Har Nof in flames

Mourning – and tales of miracles – after the synagogue massacre.

Terror attack scene in Jerusalem  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Terror attack scene in Jerusalem
News on the bus from Jerusalem’s city center to Har Nof Tuesday spread the old-fashioned way, by word of mouth: Such-and-such has a cousin who was hurt, so-and-so is in critical condition.
The brutal murders of four rabbis during their morning prayer sent shock waves of tragic stories and expressions of concern and grief reverberating through Har Nof’s religious community, which occupies a hilly outcrop on the western fringe of the capital .
A woman on the bus said someone she “knows well” was just that moment going into surgery. She described the residents of the religious community of Har Nof as “amazing people, righteous people.”
Instead of taking a right onto the long, curving streets of Har Nof, the bus on Tuesday afternoon veered abruptly off its normal path, continuing instead along a main thoroughfare. The commuters revolted, but the driver insisted the standard route was blocked off (it wasn’t, just choked with news vans).
On the walk up to the synagogue where the attack had taken place on Harav Shimon Agassi Street, children stood on balconies and in yards, watching passersby. School had been canceled – the combination of the killings and a strike by Arab bus drivers had made the logistics of getting there too difficult.
The adults paced in front of their congregations, sharing news over the phone. One told his partner on the other end of the line that one of those hurt had been “someone named Goldberg.”
A couple of hours later, a car drove onto Agassi Street, a speaker fastened to its roof mournfully chanting the names of victims. Among them was Rabbi Avraham Goldberg.
The massacre, which also claimed the life of a Druse police officer who arrived on the scene, generated a spate of graphic images that set fire to media locally and abroad. But here, the tales were of personal danger avoided, and of those who were not so lucky.
A teenager standing in the growing crowd in front of the Bnei Torah Synagogue described sitting in a lounge in the back of the synagogue during the attacks when he heard someone coming down the stairs towards it. He said they stopped and turned around. He speculated it might have been one of the terrorists.
One oft-repeated fact was the double tragedy for the family of one victim. Three years ago, the daughter of Rabbi Aryeh Kopinsky, slain Tuesday, died suddenly.
Neighborhood residents poured into Agassi Street over the course of the clear and sunny afternoon, greeting each other with embraces and whatever news they had.
Accompanying the grief over the deaths was frustration with the political and security situation that led to them. Dror Shamir, a sports therapist from Givatayim who traveled to Har Nof that morning to “be a part of it” and provide whatever comfort possible, said the violence in Jerusalem has ceased to be passing unrest and has instead become a pattern.
He condemned the government for not involving the military and instead leaving it up to the police, when “this is not their job.”
“You have people getting killed in the middle of the capital,” said a man f rom New York with a long, graying beard and watering eyes. “It’s insanity.”
Several blocks from the synagogue, a group of girls clad in Orthodox garb on the side of the street held a large Hebrew banner reading “We are at war.”
Some were still less conciliatory. As I walked through the park overlooking Agassi Street, a man arriving for the funeral noticed I was a journalist and asked, “What are you writing?” He told me, “Write that soon in Jebl Mukaber there will be a big attack.”
AS PEOPLE gathered for the funeral, police and synagogue officials needed to move a car parked in front of the main entrance that had belonged to one of the victims. A crowd of Orthodox men rapidly gathered around the beige mid-sized vehicle, now pockmarked with bullet holes.
Dozens of hands pressed down on the hood and roof, bouncing the car up and down to make it easier to maneuver, as one man held the wheel and others pushed from the back. A young boy with some of the baby teeth missing in his grin took it upon himself to direct the effort, chanting, “More! More! More!” Weaving through the crowd in front of the police line with a metal pot of hot water and a bowl of Turkish coffee, 18-year-old Avishai Illuz and 16-yearold Neriah Cohen offered coffee to police officers and ambulance technicians, most of whom turned them down graciously.
Journalists watched the happenings from a secondfloor balcony belonging to Shula Ben-Zev. She had seen that morning’s episode standing just outside her kitchen, from which she was now offering hot coffee to reporters.
She said her husband, Shlomo Ben-Zev, regularly attends the prayer service that was attacked. On Tuesday morning, he awoke with a bad pain in his knee and a slight fever. Shula told him to stay home and pray there.
“Never in my life have I told him not to go pray, never,” she said.
Just as her husband began to pray at home, Shula heard gunshots and went to the balcony to see what was happening.
Outside the synagogue, across the street, a partially decapitated man was sitting on the street. Within minutes, the police arrived and fired on the terrorists.
She watched the whole scene play out from the balcony.
She said that if her husband had been there, his bad knee would have prevented him from running. She attributes his survival to nothing less than divine providence.
“I’m telling you, it’s a miracle,” she said. “It’s just before Hanukka, and my miracle came.”