Monday, July 28, 2014

Stories of Terror Strike Home

I’ve written about the intertwining of current events and news articles with my life experiences. Today provided examples of both the bemusing and tragic juxtapositions of reality with my past.

Monday’s New York Times ran an article on Chatham, Mass., where a little more than two decades ago my magazine co-sponsored a retail innovation technology award (RITA) competition at the Chatham Bars Inn. Invoking the perquisite of office, I brought along my whole family for three days of fun, walking and biking around Chatham and playing on the beach, a mini vacation catalogued by Gilda on our VCR camera, the tapes of which I recently converted to DVD format. Gilda filmed me walking from my meeting to the beach where Dan and Ellie built sand castles.

One of Gilda’s and my fondest memories of our children is dinner in the dining room of the Chatham Bars Inn. The dozen adults—judges and spouses—ate together. As required by the hotel, the men wore jackets and ties. Ellie and Dan, respectively 8 and 11, ate at a separate table in a separate area of the dining room. We dressed them up in their finest outfits. The wait staff treated them like a prince and princess. They were models of decorum, acting very grown up amid very grown up surroundings.

The Times article chronicled the increased presence of great white sharks in the waters around Chatham, a terror the town has not only learned to live with but also has embraced for economic benefit (

A continent away, in the waters of Venice Beach, Calif., where Gilda and I stayed two years ago, terror of another kind struck Sunday. A lightning strike electrified the salt water, injuring about a dozen swimmers. One young man died. 

Like many of you, I heard of this tragedy on the radio news. The deceased was not identified. As I was riding Metro North to Manhattan this morning to attend a rally against man-made terror by Hamas against Israel, a friend at my former magazine called. The young man who died was the son of our West Coast saleswoman. 

It’s been hard to breathe deeply all day. The support for Israel rally brought out collective grief, not just for Israelis killed in the conflict in Gaza but also for the hundreds of civilian Palestinians killed, injured and trapped in the crossfire. Jews identify with the suffering of other Jews, and other peoples. It’s in our blood, our DNA, given our long history of persecution. But it’s mostly an abstract association. Among the six million who were murdered in the Holocaust, many of my relatives could be numbered. But I never met them. I have pictures of but a few of them. 

Similarly, I know many Israelis, friends and relatives. I long for a time when they won’t be in daily danger, when they can return to the beaches of Tel Aviv and Herzliya without fear, without searching for the location of the nearest bomb shelter.

Nick Fagnano just wanted to wash the sand from his body when he waded into the Pacific Ocean right before the lightning struck. I might have met Nick once when he was a teenager. I truly don’t remember. But I knew his mother for most of the 32 years I worked for Lebhar-Friedman. Mary joined the sales staff of Chain Store Age in 2003. She and her husband, Jay, always talked positively about their son, his devotion to baseball. He was a pitcher on the Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High School baseball team. In September he was to enter USC as a junior to study urban development.

Headlines and initial stories said, “20-year-old man” killed by lightning. Yes, he was old enough to be called a man. But to Mary and Jay, he will always be their boy, their only child, taken from them in a freakish confluence of timing and nature.