Mumbai : The photograph of two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg safely ensconced in the arms of his nanny, Sandra Samuel, minutes after she emerged from Nariman House after the 26/11 terror attacks was one of the defining and haunting images of the murderous rampage India’s commercial capital witnessed a little over nine years ago.
Baby Moshe had survived the terror strike on Nariman House in which his parents Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg perished, thanks to some quick thinking by his nanny who hid baby Moshe when gunmen stormed the building and then brought him out safe.
Cut to Mumbai, January 16 and Moshe was back in Mumbai, under siege by eager reporters who thrust their mikes before the shy and dazed 11-year-old in their scramble to get a byte, any byte, from the boy who had returned to the city where he was born and where his parents lost their lives in 2008.
And if the mad scramble around the slightly built Moshe with huge glasses wasn’t bad enough, the questions being flung at him were worse. For instance, sample this insensitive one flung at him by one TV reporter, ‘Are you watching Hindi movies?’ Perhaps to the relief of the media badgering the child for a byte/quote, Moshe actually said ‘Bahut Khushi’ in what appeared to be tutored words.
Which brings me to my main point—was it really necessary for the Indian and Israeli governments to parade Moshe like this? First in Israel where he met PM Narendra Modi last year during his visit to that country and now in Mumbai where he will unveil a memorial to the victims of 26/11 at Nariman House with PM Netanyahu.
For God’s sake, the child has suffered a horrible tragedy in his life, losing his parents to terrorists’ bullets! As India and Israel get into an even closer clinch and Modi and Netanyahu address each other as ‘My friend, Bibi’ and ‘My friend, Narendra’ respectively, why should a little boy be unnecessarily dragged not once but twice into this bilateral relations building exercise?
For sure, diplomacy thrives on the mood, atmospherics, optics, etc when two leaders meet. But is it really necessary to milk the tragedy of Moshe’s life, again and again? Instead of photo-ops for the two leaders, what was required was some sensitivity in dealing with a mere child who’s probably yet to realise the magnitude of his loss, given his tender years. His grandparents who are bringing him up too need to share a portion of this blame for allowing their grandson to be part of this.
In Tel Aviv, during PM Modi’s visit last year, Moshe met him along with his grandparents in the presence of Netanyahu. But just a meeting with the little boy clearly wasn’t enough as far as the optics of the visit go. So Moshe was made to read a statement in “halting English” as reported by The Times of Israel in which he said: “I hope I will be able to visit Mumbai, and when I get older, live there. I will be the director of our Chabad House”.
Expectedly, the young boy was extended an invite to visit Mumbai and so here he is as India rolls out the red carpet for his country’s PM. The homecoming to the city of his birth could’ve waited and perhaps have been done in a more quiet, solemn manner. But photo-ops clearly couldn’t wait.