In her recent Times of Israel blog, Suri Kinzbrunner explains about the miracles of Chanukah and its explicit charge to “publicize the miracles” by lighting the menorah for eight nights. With the miracle of the Chanukah story fresh in our minds and the image of the candles burning brightly, it is a good time to look back, remember, and publicize the miraculous survival – and recovery – of four survivors of terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada.
Especially in the first two years of the Second Intifada, the roads leading to the communities in Judea and Samaria, more commonly referred to as the West Bank, were frequent targets of shooting attacks. Thousands of residents of Jerusalem’s “southern gate” communities, including Efrat and Gilo, were targets of daily bombings, land mines, grenade attacks, shootings, and stonings. In this blog, four ordinary people tell their stories of being the innocent targets of shootings and bombings while they were on their way to and from their homes and work.
Jacki Glassman and BD both made aliya, Jacki from South Africa and BD from the United States. Both live in Efrat, the principal town of the historic Etzion Bloc region that had been under Jewish control even before the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and was recaptured in 1967. Both of their vehicles were shot at by terrorists along two different routes leading in and out of Efrat – the “Tunnel Road” and the “Back Road.”
On April 12, 2001, Jacki was driving a Fiat Uno, “five seats – a small car.” He picked up two hitchhikers who were friends of his and they sat together in the back seat. It was quite uneventful until they came to the first tunnel roadblock on the road to Jerusalem. “Suddenly we heard bullets flying all around and it sounded like we were in the middle of a movie theater…. We waited and nothing else happened, so we just carried on our way towards Jerusalem.” Once they got past the second tunnel and into Jerusalem, Jacki stopped the car at a traffic light, got out of the car, and found a bullet lodged inside the back door. He also saw in the middle of the top of the car what appeared to be an entry hole; and at the back of the car what appeared to be an exit hole. “It was unbelievable. The bullet must have gone into the car and passed between the two of them and through the backseat and into the boot! Clearly we had been through a miracle.”
An Orthodox Jew, with a strong belief in God, Jacki follows the Jewish practice from biblical times that if “you have personally gone through a miracle you have the duty to publicize the miracle. So I had to share the experience with friends and family so they would understand that, although we might be going through difficult times, there is Somebody up there Who is guiding the show and looking after us and we’ve got to take encouragement from it.”
Ever since, on or soon after the nineteenth of every Hebrew month, as he drives past the place where the incident took place, “I give thanks to the One Above Who performed a miracle for me at this place.” For Jacki, believing in God is also saying that “everything that happens to us is directed by Him and that the burden that God decides for us is the way that we can most grow. And at the end of the day, the questions are – were we the best that we could be? Did we live up to our own potential?” And that is how Jacki lives his life.
A few months later, on August 27, 2001, BD was being driven from the airport to his home in Efrat via the Back Road between Bet Shemesh and Efrat. “It’s considered the safest route.” Suddenly, he looked out the window and saw three men dressed in black, their faces covered with hoods, aiming rifles at the car. “It was nighttime and I saw at the end of a rifle what looked like fire and bullets began hitting the car.” Like Jacki, “For a second I didn’t believe it was happening. It was like watching a movie.”
About fifteen bullets went into the car and BD was hit by at least one bullet. He was fortunate to survive. His was one of four or five shooting incidents on different roads that night, and in each one of the others somebody died. His right hand was shattered and he had shrapnel in his legs, hands, and arms, which later resulted in infections. He has 90 percent use of his hand, although he cannot read his own handwriting now – “But it’s not the end of the world. I can use a computer.”
BD’s initial reaction to the attack and his injuries was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. “I knew that I had come within millimeters of having my head blown off.” This feeling was followed by thankfulness and optimism. “It was not very likely that I should have survived. I was just ecstatic. I knew what could have happened.” Since the attack, he places greater value on doing chesed (acts of kindness). And, like Jacki, every year, BD and his wife host a seudat hodaya – a festive meal of thanksgiving – around the date of the attack to give thanks for being saved.
On June 18, 2002, Ronit Elchayani and Ronit Tubul dropped their young children off at daycare and were on their way to work in the center of Jerusalem, when they were gravely injured and in a coma from a bus bombing that killed nineteen people and injured seventy-four. They were traveling from their homes in Gilo, a residential neighborhood that lies within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and that had been subjected to frequent gunfire and mortar attacks, launched by Palestinian militias shooting from the Christian Arab village of Beit Jala near Bethlehem.
She suffers from physical and memory problems, but Ronit Elchayani has a strong belief in God and hopes for a better world “because I was like a dead woman and it was a miracle that I was reborn…. My father, who is a rabbi, thinks he has some private angel in the skies that was taking care of me and helping me.” She focuses on her children, the little things, and the hope that someday she will stop suffering. She tries to stay positive, has a new appreciation of life, and is helped to move on by her own inner strength. “If I see my little child laughing or when he’s just yelling mommy, it’s very exciting, very exciting that I am a mother again…. Getting up in the morning and seeing outside that the sun is shining, for me it’s like a miracle. It’s a new life, new world, it’s fantastic.”
Although everything is as important as it was before – her family, friends, work, politics, and religion, Ronit Tubul now has a greater belief in God and thinks differently about the “importance of life. I don’t forget, not for a second, what a miracle I experienced. I got my life back and I believe that what God has done is a miracle. I will never, never, ever stop thanking God.” On lifetime anticoagulant medication because of the remaining pieces of shrapnel in her head and body and with her blood vessels traumatized by her injuries, she was warned against another pregnancy, but the warning fell on deaf ears as she looked forward with hope and faith. “I will have children, even though I know it will be hard. But I am willing to suffer because I want brothers and sisters to my child. And I want to do things like a regular person, more and more as I can.” Almost three years after the fateful day she boarded the Jerusalem bus, Ronit gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
We give thanks to Hashem for these miracles and for the strength and determination of these people who have moved forward with their lived and demonstrate the power to light up the darkness of terrorism, refusing to allow the terrorists to stop their way of life.