Bookmark: A daughter’s dying wish

A powerful novel about a string of terror plots memorializes the tragedy experienced by the author’s family.

January 10, 2011 22:07
'The Fourth Target'

The fourth target book 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Nachman Klieman and his 23-year-old daughter Esther made a deal one Sunday afternoon in March 2002 at their Shomron Valley home – if she would finally start compiling her poetry from various scattered scraps of paper, he would sit down and write the book he had always envisioned.

“Two Sundays later, she got on the bus to get to her job,” Klieman says.

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“That bus was attacked… Of all the people [one of the 11 bullets fired] struck her and only her. She died instantly.”

Shortly after his daughter’s death, Klieman left his job of 19 years as chief of public relations for El Al. To keep himself occupied, he took an opportunity raising money for the Jewish Federations of America emergency funds, speaking on behalf of families like his.

But when he returned, Klieman knew what he had to do – fulfill his daughter’s dying wish and get started on his book, and continue living his life.

“I was even more determined – no fear,” he says.

The Kliemans had made aliya in 1977, settling in Rehovot, where Esther was born two years later. When the children got older, they moved to the West Bank town of Halamish. At the time, Esther was fulfilling her National Service in Tel Aviv, where she was working at a school in Jaffa for Arab and Jewish children who had learning disabilities.

“She wanted to study special education in school as well,” he says. “She loved it.”

After that tragic day of March 24, 2002, Klieman began writing a novel about safety on airlines, for a few years on and off, but wasn’t making progress. Suddenly, he broke through his writer’s block and started on a thriller about aviation and terror, from the experience he gained working at El Al.

The end product – called The Fourth Target and completed after three years – chronicles the journey of Chicago- based journalist Ralph Summers as he attempts to uncover an international terror conspiracy. But he and his family become victims in the very stories that Summers is researching, as they experience their own daughter’s death in the third of a series of four planned attacks.

Through Summers’s daughter Laura, we see Klieman’s Esther, a young woman determined to give everything of herself to others until seconds before death. Every day, Esther cared for a girl with Down syndrome and helped her adapt to the normal classroom setting. Meanwhile, her fictional counterpart Laura is a special education teacher returning to the US from London, when she happens to board a target plane – and sacrifices her own life to save an infant.

Through Summers we get a peak into the psyche of both this character and of Klieman himself, seeing how the men cope with the utmost personal tragedy. Both dive head first into work after their daughters’ deaths both as modes of productive distraction and as ways to seek justice.

“I didn’t know if I want to expose my own personal emotions,” he explains. “Here I’m doing it indirectly.”

In each tragedy of the book – from a missile attack against a Jordanian aircraft, a failed but similar attempt to take down an Israeli plane in Mombasa, a suicide bomber at Heathrow and a plot in the Seattle area that never actually unfolds – Klieman charts every step of the terrorist and aviation activities with impeccable accuracy and detail.

We are able to explore the psyches of the different terrorists involved in the intricately planned plots, learning their fears, their motivations and the strategies they follow. At some points, we even feel sympathy toward them – as they too struggle with loss and try to reconcile themselves with the meaning behind their actions. Interestingly, however, the fictional terror cell never takes public credit for its string of plots.

In Esther’s case, the cell led by Marwan Barghouti claimed responsibility for her death, and he ultimately received five life sentences in for the many deaths that occurred under his watch.

The numeral in the title – and the quartet of attack plots that correspond to it – “bears some symbolic luck in the Muslim community,” according to Kleiman.

“There were a number of attacks that began in the ’70s always in fours,” he says, including on El Al. Similary, four aircraft were hijacked on September 11.

The biggest criticisms for the book are the occasional grammatical errors that slip in, as the book is self-published.

But the story is grippingly realistic and the writing is fluid – something that Klieman hopes will attract a major publisher. He is in the process of sending query letters to editors, and his book is on

WHILE KLIEMAN and his wife, as well as their two eldest sons, have been able to gradually return to some routine of normalcy, their youngest son was permanently affected in ways no one could have ever imagined.

“Siblings have lost something very dear to them as well – a person,” he explains. “We knew our boys were affected, each one differently. The youngest one was affected much more than anyone realized.”

This youngest son, Gavriel, was in the midst of finishing his university degree when he had an idea for a start-up company in Internet commerce, something that Klieman says he devoted every waking hour to.

“About a year and a half ago we tried contacting him one day and we couldn’t,” Klieman says.

“We found him – he had fallen backwards and been injured. We don’t know if his heart or a fall affected him first.

“We found out from a lot of his friends just how much he had been affected. I think that’s reflected in the book because there’s a surviving brother who talks about it and deals with anger,” Klieman adds, noting that much of the fictional brother’s story had actually already been written before the death of his own 26- year-old son. In the book, Summers and his wife Anne realize just how important it is that they pay additional attention to their son Jamie’s needs, as he too struggles with Laura’s death.

Today, Klieman’s eldest Dov, 37, who is married with two children, has quit his own job at an insurance company to finish what his younger brother had started.

Meanwhile, the second oldest son, 35-year-old Yossi, joined the Chabad movement and is working in Chicago’s Israeli community.

Always humble, Klieman says of his family, “We’re not incredible. There are a lot of incredible people who we take our strength from.”

Klieman and his family may have undergone unspeakable hardship, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to live optimistically, and he makes clear that he is not looking for sympathy. Instead, he is focusing on writing a second book – with some of the same characters – and being with his grandchildren, who he says truly embody “the realization that no matter what you’ve lost there are still so many positive things, like watching the next generation grow up.”

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