Exactly two decades ago this month, I received an invitation to visit Israel from an Israeli business owner. Our connection had originated from my assistance in settling his family and establishing his US office in Cleveland, which eventually evolved into a close friendship. This journey was not only a remarkable business opportunity but also a deeply personal experience, allowing me to explore one of the most historically significant and spiritually revered destinations for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. As a Muslim it was very moving for me. 

Stepping off the plane at Ben-Gurion Airport, I was immediately struck by a familiar scent, climate and atmosphere that transported me back to my childhood—a sensation I hadn’t felt since I was seven years old. It was reminiscent of my birthplace, Iran, a country I could no longer return to due to the revolution in 1979. My late father’s close friend and business partner was an Iranian Jew, and their close relationship and friendship began in the 1950’s. The revolution in 1979 rendered both families’ persona non grata, preventing their return. Growing up, I became intimately acquainted with Jewish traditions and holidays due to the close ties between our families, considering them an extension of my own. Even today, the next generation maintains this closeness, and I continue to extend Jewish holiday greetings to all my Jewish friends, in Hebrew of course, often earning me the title of “the honorary member of the tribe.”

Considering my background, it was profoundly symbolic for me to follow in my father’s footsteps from another time, by forming business partnerships and establishing the same close friendships with members of the Jewish faith.

My visit to Israel proved to be highly successful from a business standpoint, as I engaged with and forged partnerships with Israeli tech entrepreneurs within a week. I had the privilege of exploring Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and concluding my trip in Haifa. I felt so much at home as the culture, food, people, energy was all that was familiar to me. Even how Israelis drive and at times yell at the traffic police. 

Towards the conclusion of my initial trip, on the last day, we descended from Haifa and made a stop at another renowned Israeli establishment called Maxim’s. This restaurant, situated right by the water, was steeped in history and symbolism, notwithstanding its exceptional cuisine. I had the privilege of meeting the owners, who were partners since the 1960’s: one was an Israeli Jew and the other was an Arab Christian. The three of us sat together, sharing stories and experiences, all while reflecting on the irony that we, as a Jew, Christian, and Muslim, were sitting in perfect harmony at the same table, amidst the backdrop of hatred emanating from all directions. I relished our extended lunch, conversation, and newfound friendships before making my way to Tel Aviv to catch my flight back to the U.S. 

Just 48 hours later, at that very spot where I had dined, a suicide bomber wreaked havoc, claiming the lives of those present—Jews and Arabs alike—and shattering the hope that the place had come to symbolize: peace and harmony. I have often pondered what the trajectory of my family’s life would have been if I had been there that day. My two children at the time would have been left fatherless, my third child would never have come into this world, and I wouldn’t be here today, writing about the perplexing madness that has been unfolding in Israel since just a week ago. In Islam, it is unequivocally stated that such acts are utterly unacceptable, as the very essence of Islam embodies the concept of peace. The overwhelming majority of Muslims across the world adhere to this fundamental principle. Period.

To bring this Israeli chapter of my life full circle, exactly 20 years from my first visit, and after a 15-year absence from Israel, I only recently opened an office in Tel Aviv on October 1, 2023, through another business venture. Once again in my life, I find myself standing in solidarity with the people of Israel, alongside my Israeli partners, staff, and their families.

My heart goes out to all those affected by the senselessness and brutality that has ignited and impacted the innocent families and children on both sides. No child should ever have to go through such torment.  I am ill from watching this unfold. This tragedy hits close to home on many levels for me, and I sincerely hope and pray for some resolution to this ongoing turmoil. In the meantime, I look forward to returning to Maxim’s one day to remind myself that there is always hope.