THE NATHANSON FAMILY
Like visitors to Jerusalem from all over the world, the Nathanson family from Zichron Ya'akov knew they simply had to make it to one site -- the Western Wall -- before heading home. Avoiding the oppressive August sun, the Nathansons waited until dark Tuesday night to venture out, and then said evening prayers alongside hundreds of others under the stars.
Matanya and Chana Nathanson ushered their three little girls onto bus #2, and they were on their way back to Chana's mother's house in Jerusalem. But the beautiful evening was about to come to an abrupt and tragic end. "The bus was packed," recalls Matanya from his hospital bed, "filled with families with young children who had also been at the Kotel and were now returning home."
A few minutes later, a Palestinian suicide bomber disguised as an Orthodox Jew stepped onto the bus and detonated a massive bomb. "I knew right away it was a terror attack," says Matanya. "A terribly loud boom, smoke, fire…I couldn't hear or see afterwards, so I couldn't find my family."
Twenty innocent people were killed and over 110 injured in the barbaric attack, which has come to be called "the children's attack" due to the large number of child victims, including the Nathanson's three-year-old daughter, Tehilla. The terrorist filled his bomb with ball bearings to intensify the impact, and the small metal pieces entered Matanya's entire body. "They performed surgery last night to remove the ball bearings from my eye, legs and foot," he says, peeking behind large facial bandages. "Some of them were even inside my shoe." Matanya also broke his collarbone.
They heard the cries of a tiny baby pinned underneath the three victims' bodies.
Matanya's wife, Chana, suffered a broken jaw and leg, injuries to her spleen and shrapnel wounds over her entire body. She is now recovering, under heavy anesthesia, in the trauma unit of another Jerusalem hospital. Their 6-year old daughter Yehudit escaped, miraculously, with only a wound to the neck -- if the shrapnel had struck her only slightly to the side, doctors say, it would have pierced her jugular vein and would have been fatal.
Their newborn baby, Shoshana, suffered massive wounds to the head and arm, but doctors expect her to fully recover. Her story is simply miraculous: Rescuers scouring the destroyed bus removed three dead victims who were lying on top of one other. Only then did they hear the cries of a tiny baby pinned underneath the three victims' bodies. It was brave little Shoshana Nathanson, all of five months old.
Rescue workers did not bring Tehilla to one of the hospitals. "My daughter kept asking, 'What's with my children?! What's with my children?!" recounts Chana's mother, Bracha Toporowitch, who made aliyah four years ago from Monsey, New York.
"There were six children killed in the attack waiting to be identified by DNA testing. The waiting was very difficult," says Mrs. Toporowitch. "We didn't want to tell Chana that Tehilla was killed until we knew for sure from the DNA tests." Tehilla's funeral was held 10 p.m. Wednesday, while her parents recuperated in separate hospitals.
Despite it all, Matanya and Chana remain remarkably strong, filled with a steadfast faith in God. Awaking from a semi-comatose state, Chana said, "If you want to help -- pray. And take upon yourself one small step to become a greater person, even if it's just smiling at another person. We need to work on loving others freely."
"God acts only out of rachamim, mercy" Matanya says. "We can't understand His ways, but the Almighty knows exactly what is right to do." Matanya sees his family tragedy in the larger framework of the entire Jewish people. "The suffering of one Jew lessens that of another," he affirms. "We are all here for each other."
"My granddaughter's name was Tehilla, which means 'praise' in Hebrew," explains Mrs. Toporowitch. "If we can still praise God for everything He gives us even amidst the tragedy, that is an enormous accomplishment. There are bits and pieces of comfort: Tehilla died while asleep and didn't feel anything. Shoshana, the baby, survived through an outright miracle, and Yehudit also survived miraculously. There are going to be a lot of hurdles ahead, a lot of trauma, and by connecting to God we'll get through it."
The family sees the tragedy as a direct message from the Almighty. "We need to wake up and reconnect to God," Mrs. Toporowitch says. "The Almighty is waiting for us to come back to Him; He wants us to rely on him. There are no negotiations. If we return to Him, He will bring the peace
"Peace is not dependent on where you are in physical sense; it's where you are in a spiritual sense."
"We need to learn that it's not our power that makes things happen. We need Divine guidance. Tragedy exists everywhere. We need to merit a peaceful, good life. How we do that is determined by our connection to God. Peace is not dependent on where you are in physical sense; it's where you are in a spiritual sense. As a people, we cannot solve this. Only the Almighty is going to bring the peace.
"Life is one long learning experience, and we need to work on hearing the message and making the necessary internal changes. All the Jews should come to Israel; this is where you belong. The only way to overcome the hate is to live with love for each other, to reach out to people and stop being self-centered. Get involved with others."
Mrs. Toporowitch isn't thinking about the terrorist who murdered her granddaughter. "I don't want to put the focus of my energies toward hating my enemies. I'm channeling it toward building my people and myself. Of course the proper actions need to be done to our enemies, but that is not my focus. I am not going to live with hate. Let's work on bringing the Messiah -- not only to relieve our personal pain, but so that ultimately truth will reign upon the world and everyone will recognize the reality of God."
THE DISHI FAMILY
"We experienced a miracle," says Malka Dishi from her hospital bed in Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, "There's just no other explanation."
Malka, a regular visitor to the Kotel, brought her 4-year-old grandson, Netanel, along on Tuesday night as a special, summertime treat. After reciting Psalms in the early evening, Malka cradled little Netanel in her arms and boarded the bus for the ride back to her home in the Givat Shaul neighborhood.
Every seat was taken, so Malka and Netanel remained standing in the central, elbow-like section of the bus as it pulled out from the Old City. Despite the scores of terrorist attacks that have struck Israeli buses, Malka always felt safe on this particular city line. "I always thought that it couldn't happen on bus #2 since all its riders were either going to or coming from the Kotel, praying to God for mercy."
Minutes later, the terrorist boarded and made his way to that very spot in the center of the bus, directly across from Malka and Netanel. "When the blast happened, there was smoke everywhere. it was dark and I could barely see," Malka recalls. "I searched for Netanel, but couldn't find him. Then, out of nowhere, he appeared, covered with blood, but walking. I took him in my arms, and soon after, an ambulance arrived."
The ambulance was in fact one of the first to make it to the scene of the attack. The next day, that ambulance's chief medic came to visit Malka and Netanel in the hospital and explained that he began treating them first because he thought they obtained life-threatening injuries. Only on the way to the hospital did he realize that the two were not seriously hurt, but were rather covered with blood and body parts of victims of the carnage.
The hospital had no information regarding her son. "That's when I totally panicked."
Meanwhile, Netanel's mother, Esther Dishi, was back home when she heard of the attack on the radio. She immediately feared for her loved ones' lives. She called the hospitals, and eventually learned that the two were indeed on that fateful bus, and had been brought to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. The nurse informed Esther that her mother-in-law was only lightly injured, but had no information regarding her son, Netanel.
"That's when I totally panicked," Esther recounts. She raced to the hospital and began frantically searching for Netanel amidst the chaos of the emergency ward. Then, suddenly, she saw her little boy standing in the hall, with only a bandage over his eye. "I was so overcome with emotion, I just can't describe it," Esther recollects.
Less than 24 hours later, the three generations of Dishis are gathered around one hospital bed. Netanel pushes a new toy truck around on the woolen blankets, while Malka, who suffered shrapnel wounds on her neck, describes her feelings. She expresses a mixture of gratefulness for somehow emerging nearly unscathed from a bomb that exploded just feet away from them, and a deep sorrow for the scores of families who were not so fortunate.
"I have in my mind's eye now all the children and parents on the bus that I saw before the bomb," says Malka. "So many little ones, so many families torn apart. My heart just aches for them. But I thank the Almighty for taking care of us."
Please pray for a complete recovery for:
Chana Shifra bas Bracha Perel
Matania ben Bluma Peracha
Yehudit bas Chana Shifra
Shoshana Raizel bas Chana Shifra
Netanel ben Esther
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