Again the news. This time from a cell phone call from my daughter, who called to tell me she was okay, although she was, thank heavens, far away from Kiryat Menachem when another terrorist blew up another bus and killed 11 Jews.
I call out to my eight-year-old son, and together we sit and say psalms, praying desperately for the wounded. The radio announced eight dead, 42 wounded, ten of them seriously. We know from past experience that the last group will bleed into the first group before the day is out.
Then I do what I usually do after a terror attack in Jerusalem: I prepare to visit the wounded. I started this sad practice after the Dolphinarium bombing, when the need to respond in some meaningful way overrode my tears and my fears. The terrorists want to make us feel powerless; performing an important mitzvah like visiting the sick empowers me. It helps the patient and, I discovered, it helps me, too.
This time, like every time, I worry about what I will say. The radio says that many of the wounded are teenagers on their way to school. Will secular Israeli teenagers really want to be visited by a middle-aged, hareidi American who speaks poor Hebrew?
Just to know that they are remembered makes an enormous difference.
So far, always to my surprise, all the patients and their families have been grateful for my visit, sometimes embarrassingly so. Just to know that they are remembered seems to be an elixir they crave, as the rest of us go on with our lives, leaving them behind with their wounds and their shrapnel-and-nail-studded bodies and their terrified fears.
My partner Shprintze and I wait until evening, when the throngs of reporters, social workers, and government reps have disappeared. These days I am an official representative of Kids for Kids, an organization founded by my Old City neighbor Yeshara Gold to help young victims of terror. We bring three bagsful of donated teddy bears to distribute because, as Yeshara says, every terror victim either is a kid or has one.
First, in Hadassah Ein Kerem's new pediatric building, we visit 15-year-old Meor, wounded in his leg. A pained expression on his face, he is surrounded by a dozen family members, who at first regard us suspiciously. I pull out a small teddy bear dressed as a cowboy and a big one, unclothed. "Which do you want?" I ask Meor from the foot of his bed. He chooses the big one. When I hand it to him, his face lights up with a smile. The magic of teddy bears.
Then there is 25-year-old Ivegnia, who made aliyah from Russia alone. She lies there, connected to tubes and wires, in the recovery unit, because the Intensive Care Unit is too full. She looks scared and worried. I learn later that she is worried about how she will pay her $250 rent, since she will be in no condition to work for a long, long time. I show her a teddy bear, but she cannot take it from me. Both her hands are ensconced in thick bandages.
In the neurosurgery intensive care unit, we visit 17-year-old Aluma, who is injured between her ear and her brain. She is unconscious, on a respirator, with part of her curly reddish-brown hair shaved off for her surgery. Aluma is the only patient who is alone, her mother having been sent home an hour before. We stand by her bed and recite psalms and pray fervently that she will recover completely. And, because I know that even unconscious patients hear every word you say, I tell her, again and again, that she will be fine, hoping that she cannot hear the doubts in my mind.
The most tragic case we encounter is 15-year-old Adi. She was critically wounded in the Ben Yehuda bombing of one year ago, and has been in and out of Hadassah hospital ever since. Consigned to a wheelchair, Adi is depressed and emaciated. The deep wound on her left leg, where the doctors thought they would have to amputate, falls prey to recurrent infections. Every time there is another terror attack, like today, Adi spends hours crying, reliving her horror, returning to the day her life was shattered.
In the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit, we visit the family of 15-year-old Gavriel. In the center of a half dozen grieving relatives is Gavriel's anguished mother Rivka. What does one say to a mother who is afraid that her son might not make it? I kneel beside her and hand her a teddy bear for Gavriel and a pamphlet listing the services rendered by Kids for Kids. "And," I say, looking directly into her eyes, "when Gavriel is all better and goes home, Kids for Kids will send you a massage, as part of their program, ‘Healing Hands for Mothers and Others,' because the mothers really need support, too."
Rivka thanks me profusely. "You are great, to come here for us. May all Am Yisrael be blessed in the merit of the great deeds you are doing. Thank you. Thank you so much."
I am embarrassed. For what do I deserve such lavish thanks? For a teddy bear? For a promised massage? Only two days later do I realize my greatest gift to this dread-filled mother: I said the words, "When Gavriel is all better . . ."
Any readers who would like to volunteer for Kids for Kids, phone in Jerusalem [972-2-]628-1987. Their website is http://www.kidsforkids.net/