Israeli who survived ISIL bombing in Istanbul meets doctor who saved her life

Israeli who survived ISIL bombing in Istanbul meets doctor who saved her life

Aylin Öney Tan -
Israeli who survived ISIL bombing in Istanbul meets doctor who saved her life He is big, really big! He stands up to greet me with an even bigger smile and hugs me tightly like a dear friend who has been away for so long. It is the first time we have met, but I feel like I’ve known him for ages. That is how I meet David Dudi Califa in person. He takes my arm and takes me to his friends that agreed to come back to Istanbul with him. They are the survivors of the bombing on İstiklal Avenue that killed three of their friends back on March 19. Brave hearts indeed to have the guts to pay another visit to a place that changed their lives forever!

I remember the devastating incident vividly. Apart from the horror of the tragedy, what struck me was the group was visiting Istanbul for a gastronomy tour. I’m also conducting exclusive culinary walks, and one of my groups could be hit just like this group. Culinary tours are about the joys of life, and even within a few hours, people feel like they have been friends forever. It has such a bonding nature. They were on their way to their next culinary spot when they were hit by the bomb. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) suicide bomber was ironically from a city of gastronomy, Gaziantep. Three of their friends lost their lives. The night before they had a fantastic dinner at Mikla, a high-end restaurant, cheerfully raising their glass toward the amazing view of Istanbul. They were aiming to taste the best food within a wide range, from premium top places to humble hole-in-the-wall street food spots. David Dudi Califa was the guide and founder of the top gastronomy website in Israel, and he surely knew where to find the best of the best, even better than a dedicated Istanbul foodie. 

David first contacted me back in August, after seeing an article by Tom Parker Bowles in the July issue of Esquire UK. Tom was here in Istanbul earlier in the year, together with his friend Bill Knott, a columnist for the FT supplement “How to Spend It!” whom I also knew from his former visit to Istanbul. Tom wrote about a couple of places that David also liked, insisting that people should keep on visiting Istanbul despite terror attacks. He particularly referred to the March 19 attack, and his final remark was: “Times may be tough and the future insecure. But Istanbul will endure. Istanbul always does.” In his article, he also mentioned me as I’d spent the whole day with them, showing them my favorite spots. It was a twist of fate that he was referring to attacks that David and his friends had suffered and it was through this article that David found me on Facebook. We all bonded with our gastronomic interests. 

When I met David’s friends, I was struck by the story of one lovely and lively young lady. Her smile was as big as David’s, and she told me that she was very excited to be back to meet the man who saved her life. She was Yehudit Sharig, the one that clung to life miraculously. The team at Çapa Hospital first brought her back to life after her heart stopped, and then called the only doctor that could do the critical surgery. Israeli experts say that this was the only surgery that could save her, and it could not be done anywhere else in the world. That doctor was Alper Toker, a Turkish surgeon specialized in tracheal resection surgery. 

Later in the day at a reception, I bumped into my friend Ülkü Kahraman and started chatting about the Vergnano Turkish coffee she is set to launch in November. My mind was still with the group and I automatically turned the conversation to the story of Yehudit. She let out a small cry and told me that that the doctor was her neighbor, and called him at once. Small, small world, and amazing coincidences! Later at night, I met with the group at Zübeyir Ocakbaşı, sat beside Yehudit and told her that I was with the neighbor of her lifesaver minutes ago. 

Professor Alper Toker, the heroic doctor, had also been a victim of violence. He had been the target of an attack in the parking lot of the hospital, and this was not the only time he had experienced violence. One time, his professor, the legendary Professor Dr. Necip Göksel Kalaycı, the first surgeon to realize a lung transplant in Turkey, was the victim of bloodthirsty mafiosi killers seeking revenge for their lost father. He was shot dead with 10 bullets in the hospital’s parking lot where Dr. Toker, too, nearly became a victim near his professor and mentor. The former president of the European Society of Thoracic Surgeons, Alper Toker is a kind, peaceful and dedicated person, passionately in love with his profession. He admits that the operation was not an easy one, but interestingly, he had given a lecture just on that type of surgery the day before at an international meeting in Istanbul even though the talk would normally have been held in Antalya. So, he was supposed to be out of town, but the conference venue was switched to Istanbul. Just before the operation, he even managed to have a consultation over his phone with his colleagues at the conference.
Food bonds people. It bonded me to Tom and Bill in their former visits to Istanbul; when they came back in town, there we were, chasing the best food once again… Then Tom wrote about his visit, David read it, and this coincidence bonded me with David. David wrote to me, and we found out that we had so many people we knew together. 

I’m glad to know Dudi. As he is big, he has even a bigger heart that beats for peace and friendship, and of course for food. He tells me that when Yehudit woke up three weeks after the surgery, she said she wanted to eat Şahin Döner’s kebab near the Grand Bazaar. He promised that he would bring her back to savor it, and they did. When there, he called me to tell the döner master why they were there and sent me pictures of Yehudit with the kebab guys. All cooks and waiters love him. 

He is a man of passion. I know he will never give up, and we should all never give up. Keeping alive the joy of life is the best answer to fear-inducing terrorism, and of course terrorism is the inevitable result of the war-driven politics of big brothers. 

We, as small brothers and sisters, with big smiles and hearts like Dudi, Yehudit and Dr. Alper, have to keep on smiling at each other, at life and at the world despite all the atrocities. 

I scroll back through Dudi’s postings in FB; one post says it all: “The reason why I love Istanbul so much is its flavors, smells, places to see, but most of all its people.” 

How can I reply to that? We do love you too, Dudi; we have bonds forever; we and your friends, Yehudit and Dr. Alper, and all the chefs, cooks and waiters now have bonds. As Tom stated, we’ll endure, we always do. Come back soon!