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31 July 2009

Return To French Hill, part 2

Erev Shabbath Qodesh Parshath Wa'Ethhanan-"Nahamu" 5769

Here is the continuation of my story of the bomb attack I survived seven years ago.

Return To French Hill, part 1

Ensuing Aftermath
I got onto the bus in Jerusalem wearing the electric company clothes I was given that morning. More like pajamas than clothes, I did not understand the nurse's concern about my leaving the hospital in hospital clothes. I was grateful for them nonetheless.

I arrived in Ofra, getting off the bus with groceries in one hand, and a sack full of blood and guts infused clothes in the other. I walked the short distance home to my meguron (half a trailer). I had to change clothes; I needed to go to some funerals. I ended up going to only two, the ones held in Ofra for Kindergarten teacher No'a Alon hy"d and her five-year-old granddaughter Gal Eisenman hy"d (Ma'aleh Adumim). They were buried side by side.

I felt compeled to go to more funerals. I wanted to go to all seven of those who murdered. I especially wanted to go to Shmu'el Efraim Yerushalmi's hy"d funeral in Shilo. I taught school with his father Rav Avraham, and knew him well. I had to settle for a shiva' call the next week. I do not know what I was thinking. I did not have the energy to do anything, let alone travel around the country attending funerals.

That afternoon, I called my rav about my clothes. Should they be buried? Yes, he said. Call Ofra's rabbi for specific instructions. As instructed, I wrote a note on the plastic bag filled with my clothes, and left it on one of the benches at the town's cemetery, for the Hevrah Qadishah to deal with.

My friends the Levs in Ofra took care of me that weekend, to the degree that I was willing to let them. I went to the funerals with them, and then they gave me a ride back to Jerusalem that evening so that I could complete some errands which could not wait.

The next day was Friday. I went to work, but have no clue as to what I was thinking. In retrospect, I now see all of the subtle effects the trauma had on me, the effects on the quality and progression of thinking included.

I justified teaching my two Friday morning classes, even though I still could not hear a thing with the normal chatter of 12 year old boys running in the background. Showing them the shrapnel extracted from my buttock, which was so obviously a screw in its original construction, quieted the boys down quite effectively.

My justification for going into work was to show my students how "not to let the Yishma'eli (Arab) enemy win" by interrupting the normal routine of our lives. I had forgotten to show them that it was perfectly acceptable to take care of ones own health as well. Yet, it was not a mistake for me, going in to teach.

One of my 6th graders said that we should have faith that the attack I was in was the last terrorist attack. We already knew that was not true. The day after the French Hill attack, a sniper infiltrated the town of Itamar near Shchem and shot and killed four members of the Shabo Family, the mother and three sons and Yosef Twito, a neighbor who had come to their aid. Another one of the Shabo sons lost his leg, as a result of his bullet wounds.

This same student's brother had escaped another sniper attack in Itamar, only a month beforehand. Shmu'el Efraim Yerushalmi hy"d was there as well. He escaped then, only to be killed a month later.

There seemed to be so much killing going around us. No one had been left unscathed by terror from the Yishma'eli enemy. Every time I began to talk about the attack, because I knew I needed to talk about the attack, I was met with, "When I was in an attack,..." or "When I was shot at,..."

Back home, the Levs had me over for all three Shabbath meals. Mrs. Lev made me promise to make it to "schul" to "bench gomel," and friend Pinny took my mind off of the attack. I lived along the northern fence of the town; they lived a good 25 minute walk away. Surprisingly, my wound did not hurt, walking back and forth all Shabbath.

I taught 3rd - 6th, and 9th grades that year. I only had to get through I week more of school, and submit grades. I finally figured out that I needed to take it easy, and I did.

I made that shiva call to the Yerushalmi Family. Rav Avraham pressed me for details of the attack. Did you see Shmu'el? What was he doing? Did he look happy?

I don't know.

Rav Avraham told me something I never realized until then. I was the last to see Shmu'el alive. He wanted me to tell him about the last moments in his son's life. I did my best to describe what happened. However, I don't think it was exactly what he was expecting.

Rav Avraham and his wife spoke with such great emunah (faith). His next son Yosef wore a photo of his brother in a makeshift locket around his neck.

One story which was recounted was Shmu'el's desire to change yeshiva's. He wanted to transfer to the prestigious Yeshivath HaTze'irim liY'rushalayim (Yashla"tz), the high school on the campus of the Merkaz HaRav Kook Yeshivah, the site of yet another terrorist attack a year and a half ago. (When will it end?!) The assignment was to make a notebook, writing on the entire Sefer Sh'moth (Book of Exodus) with RaSh"I's commentary. He showed us the notebook, thick, complete, and thorough. He will be in another yeshiva from now on.

His next door neighbor Yonatan Eldad hy"d would killed at Merkaz HaRav several years later. The neighbors on the other side of the Yerushuslamis are the Kesslers, the grandparents of another one of the seven Jews killed in French Hill with Shmu'el, Gila Sarah Kessler (Eli). This street knows great sadness, yet it is not the only street in Shilo knowing such sadness. Shilo is not the only town knowing such sadness,...and anger.

This post may seem a bit "all over the place," or at least it does to me. That is because, at the time, I was all over the place, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. So, this post is a pretty good reflection of where I "was at" at the time.

It did not take too long for me to start bouncing back forth for between "denial" and "anger." I was beginning to experience a taste of guilt, specifically what is often referred to as "survivor's guilt." yet several teenagers, and a five year old were killed. I had additional reasons why the others should have survived instead of me as well. I desperately wanted to know the answer to this question.

I sought out my rav, Rabbi David Bar-Hayim. I must qualify this before I continue, that I cannot repeat the eloquence of his etzah (counsel) here in this post. I will do my best to reflect what was key in what he relayed to me, its simplicity.

I told him that I thought about going up to Shmu'el Yerushalmi to say hello. Maybe if I had done that, he would have been in a different place, and so would not have been killed.

"Did you know him?" he asked. No. Then why would you have to go up to him? I could see his point.

"Furthermore, how do you know that the same outcome would not have occurred, even if you had gone up to him to say hello?" I didn't.

"We simply do not know the heshbonoth sheba'shamayim (accounting in Heaven). You don't know what would have happened, and we do not know why."

Many would have balked at these comments. But, they were just what I needed to hear. I felt an immediate calm. However, this would not be the last time I talked about the attack. I was certainly not finished working though it, nor could I have expected to be. It had only been a couple of weeks since having a suicide bomber blow himself up, only a few feet away from me.

Cross-posted on Esser Agaroth.

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