A tale of two olim

Neighbors survive Ammunition Hill terrorist attack and keep the convoy moving on.

Police inspect the car driven by a Hamas terrorist in Wednesday night's fatal Jerusalem attack. (photo credit: TAZPIT)
Police inspect the car driven by a Hamas terrorist in Wednesday night's fatal Jerusalem attack.
(photo credit: TAZPIT)
Two immigrants from different countries, neighbors in a rural community in the Binyamin region, one terrorist attack at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill, one story of Zionism, resilience and faith; “God wanted me to be there,” said Milca Chemoun, who was wounded in the terrorist attack at the Ammunition Hill light rail station on October 22. Chemoun, who immigrated 13 years ago from France, works from her home in Kochav Hashahar and doesn’t travel often to Jerusalem.
“I am an e-learning teacher for the French company PromaCom.
I do computer instruction over the Internet, so I usually skip the hassles of commuting. The week before the attack I was having problems with my Internet connection. The company came to fix it but it still didn’t work. After missing more than a week of work I didn’t have a choice but to go in to the Jerusalem office and teach from there. I finished work at around 4 p.m. and headed home by train. I got off at Ammunition Hill and was about to walk to the bus that would take me home when I met my neighbor Avi, who offered me a ride.
“We started walking to the parking lot, and just a few seconds later Avi turned to me with a look of disbelief on his face. I turned around in time to see a car on the train platform, driving straight at us. I froze, someone pulled me away and instead of being completely run over only my leg was hit.”
Chemoun has had a lot of time since that day to think over that evening’s events.
Since having surgery on her leg she has been in a wheelchair, unable to stand and is scheduled for future treatments on the wound she sustained. Unable to leave the house since returning from hospital, she spent the first few days trying to get over the initial trauma.
“I arrived at the hospital at the same time as the terrorist – he was operated on before me and I had to wait four hours... I don’t hate him. He wanted to kill Jews. I look at this story as a Jew and not as a new immigrant. After 13 years of living in Israel I don’t have a French mentality anymore.”
I asked Chemoun how her relatives in France reacted and if the security situation in Israel has deterred those who are considering aliya. “I don’t think that terrorism is keeping them away. Of course they’re angry, and when something happens to someone close to you it makes you even angrier, but their main reasons for not making aliya are because of work and difficulty speaking the language.”
I get the impression that Chemoun is presently focused on recuperating and is not interested in dwelling on why it happened to her, or her personal trauma.
“I didn’t take it too hard. My problem now is my leg. Though I am nervous about going out alone in Jerusalem, I’m sure I’ll get over it. It’s like getting behind the wheel for the first time after a car accident – you just have to do it.
“It is clear that it happened to me because Hashem [God] planned it that way – it was so unlikely that I would be at that specific place at that specific time.”
Aside from distress about her own disability, as the mother of three daughters, Chemoun is concerned about her family: “One of my daughters didn’t go to school for three weeks after the attack, but she’s okay now. They travel a lot, and ever since the kidnapping of the three youths this past summer I have been nervous about them hitchhiking. I don’t want to be hysterical but I tell them to take buses and not to hang around town too much.
“I don’t have sons in the army, but please God I’ll have sons-inlaw in the army and we’ll have to cope with it.”
Chemoun sums things up optimistically with a French saying about a convoy of camels in the desert that keeps going even when the dogs bark at it. The saying reminds me of Arik Einstein’s upbeat “Convoy Song” (Shir Hashayara) released in 1987 during the first intifada, “And the convoy goes on from the last century...
it won’t go on without us, it’s the adventure of our lives.”
Just around the corner from Kibbutz Galuyot Street in Kochav Hashahar where Chemoun and her family reside, live Avi and Rachel Nadel, veteran olim from the US. Avi was on the phone with Rachel as the attack at Ammunition Hill unfolded and he found himself right in the middle of it.
The Nadels made aliya 20 years ago from New York. Avi is coowner of 12Tribes Films, a company that distributes videos about Israel through social media that show a side of the Jewish and Israeli narrative that receives little attention in the today’s public discourse. Rachel is founder of anywhereinisrael.com, a non-profit website that organizes places for overseas students studying in Israel who wish to spend Shabbat in locations across the country.
The startup, which has been running for over 10 years, continues to expand – like the Nadel family and their nine children.
“It all happened within a few seconds,” says Avi Nadel, “One minute I was talking to Rachel on my cell phone and walking toward the parking lot with Milca, the next second I turned around to see a car driving straight at us in an impossibly narrow space between the train and the platform. I screamed at Milca to watch out. Someone pulled her out of the car’s direct line. The car then crashed into a pole and a kid – maybe 15 or 16 – the driver got out and started running away.
“I heard the crash, the gunshots, and the screaming,” says Rachel, “I heard Avi say that he’s okay but I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know if I should say tehillim (Psalms), call Milca’s family or continue serving dinner!” Nadel shows me the video of the attack on his cell phone recorded by the light rail security cameras. The clearest image is a young couple with a baby carriage walking by, seconds before the tragedy that will change their lives forever occurs – before the car plows into the stroller, killing three-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun and wounding her father.
In a very calm, logical and well thought out manner, Nadel explains his overall reaction as a veteran oleh to the terror attack: “We certainly have a different perspective growing up in New York. We didn’t come here on the condition that things would be easy and wonderful. For the most part it has been wonderful, but sometimes things get rough. This hasn’t been a game changer for us, we’ve been here for so long that we’re not about to give in to fear. We have to strengthen ourselves by doing what you do every day: 1. Serve God; 2. Do what you’re supposed to be doing; 3. Take things seriously. You have to be more aware; when you’re out on the street, you watch your back like in New York.”
Avi and Rachel’s twin sons are planning on going to high school in Gush Etzion next year – and no, they’re not changing their plans.
Both Nadel and Chamoun view Israel not only as a national homeland where all Jews should be living, but a place where each individual’s contribution makes them part of the bigger picture. Both chose to live in a small, close-knit community that is a melting pot of native Israelis and many immigrants from the US, France, England, Russia and other countries. “So many came to help me after the attack, I didn’t feel alone at all. Even people I don’t know came to visit me in the hospital. We’re a people of love,” Chamoun says affectionately.
The parents of Chaya Zissel Braun, American citizens living in Israel, as well as Karen Jemima Mosquera, a 22-year-old student from Ecuador who was wounded and died four days after the attack, were in Israel primarily to learn Torah. Mosquera, a descendant of Marranos – 15th-century Jews of Spain and Portugal who were forced to convert to Catholicism – came from Ecuador to Jerusalem to regain her connection to Judaism.
“Her dream was to convert to Judaism and live in Israel,” said Mosquera’s mother at her daughter’s funeral.
Faith, nationalism and community are the fuel that gives courage and strength for the convoy to go on or as the song says “to kindle the lights in Dimona and Deganya.”