Last week, Hamas terrorist Ibrahim Hamed was sentenced by an Israeli court to 54 life terms for masterminding some of the most horrific suicide attacks of the Second Intifada. For 35-year-old Jacob Kimchy however, this small act of justice was cold comfort.
In addition to the Café Hillel and Hebrew University terrorist attacks, Hamed was also responsible for the May 7, 2002, suicide bombing at the Sheffield Club in Rishon LeZion, which left 16 dead and almost 100 injured. One of those murdered was 58-year-old Rami Kimchy, Jacob’s father.
For Jacob, who was a 24-year-old student and fresh out of the IDF at the time, it was a day that “changed everything.”
Rami was a role model to Jacob, someone he both loved and admired. With his voice visibly cracking, Jacob describes his father as “a great man, sensitive, warm, loving, who always smiled and lived for his family.”
Rami was also very kind-hearted and giving, and Jacob recalls how he would often help those less fortunate than himself, especially young families, whether with food, money or emotional counsel. In his later years, Rami turned to driving a taxi as a way to make an extra living for his family.
Rami’s story is all the more incredible given the fact that he survived a horrendous car accident in the late 1980s, which left him with a prosthetic leg and screws in both arms.
Jacob remembers the day of the attack as vividly as if it had taken place just yesterday. He was having a late dinner with a friend when he got a call from another friend who said there was a terror attack at the Sheffield Club, a popular bar and café in Rishon LeZion. His initial reaction was “we must go there and help; somebody we know could have been hurt.”
Asked to describe what he saw that night, Jacob says, “I can only answer I visited the devil’s playground; the entire place was destroyed, with pieces of bodies covering the entrance and everyone screaming and crying.”
And then everything changed – as Jacob noticed his father’s empty taxi parked immediately outside.
Rami had gone to the club that night to pick up a passenger; however when his customer did not arrive, he went inside to see what was keeping him. At the same time, a 20-year-old Hamas suicide bomber entered the club, killing 16 people – including Rami.
Jacob, who is currently living in New York, notes, “nothing remained of my father; the explosion was so strong that we didn’t even have a body to bury.” Rami’s body was identifiable only by his prosthetic leg and stills.
Jacob says he felt as if “the sky fell” on him. The initial shock quickly turned into a realization that “I don’t have a father anymore,” and that life would never be the same.
But in spite of his crushing private grief, Jacob was inspired to find a way to honor his father’s memory and help other victims of terror – not just in Israel, but also around the world. This led him him in 2006 to create One Heart, a non-profit devoted to helping child victims of terror, with a particular emphasis on providing psychological and trauma support.
Based out of New York, One Heart facilitates regular meetings, free of charge, between terror victims and counseling experts to help them cope with their loss.
In March 2011, One Heart brought a group of teenagers from Spain, Northern Ireland, France, Liberia, Rwanda, the US and Israel to spend eight days in New York. They got to meet world leaders and dignitaries, tour the United Nations and Ground Zero and a special trip to the FAO Schwarz toy store.
Under normal circumstances these kids would never have met. But Jacob says they were all united by a “common thread” – that irrespective of where they came from, all were either victims of terror or had lost loved ones to terrorism. Jacob adds that perhaps the most important element of their trip was to meet one another, to share their experiences, and to know they were not alone.
“Telling their stories empowers them,” he said.
In addition to his work with One Heart, Jacob is also a regular speaker in the US and Europe on the Middle East, Israel and terrorism, having addressed audiences ranging from high school students, UN officials and politicians, church groups and even the Spanish royal family. “I also want to help Israeli public diplomacy,” he says.
However, not prepared to rest on his laurels, Jacob has even grander plans.
With philanthropy seemingly running in the Kimchy family, Jacob is currently working on a joint project with his mother, who heads the Organization of the Victims of Terrorism in Israel. Together, they have arranged a mass bar/bat mitzva party in Jerusalem in October this year – for 100 kids who are either victims of terror or have lost loved ones. The day will start at the Western Wall and conclude with a special reception at the official residence of President Shimon Peres.
Jacob is also working on a book. In part, it will be autobiographical, but its overriding theme will be an inspirational tone on coping with and overcoming grief. As someone who has gone through the pain of losing a loved one to terrorism, he knows all too well how difficult it is to overcome the loss, which for him is still “a never-ending reminder.”
Kimchy’s selfless devotion to others and dedication to helping those in need, especially children, is truly remarkable. I asked what keeps him going and fuels his desire to help others. Without a moment’s hesitation, Kimchy says, “My father is the ultimate source of my motivation.”
Rami Kimchy, who taught his son that “one of the most important things in life is to be a mentsch,” would indeed be proud of the man his son has become.