This was written November 2015 in response to the shooting of Ezra Schwartz obm, an American student studying abroad in Israel for the year. At the time I did not publish this and I realize there are so many of us that are going through this battle I felt it belonged here now.
To the friends of Ezra Schwartz OBM,
I just got off the phone with Sarri Singer of strength to strength (a network supporting victims of terrorism around the world and bringing them together to heal) and my heart hurts for you. I remember when I was little my parents taught me how to ride a bike, then a pair of skates. Once you got the 4 wheel skates down we got in line skates and then ice skates. This is one of life’s messages. You will get good at it. Then life will change.
I too am a survivor at the hands of terrorists at the age of 17. Terrorists whose sole purpose is to drive terror into people. They aren’t soldiers in some make believe army proudly wearing a uniforms and walking in the streets. The terrorist don’t smile and wave at the children of the world to show what a difference they are making for their cause. These terrorist hide in plain clothing. They disguise themselves as people because they have nothing unique to show for themselves. No great uniform to display proudly and no nation or army to call their own. So when I say I am a survivor I don’t give to much thought to the thoughtless. I haven’t once uttered their names or bothered to see who supported their act of cowardness because they are not worthy of my acknowledgment.
The weeks and months after my attack were difficult. When nearly being killed over a cup of coffee and bagel happens it can put your life at a halt. I remember not being able to have petty discussions. Well meaning people including my parents would phone me from across the world to see how I was feeling and sometimes I would answer and sometimes I simply could not. The truth I realize now is that I didn’t know how I was feeling. There were days where I was grateful I was alive, and days I struggled with the fact that others were lost. Moments where I would close my eyes and replay those awful sounds, sights and smells that I didn’t want to relive and certainly didn’t want to burden another. I would hear about the nearly two hundred injured and think to myself how many more of us are there that don’t have injures on our skin but have wounds just as deep in our hearts.
I stayed in Israel for 3 more years against the phone calls and wishes of my parents and family. Each time attack happened someone would beg me to return to the states. I knew that if I left at that time, the cowards would win and I would never return. As the weeks and months went on I felt that I had daily battles. First to get up each day. Once I conquered that it was the battle to leave my dorm to go to school. After that it was the battle to leave the campus. I remember getting up to leave to go down the street for a simple errand and deciding in can wait till tomorrow. I didn’t even realize till now 14 years later how each of these moments were a triumph for me. The first time I honestly left my campus was to volunteer over shabbos in a hospital. I remember the little boy whose name was dvir who was fighting a terminal battle. I spent that shabbos for the first time in weeks not replaying those horrible moments but praying to gd for a miracle. It was a break through for me, to concentrate on someone else’s battles for a moment rather than fight my own demons.
That year was marked by constant battles. I wish I can say I learned more, spent more time in school, obtained a vast amount of torah from some of the most brilliant minds at my fingertips, but I survived and I won. And that for me was an accomplishment.
My 2nd and 3rd year in Israel I can say I was more productive. I learnt more, studied more, have more on a piece of paper to show to the world but my life really changed in a 30 minutes span that first year on a Saturday night in December. In Israel it’s unfortunately almost easy to say I’m a survivor. It seems as though everyones life is effected by senseless tragedy out there. The battles though continues for years. Coming back to the states though when people hear I’m a survivor they want details of my ordeal. They want to know where I was, who I was with and how many bodies I saw laying in the street. Their questions are well meaning at times but not the moments I always want to share. Maybe thats why I stayed for all those years. To be part of the country who has survived like I have versus out in the states where our group is practically alone. People don’t want to know how I cringe each time I hear a firework go off. How a loud sound like that of a dumpster being dropped from the garbage truck makes my heart race. Everyone wants to know about the moment.. My life has changed though more than a moment my life has changed on constant.
These next few weeks, months and years will be these battles. Some will be easier some will be harder. You will share what you chose when you want to and how you want to. I can tell you finding a cause to help others was something that helped me tremendously. Please find something that can help you. Something positive, something that you can lost in even for a few minutes. It may seem incredibly difficult today. Think about it and push yourself for tomorrow.
Today just get up a look at the sun, smile at a stranger and hug those close to you because if you accomplish nothing else today you have still won the battle. It may seem like everything today is a battle but tomorrow you will master it and the playing field change even just a little. Last week my son mastered his bike, now we are learning to ride a rip stick. What seems impossible today will change. You will learn to ride again. The field will just be a little different.