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Remembering Malki on the first Memorial Day after her murderer’s release

On Memorial Day, a mother recalls her daughter's murder -- and bemoans the recent release her unrepentant murderer
A portrait of Malki Roth
A portrait of Malki Roth

Twenty three years ago, soon after immigrating to Israel, my husband and I took our children to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv. Our youngest and only daughter at the time, Malki, was three and a half. At one point, engrossed in the miniature replicas of synagogues from around the world, my husband let her hand slip out of his. By the time he realized it, Malki was nowhere in sight. We searched  the entire museum building, questioned the guard who said he hadn’t seen her, and then, along with security men, scoured the grounds.

An anxious mother at the best of times, I crumbled. Through sobs and tears, I cried, “How will I live without my Malki?”

Half an hour later, we found her at the far end of the campus, sitting in the entrance booth with a guard, munching on a sandwich he had given her. She had stoically marched across the vast lawns without betraying her panic. Apparently she looked so confident that nobody approached her. Having lost sight of us in the museum, she had set out to find us.

For many years, we would relate this tale to all and sundry. We framed the happy family photo taken at the museum after Malki’s return and displayed it in our living room.

Malki Roth
Malki Roth

The photo still stands on our piano — alongside the many other photos of Malki that are arrayed there to remind everyone of her. But we no longer tell the story of her disappearance because my darkest fear of that day has been realized. I am indeed living without my Malki.

Ten years ago she was the target of a terror bombing. Along with 14 other Jewish men, women and children, she died while having lunch at Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant.

The horrific carnage of that attack traumatized a nation that had already suffered scores of losses since the start of the Second Intifada in October 2000.

But today, on the tenth Memorial Day since then, it’s safe to say that the nation’s memories of that period have faded, if not entirely disappeared.

Six months ago, with no compunction and perfunctory apologies but much self-congratulation, our prime minister set Malki’s murderer free in the Shalit swap.

We were devastated. Our repeated warnings against this resolution of Gilad Shalit’s capitivity had been in vain. Eighty percent of Israelis supported the release of convicted, confessed murderers.

Ahlam Tamimi, the woman who murdered Malki and fourteen others, the woman who smiled with joy when she learned that among the dead were eight children, and not three as she had initially thought — that same woman is now a TV talk show host.

That woman now flies wherever she pleases, whenever the whim strikes her. She has already been to Lebanon and Tunisia to address adulatory throngs.

A while ago, I heard about a father who took a gun on a visit to his son’s grave and shot himself over the tombstone. It was 17 years after his son’s death in a battle in Lebanon. I used to wonder why he decided to suicide then, after surviving the grief for so long.

But now it is no puzzle. While the pain remains raw, society expects you – even demands of you – to “heal,” “move on,” “focus on the positive,” and other inane cliches.

Grieving for children grows lonelier and harder with time.

Our own sense of isolation has intensified since October 2011. The public’s push for the Shalit swap sent terror victims a clear message: the sacrifices we have made just don’t count anymore.

On Memorial Day, when, despite the national inclination to forget them, those who were killed in battle and on the home front are honored, I would like to mention my Malki’s virtues.

Malki Roth with her family
Malki Roth with her family

The resolve she demonstrated that day in the museum manifested later on in myriad ways. Her reaching out to children with disabilities in every context — school, youth group, community; her application to, and mastery of, the flute; her strong religious and national convictions; her dedication to her youth group, Ezra; and her love and devotion to her parents and siblings.

She also left behind a treasure: a diary from the last year of her life. The daily entries afford a detailed glimpse of her activities and thoughts.

Here is what she wrote on the last Holocaust Remembrance Day she knew:

Early in the morning we had the ceremony of the eleventh grade… It was very hard for me. The ceremony was conducted by the girls who returned from Poland. They simply spoke and cried. I couldn’t stop crying. I sobbed during [the singing of] “Ani Maamin.” I just could not sing, could not stop crying and I’ve never had it so hard before. Afterwards Shira [a friend] and I hugged and cried. The teacher (Golda) came over to calm us. Afterwards she [the teacher] told me that perhaps it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to travel to Poland [with the class, the following year] because I am so sensitive. It was very upsetting  because, naturally, I would cry there. How could I not?! But it is very important to go. It was very difficult for me to study afterwards. During physical ed, Leah [a classmate] and I asked the teacher not to have practice because it wasn’t appropriate. So she played us classical music on the piano…”

Malki was murdered two months before her class visited Poland.

About the Author
A Jerusalem-based freelance writer, law graduate and commentator on the challenges facing people with special needs, Frimet Roth together with her husband Arnold co-founded The Malki Foundation (www.kerenmalki.org) in 2001. It provides concrete support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child. The Roths' daughter Malki was murdered at the age of 15 in the terrorist bombing of the Sbarro pizzeria. Her personal blog, under the title "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly", is at http://frimetgbu.blogspot.com The views expressed here are personal.