Just over two weeks ago I experienced a day that felt like a year, and that day will probably stay with me for the rest of my life. I was fortunate enough to spend this particular day in the city of Jerusalem, inside the halls of Hadassah hospital, just a few miles from the Old City, where I met my wife and where we had our first child.
I was on a very different kind of trip to Israel this time. In the past, I have had the privilege of bringing a few people to Israel for the first time. Watching them connect with Israel was like watching a person reunite with someone in their family that they had never known.
This time I came for myself. I felt I had to do something to help Israel, something that would help even a few people. This materialized as a mission to visit the survivors of terror attacks and parents of those who didn't survive, and to try in some small way to show them that they were not alone. I wanted to bring not only material help, but to carry a message that there were millions of us in the U.S. who want to help. I came with two exceptional friends from Springfield, Mass. Each of us had come laden with gifts, Disc-man's, make-up kit's, games, as well as many cards and letters that were put together by people in Seattle and Springfield.
The day began with a visit to the mother of Rachel Levy. Many of you would recognize Rachel's picture; she was the teenage terror victim on the cover of Newsweek magazine just over a month ago. Rachel was not alone in this picture -- she shared it with the teenaged Palestinian girl who had detonated herself when she stood next to Rachel in the grocery store.
Mrs. Levy had the Newsweek magazine cover on her table in her tiny apartment when we spoke. She was in terrible pain but terribly strong as well, a trait I found everywhere in Israel on this trip. She told us how Newsweek had lied to her about the nature of the article, and how the story skewed the reality of what really happened to her daughter.
What was most difficult for Mrs. Levy was that the incredible pain of losing Rachel was making it difficult for her to be there for the needs of her traumatized 7-year-old son. I asked her if there was something, anything, that I could do for her. Her response was simple. She pointed to the Newsweek cover and quietly said, "Just tell the truth Chaim. Just tell the truth." I tried as hard as I could not to cry until I walked out of that tiny apartment.
It had been months and Sharon had still not uttered a word.
We went from Mrs. Levy's apartment to Hadassah hospital. There I met Sharon, a young man around 21 years old. He was walking down Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda Street on a Saturday night when a terrorist exploded himself nearby. Sharon lay very still in bed as we talked to him. I don't want to go into detail about what a bomb does to a person's body. It had been months and Sharon had still not uttered a word. He was lucky that he still had the use of one of his limbs, his right arm. The doctors weren't sure whether his inability to talk was due to a medical reason or an emotional one. We were encouraged to try to get him to say something.
As we left his bedside, I couldn't think of anything to say other than, "Sharon, I will pray for you every day." He took his hand and slowly formed it into the thumbs-up sign. As we began to walk away, Sharon's mother insisted that we not leave until she served us juice and cookies. Even at her son's hospital bed we were still her guests, and she was going to take care of us. Where did these people get the strength? Their dignity and grace was beyond belief.
Eran was the next survivor we met. He was a walking miracle. Also on Ben Yehuda Street that Saturday night, Eran was celebrating his 16th birthday when the bomber exploded. He was placed at the side of the road and left with the other dead as the medics scrambled to save the wounded. Looking at his condition, no one would have imagined he was alive. A woman walking by, for some reason that she herself cannot explain, decided to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. After many minutes she got a pulse, and they rushed him to the hospital. Eran suffered brain damage, but his spirit is untouched. He smiled often during our conversation, joked with us, and thanked us for coming.
"We're not giving hope in this hospital, we're finding it!"
We went to see other young victims -- a 12-year-old girl with nothing left of her legs; a soldier learning how to walk again; each one had another miraculous story.
As the day went on, a thought began to crystallize: "We came to try to give hope. But we're not giving hope in this hospital, we're finding it!" We expected despair and hatred for Palestinians, or for at least their attackers, but there was none. What we found instead amongst the survivors, who had spent so many months together in the hospital, was a sense of family, optimism about the future, and an unbreakable spirit that was carrying them through their almost unbearable, physical pain.
The Prophet says, "Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker," (1-Samuel 15:29) loosely translated as, "The Jewish people are eternal." The spirit of the survivors we met was simply awe-inspiring and not of this world. With all of our faults, we are a people like diamonds -- the deeper we are cut, the more brilliant we shine. No matter what we have endured, no matter what we may have yet to endure in this difficult time, we will shine forever. Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker.
For another perspective on victims of terror, read "Lightly Injured".