yaacov teitel 248.88.
(photo credit: Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency))
Ya'acov Teitel was the first family member to race to his brother-in-law Moshe Avitan's side when he was wounded by Palestinian sniper fire last January.
So now, almost a month since his arrest and a day after police publicly charged the American immigrant with a string of terror attacks against Palestinians and Jews, Avitan's wife, Sarah and Teitel's neighbors have struggled to accept that his quiet, giving demeanor might have masked a hidden dark streak of violence.
"This is not the Ya'acov that we knew," Sarah Avitan said on Monday afternoon as she sat at her kitchen table in the Shvut Rahel settlement.
Here in this small hilltop community in the Binyamin region, Avitan, 34, and her sister, Teitel's wife, Rivka, 31, are raising their families in nearby homes. Until last month, they were indistinguishable from their neighbors.
The sisters immigrated to Israel from Manchester, England, in 1981 with their family. Avitan first moved to Shvut Rahel 15 years ago, and her sister joined her there six years ago, right after her marriage to Teitel.
On this winter day, rain pounded against the wooden deck outside Avitan's kitchen window as she spoke. A beret hid part of her straight, light brown hair, and her hands were buried in the pockets of her purple sweatshirt. She had just taken out a tray of homemade pita-pizzas as a snack for three of her five daughters, who had come in from the cold.
That she was interspersing multiple media interviews with her routine domestic tasks was a sign of the upside-down? world in which she has found herself this past month - a world she would never have imagined when she closed her eyes in her bedroom the night of October 7.
Since it was the middle of Succot, her husband was sleeping in the succa. At 4 a.m. on October 8, they were both awakened by the sound of someone pounding on their door.
"We asked who it was. They said it was the police. It was like in the movies," she said.
"They did not tell us what they were doing or what they were looking for," said Avitan.
After a while the police started to ask questions about her family, and then about Teitel.
"They said, 'Would you be surprised to discover that Ya'acov was involved in illegal things?' Then I understood that it was about him," she said.
At exactly the same time, she said, police arrived at the Teitels' door, Rivka's mother's Har Nof apartment in Jerusalem, and the home of Ya'acov's parents in the Betar Illit settlement.
None of the family members, not even Teitel's wife, knew that he had been arrested in Har Nof the night before, said Avitan, explaining that Rivka Teitel had thought her husband was spending the night with his parents in Betar Illit.
When the police knocked on the Teitels' door, Avitan said, Rivka initially barricaded it, fearing that they were terrorists trying to break in and kill her and her four small children, aged four months, two, three and five.
Police were still there when she arrived at her sister's home, Avitan said. Not knowing what else to do, she sat and hugged the children.
Avitan is the first to admit that she did not know many facts about her brother-in-law. He did not speak Hebrew, she said. Although Avitan teaches English, her husband was born in Israel and their spoken language at home is Hebrew, so that always limited conversation when he came over, she said.
On top of that, she added, "he was very quiet. He did not speak a lot," nor did he go out that much. He kept to himself and made his living through computer work that he did from home, she said. They did not discuss politics, and Teitel never said anything that could have indicated he held extremists views or that he could be capable of the crimes he is charges with.
Police have alleged that he was behind an unprecedented series of deadly terror shootings and bombings spanning over a decade, in which two Palestinians were killed and Israel Prize Laureate Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell, as well as 15-year-old Ami Oritz, from a messianic family in Ariel, were wounded.
But Avitan said the man that she knew was compassionate and giving. It was through his actions that she measured his character, she added.
Last January, Palestinian snipers riddled her family's car with bullets as she and her husband were driving in the West Bank. One of the bullets hit her husband in the temple, and she had to take the wheel. Teitel heard about the attack and met them close to the scene. He took over care of his four children so Rivka could be free to help her sister's family as Moshe Avitan recovered from the attack, which blinded him.
"With everything we needed, with every trip to the hospital, Ya'acov helped us," said Sarah Avitan.
One of their neighbors, Dorit Hamiri, a Shvut Rahel spokeswoman, recalled how when a woman in Shvut Rahel who lacked a car had gone into labor, Teitel had driven her to the hospital.
"He was the kind of person who helped people," said Hamiri.
Ya'acov and Rivka Teitel seemed like any other young couple who had come to their settlement, she said. They had passed the screening test. And although it was true that Ya'acov kept mostly to himself - and in an unusual move for their community, did not often show up at synagogue - no one thought anything was out of the ordinary, said Hamiri.
Since his arrest, she said, police had interrogated a number of people in the community who knew the family, but found nothing.
The community does not support violence, but plans to stand behind the family and to hold out hope for his innocence, Hamiri said.
Still, she noted, the incident had opened the door to questions about how much it was possible to truly know your friends and neighbors. Hamiri said she had been asking herself the question, "Do I really know the people I think I know?"
This has come "as a total shock," said Avitan. "It is not something that we ever imagined would happen. We have not fully comprehended it, and we still live in hope that it will not be true."
She added that she did not understand "how two such opposite personalities could hide within the same person. Only a psychologist could explain this."
She'd had no inkling that this was happening, and neither had her sister, she said.
"Rivka is a very special person," said Avitan. "She did national service in the trauma unit at Hadassah-University Medical Center, Ein Kerem, and does not hold extremist views."
But Avitan has not had much time to contemplate how this all happened, because she has been busy helping her sister survive the day-to-day trauma of the revelations about her husband.
"We do not get into long conversations about her emotional state," said Avitan, and added, "We are in the middle of dealing with [an] SOS."
Teitel's children, she said, "have all kinds of fears and cry a lot. Strange people have been coming in and out of their homes, and their father has been absent for the past month. They do not know what is happening."
Still, she has taken time to speak to the media, because she wants to clarify that no one in her family or the settlement supports the kinds of violent acts of which Teitel has been accused.
"None of us believe that violence is the solution," said Avitan, adding that "should it be proven that Ya'acov did the things with which he was charged," she wanted to make it clear that he had acted alone.
None of his family or the residents of Shvut Rahel were involved, she said.
"It is not our way. We believe in the rule of law, we believe in the nation, we have brought up our children to love the nation and to serve it," said Avitan.
She hoped the charges were false, she said, but should he be found guilty, "it is clear that I will feel betrayed. You could not have any other reaction."