When I was a high school student at King David High School in Vancouver, I had an exceptional Hebrew teacher. She was exceptional because she taught us a lot more than Hebrew.
Shoshi never lost enthusiasm for her subject, and cared deeply about her students. She cared not just about their academic success, but also about their personal progress and emotional development. She was the teacher who inspired, empowered and instilled within us, her students, the knowledge that we could accomplish anything.
I started high school in 2001, approximately a year after the second intifada broke out. Stories were coming out constantly about the most recent terrorist attacks and casualties. As such, Shoshi would often bring in Hebrew newspaper articles for us to read together to stay abreast of the events in Israel.
We read the numbers: 15 killed, 130 wounded. We learned the words for “terrorist attack,” “suicide bomber,” “explosion,” “killed,” and “injured” –vocabulary I remember to this day.
When I was in 9th grade, my uncle came back from a trip to Israel. On his trip, he had met a young woman named Kinneret who had recently been a victim in a terrorist attack. She suffered terrible burns over much of her body, and doctors gave her a 2% chance of survival. Against all odds, she survived and began the arduous road to recovery. During the process she had the name “Chaya” added to her name, and became known as “Kinneret Lives.”
Due to her injuries and the overwhelming cost of recovery, upon hearing her story, I knew we had to do something. I brought the story to Shoshi, and we began a class project to raise money for Kinneret and her family. Though I don’t remember how much money we raised through our Popsicle and brownie sales, I do know that my classmates and I learned what it really meant when someone was “injured” in a terrorist attack.
For the first time, we learned there was something we could do about it.
Some time later, Shoshi brought us another story of a young boy named Oren Almog who had been a victim of terror. We learned Oren’s story while reading an article about the Maxim Restaurant suicide bombing where 21 people were killed and 51 injured.
I remember the vocabulary word we learned, “Du-kiyum,” “Coexistence,” because the restaurant was a joint venture between a Jewish Israeli and an Arab-Israeli.
We began a campaign called “Eyes for Oren.” Part of Oren’s injuries were to his eyes, and we were raising money to bring him to the U.S. for a surgery to potentially save his sight. Again, we gained a more intimate understanding of the cost of terror.
Flash forward to this week in Israel.
The no. 420 bus in Bat Yam was driving along its regular route, when a vigilant passenger noticed a suspicious object. He opened the bag to find a pressure cooker with wires coming out of it. Instantly, he informed the driver who quickly pulled the bus over and evacuated the passengers. Twelve minutes later, the bomb exploded, and miraculously, a potentially tragic and destructive attack was averted.
In fact, this week we have experienced an uptick in violence as another rocket fell in Israel from Gaza, a sniper shooting from Gaza killed an Israeli Bedouin soldier, and a disgruntled Palestinian stabbed a soldier who was directing traffic.
This week, I was also privileged to meet with Marc and Chantal Belzberg, the founders of OneFamily, Israel’s only national organization solely dedicated to the rehabilitation of victims of terror attacks and their families. OneFamily cares for the victims of terrorism and their families from the moment of impact and for as long as they require assistance, providing a personalized combination of legal, financial and emotional services and support.
I had a long conversation with the Belzbergs about the work that OneFamily does for the victims who become family to one another through the organization’s work.
“We realized that healing happens better together,” Marc said when discussing the support provided by OneFamily.
During our conversation, I mentioned the fundraising campaign my high school class had organized for Kinneret Chaya.
Chantal responded, “Kinneret just gave birth to her fourth child.”
Later in the evening, Marc showed me around the building. He pointed out pictures of different victims and told me snippets of their stories.
“This boy is blind in both eyes as a result of his injuries,” Marc informed me.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Oren Almog,” he responded.
In that moment, it hit me. As a student in high school, I never knew the outcome of our fundraising projects. And within thirty minutes, I found out that while Kinneret had moved forward and had built a beautiful family, our “Eyes for Oren” campaign, though well intentioned, did not save Oren’s eyes.
As much as victims are able to move on with their lives, and whether the effects are visible or beneath the surface, terror will always leave its mark on those who are caught in its destruction. Right now in Israel, we are seeing terror attacks happening more frequently than they have in a long time. Unfortunately, this also means that the work OneFamily does is more relevant than ever.
I am grateful to my teacher, Shoshi, for empowering us to take action when action is needed. It seems that the time is now.