After Sbarro’s, A New Resolve
By Curt Schleier
Special To The Jewish Week
Roth came to Washington, D.C., last month to participate in an
international conference on terrorism. It is a subject he knows
well. In fact, six years ago, he became an expert. Aug. 9, 2001,
when a Sbarro Pizza was the scene of a deadly suicide bombing,
became the worst day of his life.
“It was the middle of
school vacation in August. It was about 2 o’clock. I was back at my
desk [after lunch], and the TV was on. CNN was reporting that there
was an explosion in the center of Jerusalem.”
Within a relatively short
time — though it certainly seemed longer — Roth and his wife Frimet
made contact with all their children save one, their eldest
daughter, Malka Chana, 15.
It wasn’t a good sign.
“She was a good girl,
very responsible,” Roth says. “Then we started getting calls from
her friends asking where she was.”
In the end, Malka’s body
was the last identified, about 12 hours after the explosion. All
told, 15 were killed, hundreds wounded and one woman remains in a
But this story doesn’t
end where you might expect, with anger and grief alone. As an
outgrowth of the tragedy, the Roths founded the Malki Foundation in
their daughter’s memory. The foundation helps Israeli families
provide home care for their disabled children.
But the story didn’t
start here either. It began almost 35 years ago in New York City
where Roth, then a young lawyer from Australia, was working and
studying for a graduate degree in Jewish studies. Another Australian
national introduced him to Frimet, an American who was studying law.
“On our very first date [Frimet]
asked me if I saw aliyah as part of my future,” he says. “My answer
must have been right, because we’re married 31 years.”
The couple moved to
Australia, had four children [three boys and Malka], but remained
steadfast in their determination to settle in the Holy Land.
“The arrival of the
children didn’t change things. We always had our hearts in our
mouths at the idea of raising children in Israel. But the idea of
raising children in Israel was very central to the notion of moving.
We were moving to Israel because of the children. Joking around, my
wife used to say we were going to hide them in the basement.”
Tragedy first struck the
family seven years ago. Their youngest daughter, Haya became ill,
suffered very serious brain damage and became multiply disabled.
Malka spent considerable time with her younger sister during several
lengthy stays in the hospital and after she returned home.
“We thought [Haya’s] disability was the great tragedy of our lives,”
Roth says. “That turned out not to be true.”
Despite the family’s
hardships, their faith has remained unwavering. “There’s no question
about our faith,” Roth said. “But we did question God. We have
questions to which we wish we had answers, but we have the feeling
we’ll probably never get them.”
Anger, they decided, was
not the proper answer. While in D.C., he participated in numerous
weekend retreats for families who have lost loved ones to terrorism.
“I have never once heard anyone talk about hatred or revenge or
killing Arabs. I don’t say that they don’t think about it. But they
don’t talk about it. What they talk about endlessly, compulsively,
is how to find a normal life for themselves and their families. When
people understand that, they understand what Israeli society is
really about. It’s based on Jewish values.”
About his family’s ordeal
and the urge to turn it into something positive, Roth says: “Plenty
of people have done more things: a resource room at a school, a
library, a bus shelter. They’re not doing it because they want to
get medals. For them, it’s terribly important to find some meaning
in this tragedy and in a Jewish way, you find meaning by doing the
opposite, constructive things.”
More information on the
Malki Foundation is available at:
The article above first appeared in the Jewish
Week, New York, on 16th November 2007. It is online on the Jewish
here. An offline PDF version of the printed page is