One heart, one mind

Children of terror from around the world recently spent eight days in the Big City and learned to be kids again.

One Heart Global 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
One Heart Global 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Under normal circumstances, Terry Hardy, 18, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Noy Ilan, 17, of Rishon Lezion would have never met and would have never had anything in common.
But the brutal acts of terrorism that struck both their families changed their lives forever, and recently an organization called One Heart Global brought them together for eight days in New York to learn from each other along with more than a dozen other young victims from seven countries.
Hardy’s grandfather, three uncles, an aunt and three cousins were murdered by paramilitary groups in the conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland that ended in 1998. Eight members of Ilan’s family, including her brother and sister, were killed in March 2002 when a suicide bomber detonated himself in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood where they had celebrated her cousin’s bar mitzva.
Before then, Ilan never knew that there was terrorism in Northern Ireland and Hardy knew nothing about the Arab-Israeli conflict and had never met a Jew. Now they know each other’s stories and consider each other friends.
“I thought there was only terror in Israel,” Ilan said. “I was surprised that there was terror in Ireland.
Hearing the experiences of people from around the world has been comforting.”
Hardy said he still finds it difficult to talk about what his family endured. He said it was hard for him to listen to the stories of other participants in the program, but it was reassuring.
“Hearing Noy left me speechless,” Hardy said. “I find her very brave. It’s been good to meet others going through the same circumstances. It made me more confident. I learned about the people of Israel. I didn’t know anything about them before, and now I think they’re amazing.”
One Heart Global is a nonprofit organization that brings together victims of terror aged 14-18 from Northern Ireland, Spain, France, Liberia, Rwanda, Israel and the US. The Young Ambassadors program is for teens who lost a family member or were wounded in a terrorist attack.
For the program, One Heart Global joined forces with the Association Francaise des Victims du Terrorisme of France, WAVE Trauma Centre of Northern Ireland, Survivors of Terrorism of England, and Associacion Victimas Del Terrorismo of Spain.
“The psychological effects of a terrorist attack are often experienced years after the tragic incident, at which time help may no longer be available,” a One Heart Global spokeswoman said. “Public recollection of the incident has faded, and the victim is often left with a crippling physical or emotional disability. Global assistance toward victims of terror has often been initially swift at the group level, but sustained assistance for the individual is minimal and has diminished with the world’s collective memories of the event. It is in recognition of these shortfalls, and in hopes of providing long-term assistance for those who are without the crucial assistance, that our organization was established.”
ONE HEART GLOBAL was formed in 2007 by New Yorker Sarri Singer and Jacob Kimchy of Rishon Lezion, who were both victims of the wave of Palestinian terror at the beginning of the last decade that wounded her and killed Kimchy’s father Rami, in whose memory the organization is dedicated.
Singer, whose father is a New Jersey state senator, was on a No. 14 bus in Jerusalem on June 11, 2003, when a suicide bomber on board blew himself up, murdering 16 people and wounding more than 100. Everyone around her was killed, while she was hurt in the shoulder by shrapnel and suffered from pierced eardrums and seared face and hair.
Kimchy’s father, who worked for Israel Aircraft Industries, was killed in a May 7, 2002, suicide bombing at a Rishon Lezion pool hall. Kimchy, who came to the site of the attack to try to help the wounded, saw his father’s car and learned that because of the proximity of his father to the suicide bomber, there was nothing left of him to bury.
Singer and Kimchy met on a visit to New York and Miami organized by the One Family Fund that helps Israeli victims of terror. They decided to form a new organization that would bring together terror victims families from all over the world.
“What pushed me was when I was asked on the trip about other terror victims in other countries and I said terror victims feel the same everywhere,” Kimchy said. “I also wanted to help Israeli public diplomacy. When we speak around the world, some people have never heard of Hamas and Islamic Jihad or don’t know they are terror groups.”
One Heart Global initially sent Israeli terror victims to an annual summer camp for children of September 11 victims in New York that included victims of attacks in Northern Ireland and Spain but reluctantly accepted Israelis. But when the camp started bringing in children from the Gaza Strip in a message that it considered Israelis terrorists, Kimchy and Singer realized they had to do things on their own, and the Young Ambassadors program was the result.
“It has been impressive for me to see how happy the kids look,” Kimchy said. “I look at them and think: Is this a group of victims of terrorism? Here, they can feel safe and be kids. Telling their stories empowers them. The message for them is to go home strong and different. I want to change their lives.”
The participants met with Ambassador to the UN Meron Reuben, Irish UN Ambassador Anne Anderson and New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly, who surprised them by taking them on police boats to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty. They also visited the American Museum of Natural History, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, FAO Schwartz toy store, and SONY Wonder Technology Lab, took the New York Skyride, and were in the audience on NBC’s Today show.
BUT THE emotional highlight for many of the participants was visiting Ground Zero and its adjacent Tribute visitor center. They listened to the video testimony of survivors of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and received a guided tour from Lee Ielpi, whose son Jonathan was a firefighter who died while trying to save lives at the World Trade Center.
“Lee has an amazing story, and it was empowering for the kids to meet him because they could relate to his loss,” Singer said.
Ilan said visiting Ground Zero helped her understand better what happened there. She said that one of the reasons she went on the program was that she wanted to help terror victims from around the world understand the special circumstances of Israelis.
“It’s very important that they will know what we go through in Israel,” Ilan said. “I want to take home a feeling that we are being listened to and that we accomplished something important.
Maybe teaching people about what we have gone through will help them understand better and encourage them to do their part to make terror end.”
Asked how she felt about being called an “ambassador,” the modest Ilan said the word was too big for her.
Sixteen-year-old Diego, whose mother was murdered along with 190 other people in the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombing, said dealing with his loss has never gotten easier and he doesn’t think it ever will. He said he went on the program to make friends and learn about the world.
French teens Malou Anglade and Quentin Area- Darses were in the Cairo market when a bomb exploded, killing one classmate and wounding others.
They said the program was a good idea because they shared the same problems as their peers from other countries.
“They can understand what happened to us and we can understand what happened to them,” Area- Darses said. “I am angry at terrorists everywhere. They are stupid. All war is stupid.”
Paulo Pimentel, who directs the British organization Survivors of Terrorism, said programs like One Heart Global’s Young Ambassadors can be effective in empowering children who have endured great emotional pain.
“These kids know they are here for a week to share their common hurt,” he said. “No one can suffer the same, but meeting others suffering similar emotional distress is very important. The hurt isn’t going to go away, but they can learn to live with it and sharing make it more comfortable to live with.”
Singer said at the conclusion of the program that there was a clearly noticeable difference between how the participants were when they arrived and when they left.
“They overcame language barriers and really connected on a higher level,” she said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids. They are wonderful, their stories are real, and they represent many people in their countries. Our hope is that this will not be the end but the beginning. We hope that they will stay in touch and continue to give each other strength.”