Barbara Sofer

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LOOKING AROUND: A meeting at the fringes

By Barbara Sofer
May,9 2002

For the past two months, from a wheelchair in the Jerusalem hospitals where she has been a patient, petite Efrat Ravid, 20, has been a tireless champion of Israel.

People always think we're the bad guys, and we're not, she has told TV crews and newspaper reporters, showing them the zipper-like scar at her throat, the fading marks on her face, the metal brace on her right leg. She tells them she'd just finished her army service and was working as a waitress to earn money for a trip abroad, maybe to visit her brother and sister, both studying veterinary medicine in Italy. Saturday night she was off, and she'd arranged to meet two friends at the Moment Cafe.

Efrat was close to the terrorist who murdered 11 young people and wounded 54. Her head wound initially left her mute and paralyzed on one side, but she later regained movement and voice. Shrapnel narrowly missed her heart.

She'd come close to losing her leg. I was lucky, she tells reporters. And I'm determined to be just as I was before. Tough months of additional surgery and therapy lie ahead. She brushes away suggestions that she might be too tired for another interview. No, she says. This is important. How else can the outside world understand what terror is about?

But even for Efrat, one piece was missing from the story of that terrible night. It fell into place this week.

WHO CAN forget that Saturday night? Terrorists struck first in a hotel in Netanya, killing 13. In Jerusalem, which had been struck the Saturday night before with nine dead and 54 wounded, tensions were also high.

Jerusalemite Yishai Sompolinsky, 17, a tall, handsome, rather serious teenager, found himself on Rehov Ibn Gabirol. In his senior year in a high school yeshiva in Efrat, Yishai was actually beyond the age for being a religious youth movement counselor, but no counselors were free that Shabbat, and the young adult who served as youth coordinator couldn't come either. So Yishai had volunteered to fill in, and was consequently in charge of the 70 youngsters who'd gathered for activities.

After dark, Yishai heard that warnings had been issued about a possible attack in Jerusalem. He phoned the police. Send the kids home, the officer on duty advised him. The warnings are genuine.

Yishai waited for the youngsters to disperse. In the meantime, several of his own friends showed up at the clubhouse. Stay, they urged him. They felt like singing soulful Hebrew songs, and he was their most versatile guitarist.

At 10:30 p.m., the powerful explosiion brought him to his feet. Outside, people were running up and down Rambam Street. For the past three years, Yishai has volunteered with Magen David Adom. He needed to help.

The stench of burning wires, plastic and flesh got stronger as he approached the Moment Cafe. He was used to working as part of a crew. This time, he'd arrived before the ambulances.

He leaned over one young person, but there was no breath. Another young woman was lying nearby. He saw her flinch. She was alive! Blood was gushing from her leg. Like many emergency crew volunteers, he usually carried a tourniquet. Not on Shabbat.

But he did have something he could use. Yishai was wearing tzitzit, a small tallit with fringes. He stripped off his white shirt and removed the garment. Together with a young man named Yaron, he turned the tzitzit into a tourniquet. Wrapped tight, the cotton turned red. Minutes later, the ambulances arrived. Yishai never saw the woman again. He stayed to help others, went back to the clubhouse to fetch his guitar, and eventually went home. His mom was relieved to see him. She knew he wouldn't be drinking cappuccino at a cafe. Yishai wasn't a cafe patron, and Moment didn't have a kashrut certificate. But she knew he was nearby and was sure he'd gone to help. His clothing was covered with blood. I don't have my tzitzit, he said, referring to the ritual garment. She was surprised.

Fringes, says the Torah, will remind us of all the commandments of God and you will do them... in order that you remember and do all my commandments and be holy. The Talmud equates the wearing of fringes to keeping all the laws of the Torah, a constant reminder of our closeness with God. Yishai's fringes were sky blue, techelet, made from a dye extracted from snails. The secret of the ancient dye had been lost for many centuries.

The technology for blue fringes hasn't been available for a long time, Yishai would often tell his mother. My generation has a chance to renew this mitzvah.

ACROSS TOWN, orthopedic surgeon Moshe Lifschitz had rushed Efrat into the operating theater. I was the first to take care of her, remembers Dr. Lifschitz. Not only were her bones shattered, but her femoral artery was torn in two places. Imagine my surprise to see blue tzitzit, tied like a tourniquet around her leg. Whoever did this was thinking fast.. In another two or three minutes, she would have bled to death. Those fringes saved her life.

A few days ago, I phoned Yishai to get details. Months after the attack, he didn't even know Efrat's name. He'd been content to learn from the paramedics that the young woman had survived. His Mom bought him new blue fringes, and his Dad has switched to blue, too.

Visiting Efrat this week, I asked her if she'd ever heard of Yishai. She shook her head. She had never understood what someone who was so religious as to wear a small prayer shawl could be doing in the trendy night spot.

Efrat is undergoing additional surgery. Yishai is taking matriculation exams. Now that they know about each other, each would like to meet the other.

After all, they're already bound together - by the strings and knots that lead back to the ancient rituals of the Jewish people, and that form the future fabric of the Jewish State.




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