Turks and Jews in the Jersey Burbs
By Daniel S. Brenner
When I hear something awful, like the news that an 85-year-old grandmother and her 8-year-old granddaughter are murdered by a terrorist along with twenty-six others in a blast in Istanbul, I deal with my emotional turmoil by doing something mindless and useful - like raking leaves.
I was raking the last leaves of autumn from my front yard in Montclair on Sunday morning, trying to take my mind off the thought that synagogues are prime targets for explosives when Evrim came walking up to me. I stopped the rake and turned his direction to wave hello, but before I could get a word out I saw the tears welled up in his eyes.
"Did you hear the news?" he said.
Evrim is my tenant- for the last two years he has lived in the third floor apartment above my house while finishing his MBA. We rarely speak, other than "Is the apartment too hot/ too cold?" and he's quiet and works late. So I have to say that this was the first time I've ever seen him emotional like this, his face carrying the news of tragedy.
I nodded in his direction. "I heard the news." I said, "so sad."
Evrim is a Turk and a Muslim. After completing school in Istanbul he came to the U.S. to do graduate work. It was right after 9/11, and he had a hard time finding an apartment. He pleaded with me to read his two letters of recommendation from his professors. I made a phone call to his advisor to make sure they were legitimate. I made out a lease.
"I had to come and talk to you, " he said, "because it is so sad to me. All morning I've been asking myself - 'How can a religious person destroy a synagogue?'"
"I don't know," I said.
We stood together, chilled by the cool breeze in the air, and we spoke.
I spoke of one of my classmates during my time living in Jerusalem, a young woman who was killed by a terrorist while taking a nature hike. He spoke of his father, a teacher who was imprisoned for speaking out against the government’s persecution of Kurds. We talked of how the world has changed since the Cold War, and where we thought the world was heading now that Islamic extremists are expanding their attack strategy. We stood, a Jew and a Turk in the Jersey Burbs, sharing our histories and sorrows.
"I don't know how it will end.” Evrim said, “but I just know that it is terrible what the Jewish people are going through."
"Thanks, Evrim." I said, and I went back to raking.
Late Sunday night, I click on the radio on the top of the frig as I clean up after the kids. I hear that many Turks have come out to the two bombed out synagogues and are holding a vigil. They say that they stand with the Jews. I'd like to think that after such a heinous act - the destruction of families as they are taking part in a religious celebration - that not only Turkish Muslims, but Muslims around the world will grieve, and lift up their voices in disgust. I’m not naïve – I know that there are those who cheer every time a Jew is murdered, but it is a comfort to know that there are those whose hearts ache at such atrocities. One of them happens to be living above me. For this I am grateful.