Community is commonly defined as “a group of people who live in the same area (such as a city, town, or neighborhood).” But as I discovered recently, in Rehovot, community means so much more. The beauty and magic we have experienced in the last two months in this community – and beyond – transcend any dictionary definition, and any reasonable expectation of human compassion for a stranger.
Soon after the stabbings began, in October, my good friend Chaya Hitin and I would talk about how helpless and hopeless we felt in the face of such sickening terror. There is no detaching yourself from the news – or the pain – when you live in Israel. The 60-year-old Savta could have been your neighbor down the street. The policeman who was stabbed could have lived in your town, shopped in your supermarket. The terror hurts us all – and it is only a matter of time before you sadly know of someone who knows someone who was hurt. Our country is small – and our hearts are big.
The Facebook messages between me and Chaya were filled with both frustration and sadness – and a desire to do more. We would paste each other Muqata updates and felt impotent in the face of yet another attack against one of our own. We decided that the only thing that we, as two people could do, was to raise awareness about an organization that is assisting victims of terror. We both asked around, and decided in the end to bring One Family to Rehovot. The founder of One Family was a client for Chaya’s work, and put us in touch with One Family’s regional representative, who agreed to come to Rehovot on November 2 to talk to the community about the work of One Family, and local opportunities to volunteer.
By objective standards, the evening was not a success, to say the least. We got 20 people in the room, but many left frustrated. The representative had shared his personal story, as well as a description of One Family’s blessed work with victims of terror – but the overwhelming feeling that people walked away with was that they wanted to help – but didn’t know how. The 20 people who attended that evening filled out volunteer sheets – with their areas of interest in volunteering. They could have no idea that evening how each of them – and the community beyond – would be called upon.
Six weeks later, during Chanukah, Chaya received a call from One Family’s regional representative. 35-year-old Awakke Adanne, resident of Rehovot, and military police commando, had been stabbed.
On a break, Awakke bought himself a shawarma sandwich. He sat in his military jeep with the door open (so he could act quickly should something happen nearby). His comrades were getting food for themselves. Suddenly a terrorist grabbed his head and head and held a commando-type jagged knife to his throat. Somehow Awakke grabbed the terrorist’s head and got him in a lynch hold. The terrorist still had the knife and sawed Awakke’s arm, up and down the length. Despite the knife carving his flesh, he held on tight, recalling he had a gun in his vest and thought that if he attempted to take it out, odds were the terrorist would get it away from him and kill him. As well as others.
Awakke yelled to his comrades and told them not to shoot from afar, only at close range. Quickly one comrade shot the terrorist in the head pointblank. For whatever reason the other comrade didn’t get the message and starting shooting, hitting Awakke in the foot. At this point Awakke was out of the jeep and on the ground. He told those around him to not knock into his feet because he was shot.
He no longer felt his arm and blacked out. He came to at the hospital. It took surgeons 8 hours to reattach much of his arm. The bullet was left in his foot because a bone was broken and doctors need to wait to remove it until the area has healed or he’s at risk of losing his foot. Two months later – and the bullet is still in there.
Awakke, and his then almost-9-month pregnant wife, and three- and four-year-old daughter and son, live across the road from Chaya, and just five minutes away from me. Without that original meeting with One Family, which we had deemed to be a failure, we would never have heard about Awakke, his wife, Abakalesh, and their children, Lidor and Shylee.
We reached out to our list of 20 people who attended the meeting and had filled out the volunteer sheet by email. Abakelesh, almost nine months pregnant, stayed by Awakke’s side night and day. We needed to help them. What started out as an email to 20 people for emergency items – such as groceries and emails – evolved into this – a committed core of almost 100 people from the Berman community and beyond, who were not about to allow their neighbor, a hero living among us, suffer alone.
If I were to mention each person from this incredible Berman’s, Chatam, and Chabad communities here in Rehovot, not to mention the people from Chashmonaim, Modiin, and many other communities in Israel – and abroad (Sweden, US, England) – who literally jumped at every opportunity to help, this piece would be endless. Just to highlight some of the miracles:
* Within 24 hours of finding out about Awakke Adanne, we had meals lined up for them for two weeks solid.
* When buying Shabbat food for the Adanne family from a local supermarket, the woman behind the counter, when hearing about Awakke Adanne, gave me an extra container of food for free.
* The Adannes’ AC broke down during the coldest time of the year. Within two weeks, the Berman community – as well as many other kind and good people from all over the world – raised almost 6000 NIS to replace their AC so that Abakelesh would not have to return to her apartment with a newborn to a freezing cold apartment.
* Selfless friends of mine gave up their evenings to drive with me to Tel Hashomer to offer words of comfort, cards, and chocolate to Awakke on the day of the Tiberias Marathon, a race he was supposed to have run. Other friends came with me late at night to deliver a car seat for the Adannes’ beautiful baby boy, as well as other items, so they could be discharged from the hospital.
* I posted on Facebook that we wanted to hire a cleaner for the Adanne family for the short-term. Within an hour – I kid you not – I had enough funds to bring in a cleaner for over a month. All via Facebook message – many requesting to stay anonymous.
* And when Abakelesh did go into labor, but did not have any support at the hospital, with Awakke immobile by her side, a birth coach on the Facebook group contacted another birth coach – and within an hour this angel turned up at Tel Hashomer, took Abakelesh’s hand, up until that moment a stranger, and accompanied her through labor, never letting go of her hand and not asking for a shekel in return.
* A woman in our community, a medical clown by profession, knew the Adanne family personally since their child was in the same gan as one of the Awakke children. From the minute this woman found out what happened to Awakke, she has been present and available for every single form of help required – play dates for the children, visits to Abakelesh and Awakke in the hospital, meals cooked, the list goes on.
* Another woman from Chashmonaim, who heard about our group from a friend on Buy, Sell, Swap, collected clothes from a group of friends who wanted to help – and turned up yesterday with bags filled with clothes and other baby items, and so much love and support. She is currently raising money for the family among her work colleagues to provide ongoing support for the Adanne family.
The Jewish people have suffered blow after blow, and in Israel we are at the front line of this battle of good against evil. Yet despite the gloom we hear in the news, I am proud to share the goodness that is among us. Abakelesh and Awakke named their son, Eitan. During the brit, Awakke’s commander blessed everyone there. In the darkest of times, there are souls whose light shines so bright that they lift up and support our heroes who live among us.