David Califa was leading a group of food tourists in Istanbul in 2016 when three of them were killed in an Isis attack. But he was determined to go back to the city, its restaurants and his friends
March 2016 was only the third time David Califa had taken a group of Israelis on his Hungry Tourist food tour to Istanbul. It was going well; he was happy showing people the city he loved. On the morning of the 19th they went to Hayvore, a restaurant in the heart of the central Beyolu district, for a breakfast of pide, a kind of Turkish pizza, sometimes made with ground meat or vegetables, often gooey with molten cheese and topped with a fried egg. Califa had planned that afterwards they would eat kfte at Husseins and visit the market to stop at his favourite fish shop Reat Balik where owner Ahmet Yazgne had the most delicious lakerda cured bonito. The group of 12 walked to Istiklal Caddesi, the elegant street at the heart of Beyolu, once lined with grand department stores and colonnaded arcades, now pedestrianised andfull of international chains and banks. They stopped for a group photo.
I heard a bang like a metallic slam, says Califa. Then I opened my eyes and there was smoke. Somehow he found he was still standing up, but his clothes were torn and his ankle was bleeding. I saw my friends lying in front of me. One woman was already dead. Others were terribly wounded. He saw too the body of the suicide bomber. My girlfriend took me by the hand and we sat down. It felt like ages waiting. Half an hour feels like a lifetime. Everyone was bleeding, everyone was shouting. Two of my friends died in front of me. An old man working in a small shop selling cheap scarves ran into the street with all the scarves and tried to staunch the bleeding and tie tourniquets. I remember looking up and people were at every window with phones.
A Turkish member of the Islamic State had detonated a suicide bomb. Four people were killed: three from Califas group, Simha Damri, 60, Yonatan Suher, 40, and Avraham Goldman, 69, as well as a passerby, an Iranian, Ali Reza Razmkhah whose two small children were among the 36 people injured.
Califas group were taken to different hospitals, where some needed extensive surgery; the Israelis quickly repatriated their citizens. Califa had shrapnel in his ankle. He was in hospital in Tel Aviv for a week. For a while he felt numb. Three months after the attack, he split up with his girlfriend. While I was sitting on the street, waiting for the ambulance, I realised life had changed. Even then I thought: I would not let the terrorists punish me twice, first with the loss of my friends and then to deny me a city I loved. I knew I would come back.