Barbara Sofer

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Speaking Engagements

The Human Spirit: Society of Survivors

By Barbara Sofer

December 18, 2015

I hear that Yakira Aharoni is visiting the family of G, a young man who was shot in the head by a terrorist in November. He has woken after a month-long coma. I hurry up to the neurosurgery unit, and we exchange a bear hug.

I'd gotten to know Aharoni while her son was hospitalized in this same unit, after being run over by a terrorist. We catch up quickly. Her son is doing so much better, moving along in rehab.

Yakira herself was recovering from a life-threatening illness when her son was attacked. I was stunned by her strength as she faced the press, always seeking details about the families of survivors of terrorist attacks.

Not every day is a good day when you are recovering from a brain injury, and the Israeli media give us an intimate portrait of the recovery process - something I haven't been able to find online (maybe it's my lack of access to local papers or poor French) about those in Parisian hospitals.

We need to be grateful to the Israeli press for this, and to families and survivors for their openness.

Aharoni's son was run over a year ago.

Truth be told, I have to check the date.

One terrorist attack follows another with such rapidity that it's hard to keep track of the chronology, unless, of course, you are a terrorism survivor or related to one.

At our Shabbat table we were discussing the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, and its impact. Said our grandson, 13, growing up here: "Fourteen were murdered out of 319 million. Compare that to Israel."

Indeed, in the so-called Wave of Terror of recent months, 22 were murdered.

There were 90 stabbings, 33 shootings and 14 car rammings. These numbers rise daily. According to the poll conducted by Panels Politics for The Jerusalem Post and its sister publication, Ma'ariv (sponsored by the OneFamily organization), one out of five Jewish Israelis knows someone attacked by a terrorist in the current wave.

Although the beginning of this tidal bulge coincided with Rosh Hashana on September 13 (with the death of Alexander Levlovich, who lost control of his car while boulders were dropped on him), all of the elements - stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks - were present last year, too, as if they were trial runs. You can watch the YouTube videos of hatchet attacks on senior citizens at a bus stop on Malchei Yisrael Street from October 13, 2015, and imagine the horrific attack on the men in the Har Nof synagogue on November 18, 2014, by that particular terrorist's cousins and neighbors from Jebl Mukaber.

Every terrorism survivor knows the terrible truth that lightning can strike twice.

Sigal Sofer (no relation to me) was stabbed by terrorists 21 years before her car was firebombed this October. Dalia Lemkus, 26, who was run over and then stabbed to death on November 10, was wounded in a terrorist attack when she was 17.

Aharoni's son was run over in nearly the same Gush Etzion location.

How did I know that Yakira was visiting? My source was still another terror survivor, Dvir Mosai, who was also in Hadassah University Medical Center and had stopped by my office.

HALF HIS life ago, when Mosai was 13 and a rambunctious teen who didn't want to go on the class trip to pick cherries, he stepped on a bomb buried near the gate of a field, a bomb that was meant to kill the farmer, who was indeed later murdered.

Mosai has undergone more than 30 surgeries to put him back together again. The last was just a month ago.

Mosai is a survivor of the second intifada, and he reminisces about those he shared initial rehab with when he was a teen – Motti, Arnaud, Aluma and Adi, Gila and Adi.

He knows the recent survivors, too: Eitan, Inbar, Jonathan, Tahel.

He suggests a reunion. "It would be fun to be there with our children," he says.

Then he thinks better of it. Not all the survivors have been able to reclaim their life trajectory and to establish families.

Considering his devastating wounds, the odds were against Mosai, too. Excused from the army because of his injuries, he volunteered and served in an anti-terrorist training unit. On a OneFamily retreat for survivors, he and a pretty volunteer fell in love. They have a toddler son.

Why does he visit so many other survivors? "I like to tell them that I went through all of this, and that there's hope.

But more than that, I want them to know someone understands what they're going through."

That's Yakira's message, too. She doesn't know G's parents, but stops by to encourage them, because no one understands better than she does what it means to stand by your son's bed in the neurosurgery unit talking about the mysteries of the brain, hoping that the person inside is still your beloved son.

When Inbar Azrak, a young teacher, was badly burned by a Molotov cocktail, she was visited by Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Dov Kalmanovitz, himself a terrorism survivor who suffered third-degree burns over 75 percent of his body in 1988. I've run into Yehudah Glick, gunned down in Jerusalem in October 2014, outside the intensive care unit visiting other terrorism survivors. There is, of course, also Malkiel Lerner, who calls himself "the brother of the wounded" and makes it his business to visit patients all over the country.

RELIEVED AS we should be that men and women and children are not always murdered by the terrorists who set out to end their lives, we don't recognize the months and years and decades of recovery.

Terrorism survivors like Mosai don't want the terrorism to define their lives, but how do you ever get over the car coming toward you to kill you, the moment of the bomb or having someone hit you over and over with a hatchet? You might think that in their efforts to put this trauma behind them they would never want to see another terrorism victim. But just the opposite is true. They want to share their strength, courage and optimism - a miracle after so much suffering.

Yakira seeks out G's parents to encourage them just as she was encouraged while she sat at her own son's bedside.

G's mother is indeed comforted. She's not alone with this horror. She's joined the society of survivors. Survivors, not victims.



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