is a large tapestry of a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian sitting together in peace.
Hany is a very hard working guy.
Anyone who works in the restaurant biz knows the hours are terrible; for Hany his restaurant is second only to his family for his attention.
Last week Hany decided that he needed to rest he took a rare evening off and stayed home.
It was a typical evening at Nazareth, the restaurant that is Hany’s home. On Thursdays Bill Foley plays covers for the appreciative customers who come in to eat the wonderful, fresh Middle Eastern food. At 5:30 in the evening a man came in and started asking questions about the owner, what is his name, where was he from.
The answer given was that he was Israeli.
The man left only to return a half an hour later with a knife and a machete.
I eat at this restaurant all the time. My kids love the food, and they are allergic to many things; Nazareth is extremely accommodating.
I can only imagine how the couple in the first booth felt, I’ve sat in the same place many times.
While they dipped into the fresh hummus with hot pita bread, enjoying their dinner, the man came back into the restaurant and starting hacking and slashing them with a machete. He hit the male diner on the head. The only reason he didn’t die was that he was not hit with the blade directly.
By some miracle the flat side of the machete hit his head. He was hit so hard that his head received a deep bruise. Both he and his wife tried to protect themselves, they each received severe cuts to their arms and hands, almost completely severing their fingers.
As the attacker moved to the next booth, patrons and Foley bravely confronted him. The musician was attacked as he attempted to help. He is still in the hospital with severe wounds.
Chairs were thrown and the bat, the famous bat that Hany is known for, was taken from behind the counter by a brave soul, and the terrorist was chased out of the restaurant. After hacking four people, with blood and carnage everywhere, the would-be killer slowly and methodically got into his car and drove away.
The police were alerted and they cornered him 8 kilometers away.
He jumped out of his car yelling “Allahu akbar” while menacing the police with his machete. He was quickly gunned down where he stood.
You see, this is not supposed to happen in suburban Columbus.
Gahanna’s weekly crime blotter consists of petty thefts and the occasional assault, but mostly kids with pranks and suspicious activities, not terrorist attacks.
One can point to events in US history such as when Lincoln was shot, Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, and 911, events that change the psyche and soul of the country. This attack in the heart of the heartland will forever change us. We cannot imagine what it is like in Israel where they have to face this almost daily.
The outpouring of love for Hany, who reopened a few days later, is life affirming. He had obviously been crying for days from the trauma that he and his employees went through. He was overwhelmed by the community that has gathered around him.
The heart of the heartland is showing its love for this transplant, this immigrant with a big heart, by saying to the world that at this particular restaurant, and town, terrorism and the horror that was inflicted on us only made us stronger.
The writer is a businessman/ activist/writer/father who lives in Columbus, Ohio