Originally published in
Haaretz, 9th August 2006
With war raging against Hizbollah, it is
easy to overlook Israel's other existential threat. The events of
this day, five years ago, provide a stark reminder of the thriving
demon across our southern border: Hamas.
On 9 August, 2001, Izzadin al-Masri, the
22 year old son of a well-to-do restaurateur, and Ahlam Tamimi, a 20
year old university student and part-time journalist, set out to
murder a lot of Jews. Hamas had trained and equipped them. Tamimi
had scouted for and located the target. They were primed for a
Tamimi, in revealing Western clothing,
was disguised to look like a young Israeli woman. Al-Masri had a
guitar case slung over his shoulder, packed with five kilos of
explosives - along with nails, screws and bolts to exacerbate the
injuries. Chatting in English and carrying a camera, they looked
harmless enough for an unsuspecting soldier at the Israeli
checkpoint between East and West Jerusalem to allow them to pass.
The Jerusalem police force, previously alerted to a planned terror
attack, failed to locate them. They strolled freely through
At the city's busiest intersection, the
unguarded entrance to a crowded restaurant beckoned. Tamimi and Al-Masri
parted. He entered the eatery alone and surveyed the dozens of
women, children and babies. Satisfied with the numbers, he detonated
his bomb. My fifteen year old daughter, Malki had entered moments
earlier with her friend, Michal Raziel. I know from speaking with a
survivor that the girls were standing on line waiting to order. Each
was urging the other to go first. That was all I knew about what
happened inside the restaurant at 2pm that day.
Until I interviewed Esther Shoshan.
"I was upstairs with one of my
daughters," Esther recalls. "We'd wanted to sit downstairs where
it's roomy, near the windows. But it was too crowded. Two of my
daughters had gone to park the car. Two others, Miriam and Yocheved,
went down to the lower level to get our food."
Esther speaks quickly. "Then there was
an enormous blast. The place went dark. People started screaming 'Pigua!
Pigua!' (terror attack) But at first I didn't believe it."
"People shouted 'Get out! There may be
another blast.' Finally, we ran downstairs. There was a terrible
stench. I saw body parts everywhere. Here a limb, there a head. The
bodies were bloated. There was water everywhere; I have no idea
where it came from. I searched for my children."
"My two daughters who had gone to the
car-park arrived seconds later. The older one came inside and found
Miriam and Yocheved. They were on fire. She managed to put out the
flames but then was rushed away by rescue workers."
"I couldn't leave. I was torn. The
rescue workers kept dragging me to the door. I'd start to go, then
run back screaming, 'My girls, my girls!' I wanted to help them."
Esther was taken to a local hospital.
She left shortly afterwards to keep searching for the two children
she had left at the scene.
Rushing from one hospital to another,
she located Miriam at Hadassah Ein Karem. Her fifteen year-old had
suffered third degree burns over forty percent of her body. Sixty
nails were lodged inside her, many only millimeters from vital
organs. Her spleen was ruptured and there was a gaping hole in her
Yocheved, the younger child, could not
be found in any of the city's hospitals. Later that day a cousin and
uncle identified her body at the Abu Kabir morgue. She was buried at
"I was torn between grief and Miriam's
rehabilitation", Esther recalls. "She came home only a year later
after five operations."
All told, fifteen died in the Sbarro
massacre that day, among them eight children. 130 were injured.
Since then, sixteen families have been
grappling with grief. They do it every day, silently, far from the
cameras and microphones of the media. Many have never before been
Shifra Hayman and her husband are among
them. In 2001 they were living in Los Angeles when their married
daughter, their only child, Shoshana Greenbaum, spent a few weeks
studying in Israel. The Haymans are very religious and wanted
Shoshana buried according to Jewish tradition as quickly as possible
and in the Holy Land. Since they do not travel on Shabbat, this
meant they were unable to be here in time for their daughter's
Shifra, a medical social worker, sat the
entire week of mourning in her Los Angeles home holding and
caressing a toy dog in her lap. She had bought it because it was
identical to a larger one she had given Shoshana many years back
when, as a teen, she had undergone a tonsillectomy. Shoshana was
three months pregnant and Shifra had eagerly envisaged new mother
and baby holding the matching furry toys.
It is an image she can only dream of
now. Yet Shifra seeks the positive in remembering Shoshana's life
"Everyone was there for us from the
moment we arrived home after hearing the news of her death," she
begins, "Fortunately we had strong connections with three LA Jewish
communities who all stood by us."
"Shoshana's wrist-watch, which was sent
to us after the attack was, miraculously, still running when we got
it," Shifra recounts, "which must reflect some gentleness in the way
He took her life."
She mentions G-d frequently. "That she
died in Israel and was able to be buried in Jerusalem with so many
friends and relatives in attendance reflects G-d's 'hands-on'
involvement", she says.
Shifra recalls her last conversation
with her daughter, a night before her murder: "I remember how
grateful I was for the conversation I'd had the previous night with
Shoshana. She'd been so happy."
Now, she consoles herself with the
thought that according to Jewish tradition a teacher's students are
deemed his children. In the ten years that Shoshana was a Bible
studies teacher, she nurtured many such 'children', some of whom
live near the Haymans in their new home in Ramat Beit Shemesh. A few
of them, now parents, are raising their children to call the Haymans
'Bubbie' and 'Zaidie' (Yiddish for grandma and grandpa).
Shifra is human, though. "I'm working on
the envy I sometimes feel," she concedes. "It's particularly
difficult when I see a pregnant woman. I'm working on that too…"
Like Shoshana's unborn child, Chana
Nachenberg is omitted from the official toll of Sbarro victims.
Technically, she is one of the 130 injured in the massacre. But she
is not actually alive. Deep in a five-year-long coma, she is neither
wife to her husband nor mother to her daughter, now eight years old.
Her parents visit her in the hospital every day.
David Nachenberg works as a sports
journalist and as a child-care assistant close to his home so he can
be available for his daughter. He does not allow her to be
interviewed. Even while we speak, he pauses time and again and, with
the utmost patience, tends to her requests.
While he recently obtained a rare
'dispensation of 100 rabbi's' to re-marry, he has not been able to
bring himself to begin dating. "Who would want to go out with me?"
he asks. "I'm not like a widower or a divorc?. Women will be afraid
that my wife might wake up one day and that I'd divorce them to
return to her," he explains. "Besides", he adds "I would feel like a
bigamist…I just wish I could go back to our happy life before."
Of course pain cannot be measured and
tragedy cannot be ranked. Yet the blow that struck the
Schijveschuurder family is undeniably on a level of barbarity all
Mordechai and Tzira had brought five of
their eight children to Jerusalem for a break from the tense
security situation at home in their settlement of Talmon. Only two
family members, Leah and Chaya, survived Sbarro.
Elisheva Moshkovitz, Mordechai's sister,
and her husband, Moshe, Tzira's uncle, are raising the orphaned
girls. Three older brothers who were not at Sbarro that day live
"We moved into my brother's home in
Talmon immediately afterwards and stayed there for six weeks."
Elisheva begins. "It was a very difficult time for us, even
financially. I had been in an accident and wasn't working. We had
trouble paying the grocery bills. There was almost no help from
An ensuing custody battle resulted in
the girls going to live with Elisheva's brother in Switzerland for a
year. Eventually, after Elisheva and Moshe's perseverance in court
proceedings, they were awarded permanent custody and the girls came
back to Israel.
"Many friends and family broke off ties
with us. But colleague of Tzira's, a bright, practical woman, would
come and talk to me often. She'd stay three or four hours each time.
I could speak about everything with her. She was a 'gift from G-d.'
"Another person we went to is the Talner
Rebbe. He helped a lot. One couple, friends of ours stuck by us too.
Then there was a friend who came by once and gave me a massage. That
was very nice. The truth is many have left, have avoided us… But
then were we ourselves any different before?"
"The girls and I used to talk about
their parents and their older sister. But never about the babies (Avraham
Yitzchak and Chemda). Because, you know, the babies, well, that is
just too painful."
"Has it affected my faith? Well, my
parents and my in-laws all went through the Shoah. My mother lost
her entire family when she was eighteen years old. And they all
stayed alive and frum (religious) afterwards. I think about them and
that keeps me going."
Encountering other Sbarro victims
strengthens my personal resolve to keep the memory of this crime
against humanity alive.
When, as happens a lot these days, the
government mentions the possibility of a prisoner release, a shiver
goes down my spine. One of the names on the list of candidates for
release is that of Ahlam Tamimi. She is serving 16 life sentences in
an Israeli prison.
Remorse or repentance could not be
further from that woman's mind. She made this clear five months ago
when she told journalists:
"I'm not sorry for what I did. I will get out of prison and I refuse
to recognize Israel's existence… I know that we will become free
from Israeli occupation and then I will also be free from prison."
Along with the other Sbarro families, I
remember Shoshana, and Yocheved and Chana and Malki and Michal and
the Schijveschuurders. We are determined to help keep their
murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, behind bars until the end of her days.
is a freelance writer in Jerusalem who frequently contributes
articles dealing with terrorism, and with special-needs children.
She and her husband founded and run (as unpaid volunteers) the Malki
Foundation (www.kerenmalki.org) in their daughter's memory. The
foundation provides concrete support for Israeli families of all
religions who care at home for a special-needs child. Frimet can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org