Holy work honored

President Reuven Rivlin pays tribute to NII workers who help victims of terror.

President Rivlin and several victims of terror (front row) applaud the dedication of the NII’s social workers (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
President Rivlin and several victims of terror (front row) applaud the dedication of the NII’s social workers
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Even before the birth of the State of Israel, the Jews in this country have been plagued by recurring waves of terrorism, which over the years have not only claimed countless lives but also caused serious physical and mental injuries to survivors. Bereaved families have been left broken in spirit by the sudden loss of loved ones, and the manner in which they died, President Reuven Rivlin said on Sunday at Beit HaNassi during a tribute he hosted for social workers and rehabilitation therapists affiliated with the National Insurance Institute.
Declaring that the nation owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the dedicated workers of the NII who day in and day out help the victims and their families to cope, Rivlin acknowledged that NII employees work under the radar, and do not receive the recognition that they deserve. He was honored, he said, to be able to say thank-you to them on his own behalf and on behalf of the nation.
Three of the victims and one of the social workers told their stories, and musical interludes were supplied by Avigdor Gavish, whose parents, brother and grandfather were killed by a terrorist who infiltrated the family home in Elon Moreh in March 2002. Among the survivors were Gavish, his five siblings, his sister-in-law and his two-year-old niece. The surviving family, which is very close, has been looked after from Day 1 until the present time by the NII.
Gavish decided to become a musician and is on the verge releasing a new album.
He is a song writer, instrumentalist and singer, and he dedicated the first song that he sang to Anat, the social worker who has been there for the family from the start of their tragedy to the present time.
A MORE recent tragedy was experienced in November 2014 by the Levine family, American immigrants living in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.
Rabbi Kalman Ze’ev Levine was one of the five people killed by terrorists who entered the Bnei Torah Synagogue while congregants were at morning prayer. He was survived by his wife, Chaya, and nine children.
Standing in front of a packed hall in the President’s Residence on Sunday, Chaya Levine recalled that terrible Tuesday morning.
The day started like any regular day.
She was in her kitchen preparing a drink for her son when suddenly she heard the sound of sirens. That was very strange because Har Nof is generally a quiet, trouble-free neighborhood. She and her son went out onto the balcony to see what all the commotion was about. At first they could not understand what was going on.
“The synagogue is supposed to be a safe place,” said Levine.
They saw a lot of people and there was a lot of noise. Then they saw blood. They still didn’t know what had happened, but as is the custom in religious communities when situations look grim, they began to recite Psalms. Initially it didn’t occur to Levine that something had happened to her husband, but once she grasped the situation, she realized that he must have been injured, if not worse.
“My husband was my whole life,” she said. “He was my rabbi, my friend and the father of my children – and he wasn’t going to come home.”
Now their children would have to depend not on both parents, but solely on her. She was not sure that she could be strong enough for then, but knew that she had no choice.
ONE OF the first people to come to the Levine home was social worker Miriam Perla, whose main task is to assist in the rehabilitation of bereaved families whose loved ones have been killed in terrorist attacks. Levine was in too great a state of shock to understand what Perla was saying to her, so the social worker left her calling card and told Levine that when she was ready, to give her a call. When Levine did call her soon afterwards, she found not only Perla, but other NII social workers ready and willing to help out with all her family’s needs and to give her the vital moral support that would enable her to face the future.
And indeed the NII has been enormously helpful, but obviously it can’t entirely dissipate the trauma which Levine and her family have suffered. Her youngest boy is still afraid to leave the house alone, she said, and she or one of the older children have to accompany him wherever he goes.
Perla, who was among the speakers at the ceremony earlier this week, said that all social workers and rehabilitation therapists approach the individuals and families in their care with a sense of mission, using the knowledge and experience they have acquired to suit specific needs. Sometimes, she explained, it is very difficult to make contact in the initial stages, and families often resist social workers and don’t want to have anything to do with them. It is only when they realize that they are unable to cope alone that they turn to the people who approached them in their moments of pain and grief, and then, more often than not, a warm and close relationship develops.
Perla told of a Holocaust survivor whose entire family had been wiped out by the Nazis and who had come to Israel alone, fought in the War of Independence, got married and fathered two sons. One of his sons was killed in a terrorist attack, and the father became hopelessly embittered. He was angry with God; he was angry with the terrorist; he was angry with the government; he was even angry with the NII, although he attended its weekly meetings to vent his anger. Gradually, however, he realized that he was not the only person who was hurting, and eventually he became a volunteer, helping others whose loved ones were murdered by terrorists.
He was able to become a happier person and even, when the time came, to enjoy his granddaughter’s wedding.
MOSHE AVITAN and his wife, Sarah, of Shvut Rahel were driving toward Kochav Hashahar in January 2009 when they were shot at by a terrorist in a drive-by attack. Avitan was hit in the head, with a bullet going through one of his eyes.
Sarah managed to work her way into the driver’s seat and within a few minutes reached a sentry post from where she was able to summon medical assistance.
Moshe was rushed to Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem. Before the first responders arrived, Sarah did her utmost to keep her husband conscious, fearful that if she did not do so, he would die. At the time they had five daughters. Three years ago, they were blessed with a sixth whom they called Or, meaning light.
Although severely wounded, Avitan made a miraculous recovery, and with the help of a social worker called Tamar and other NII social workers restructured his life. He had previously been a partner in a construction company, but his visual impairment prevented him from continuing to be a builder.
Instead he enrolled in an MBA course at Ariel University, but he then had to drop his studies because one of his younger daughters needed to undergo surgery for a rare brain disease. Fortunately, she too recovered, and Avitan changed track and is now studying for a law degree.
Meanwhile, another of his daughters got married and thus he found that there were good reasons for him and his family to celebrate. Tamar, the social worker who went to see him in hospital, continues to guide the family and to ensure that whatever NII payments it is due to receive by law are made.
Avitan has been recognized by NII as 100 percent disabled, but that doesn’t stop him and Sarah from going abroad to talk to people about how Israelis live under constant threat.
THE LAST of the victims to speak was Katy Oliel, injured in the bomb blast that took the lives of Dr David Applebaum (chief of the emergency room and trauma services at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and founder and director of Terem emergency medical centers) and his daughter Naava, on the eve of her wedding in September 2009.
Oliel, who was employed at Café Hillel in Jerusalem, had gone to work with a sense of dread and much trepidation.
“I left home with a heavy heart,” she said.
There had been terrorist attacks in Jerusalem in the preceding weeks, and she was concerned that terrorists might find their way to Emek Refaim Street, which in those days was full of restaurant and coffee-shop patrons.
She was vaguely aware of a security guard calling after someone as he entered the coffee shop, and then there was an explosion and she lost consciousness. When she woke, she was lying on the pavement outside, thrown there by the blast. She heard urgent voices referring to a terrorist attack, and she somehow pulled herself to her feet, and managed to make her way to the nearest store in which there was a light. She stood there momentarily and then noticed that she was standing in a pool of blood. It was her own. With that realization she felt herself fainting, but like Avitan’s wife, she was aware of the importance of not losing consciousness, and forced herself to stay awake. She begged for help, calling that she had small children at home. She was taken to hospital, and that same night, Hedva, a NII social worker, met with Oliel’s husband, and, on the day she was discharged from hospital, with Oliel too.
Hedva has been with her ever since.
For a long time, Oliel was unable to shake off her fear of leaving the house, but Hedva was insistent and made her take a taxi every week to the social worker’s downtown office.
“I was terrified, but I went,” said Oliel, adding that like most Israelis her previous impression of the NII had been negative.
She had viewed it as a place of bureaucratic indifference. But happily, she was wrong.
Gradually her confidence returned, although she still suffers from anxiety attacks.
Today she works as a volunteer with the NII helping others as she was helped.
RIVLIN TOLD the social workers that they were doing “holy work.” He said that in recent months, he had gone almost every week to pay condolence calls to bereaved families whose world had been torn asunder by terrorists.
“It’s a very difficult experience,” he said. “You see families who are completely crushed and have not yet absorbed the enormity of what has befallen them. All they can feel is sorrow, shock and loss.”
NII director Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, who prior to his present post spent 11 years as the director of the Hadassah Medical Organization, said that although many victims of terrorism had been brought to Hadassah during his time there, nothing prepared him for what he sees and hears daily at the NII.
“It doesn’t begin or end in hospital,” he said. “It begins with us, and it goes on for years.”
What used to be the home front, Mor-Yosef continued, is now the front line. No one is immune. Victims of terrorism are Jews, Arabs, foreign workers, tourists, secular and religious, men and women, adults and children, he said.
Quoting figures from the current wave of terror which began in September last year, Mor Yosef said that 27 civilians had been killed, 140 people had been wounded; 52 young people under the age of 21 had lost at least one parent, and four siblings had lost both parents.
In the same period 12 people who were widowed and 23 parents bereaved. Figures were not given for soldiers who were victims of terrorism, since statistics related to soldiers are released by the IDF.