On May 2, 2004, two terrorists ambushed the car Tali Hatuel and her four young daughters were riding in near the Kissufim crossing, close to their home in Gush Katif, killing them all at point-blank range. On the bar mitzva year of their deaths, Savta Suzy Malka, Tali’s mother, talks about how she and her husband, Momi, are dealing with the cruelest blow of all.Near the entrance of the Ashkelon cemetery, there is a row of five graves with Israeli flags at each corner and a black “Yizkor” ribbon attached to each. The middle grave is an adult-sized one; on each side are two smaller ones – a mother surrounded by her children, laid to rest the way they all died, mowed down by the terrorists. Tali Hatuel, 34, eight months pregnant, and her daughters Hila, 11, Hadar, nine, Roni, seven, and Merav, two, were on their way to Ashkelon from their home in Moshav Katif in the Gaza Strip.Tali, a dedicated social worker who, ironically, worked with victims of terrorism, left behind her husband David; parents Suzy and Momi Malka; two sisters and a brother, plus extended family.Suzy and Momi, affectionately known to all as Savta Suzy and Saba Momi, live in Ashkelon. After the tragedy, they could have imploded, collapsed emotionally, mentally and physically. Instead, they chose to live, and reclaim their lives with purpose and meaning.
“During the entire shiva the house was full of people. Half of the shiva was in Tali’s house in Gush Katif, and the other half was here in our home. Those first days, we didn’t know anything; we didn’t know how we were going to get up, how we were going to continue our lives. Tali, Hila, Hadar, Roni and Merav were gone. It was impossible to go on, but then we saw how the entire county was with us.“All of Tali and David’s friends visited us… there was not one of them who didn’t help – not one. The warmth of friends and family kept us together and we didn’t fall. They wouldn’t let us. The people of Moshav Katif helped us. We helped them. They, too, were distraught and in great pain. How were they going to get back to living? Psychologists and social workers, some Tali’s colleagues, were also on our team. David’s parents were inconsolable so for a time, we took over for them. After the shiva, when the masses of visitors left, we gave each other strength and kept David together. During all seven days of shiva, people came from all over the country. After the week was over and everyone had left, their warmth and love remained and got us up on our feet. “The family sat together. We talked. Slowly. Slowly. We talked about what to do. Momi said the first thing was to write a Sefer Torah in memory of the girls and that it had to be an absolutely exquisite one. We are religious people with deep faith and belief, so it was clear that this was the obvious thing to do. So write a Sefer Torah we did, and it is truly a piece of art. We, take it out, pray from it, hold it up and dance with it on Simhat Torah and everyone sees it and knows it’s in their memory. It was completed in time for the first year’s memorial, to be housed in the Ashkelon synagogue, Torah V’Tefila Imré Tal (Torah and prayer in memory of Tali and her girls). When it was on its way to the synagogue, the Torah was accompanied by dancing and singing in the streets of the city with a huge crowd from all over, including several members of the Knesset, sharing in the bittersweet joy.”Next, it was decided to build a beit midrash in memory of Tali and the girls; a place to study Torah adjacent to the synagogue. The family was delighted with the anonymous donation of a benefactor in New York who insisted on financing the entire project. Today, it is bustling with students of all ages leaning Torah, mornings and evenings throughout the week. One Tuesday every month, rabbis and Jewish educators and scholars, both men and women, representing a wide and varied range of Jewish thought, give lectures to a full audience. Both secular and religious people attend at no charge. The guest speakers are from all over the country and volunteer their services. Suzy, Momi and the chief rabbi of Ashkelon select the speakers and are very appreciative of their participation.The next project was starting a nonprofit organization, which resulted in the establishment of Tali Beyad Rama. Its objective is to help couples financially so they can get the necessary treatment needed to treat their fertility problems. According to their website, their aim is “to express the meaning of life and its continuity as an eternal remembrance of Tali and her daughters. For where life has been extinguished, let us add life.” So far, Tali Beyad Rama has succeeded in helping 600 babies come into this world.Besides being involved in the Tali Beyad Rama Fund, Momi is active in the neighborhood synagogue, planning lectures for the beit midrash, getting flyers and brochures prepared to announce upcoming events and visiting families who have lost loved ones.“Momi helps people, even those he doesn’t know, and does it with all his heart, just like Tali did. Everyone loves him for that, just like everyone loved her. Helping is in our blood.”While Metro was interviewing Suzy in her home, Momi was out visiting an area family that was sitting shiva, people he would be meeting for the first time.Keeping busy is also Suzy’s therapy, and working with children brings her great joy. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the murders, she began a project with young girls that has become a yearly tradition. She visits girls in local schools before their bat mitzvot, teaching them how to bake hallot and talking to them about what it is to fulfill a mitzva. Recently, two buses of sixth-grade girls visited the beit midrash to see the Torah scroll and hear the story of the terrorist attack that changed Suzy and Momi’s lives forever. For the “bat mitzva” anniversary, she had meetings with the girls and their parents that included not only lectures, but also a workshop on healthy eating and flower arranging.
THE 13TH anniversary of the deaths of Tali and the girls is this May, and because of the large number of people who will be attending the memorial service in the cemetery, the Malkas are having the memorial meal catered at an event hall in Ashkelon.“People will be coming from all over the country,” says Suzy. “We can’t send them home without a proper meal.”The family is honored that renowned scholar Rabbi Aryeh Hendler will give the main lesson at this year’s memorial. He is a longtime family friend and every year he takes Israeli youth to Poland, bringing with him a small portable Sefer Torah that is dedicated to Tali and her four daughters.Suzy’s entire professional life has been in education, and her love of children also gives her strength. She and Momi have 12 grandchildren ranging in age from 24 to 13, the youngest named after Talia. The oldest is expecting her first baby soon, “and then I will be a great-grandmother for the second time!” Suzy beams.Among the completed projects most dear to Suzy are the two children’s books she has written in memory of two of her granddaughters: Merav on the Magic Bimba (Bicycle) and Roni Bonboni. Each, in Hebrew, is written in rhyme and tells a story that involves a different quality of each of her beloved children. Merav, who was killed at age two, “didn’t get a chance to open her eyes and see the world, but in this book, she travels all over Israel on her ‘bimba.’ “Seven-year-old Roni loved everyone and was always smiling and laughing, but she was a fussy eater and only ate candy. Roni Bonboni addresses the problem in a lighthearted yet serious way until it’s solved and everyone is happy. Kindergarten teachers use Roni as a teaching tool and I get fan letters all the time from them, from parents and even from kids.”Two stories remain to be written: one about Hila, 11, the oldest of the Hatuel girls, who like Tali, had a great sense of humor and was also a talented artist. A story will be written also about nine-year-old Hadar, who was very neat and orderly and loved helping her mom and others.“I sit at the table at 11 at night and ask God to give me strength to write. I’m happy that I was able to write these two books and hope that God will continue to give me the strength I need to write that next two.”The books have been so well received that Roni Bonboni has sold out in Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim and another printing needs to be ordered. All proceeds from both books go Tali Beyad Rama.GROWING UP, Suzy and Momi were neighbors in Essaouria, Morocco, but lost touch when Momi and his family made aliya in 1956, settling in Moshav Talmei Yehiel, outside Ashkelon. Eight years later, Suzy’s family immigrated to Ashkelon where one day, to her great surprise, she ran into Momi’s mother. The rest is history.Retiring from the Israel Air Force after 45 years, Momi worked in an elevator factory for 10 years and then in the city’s unemployment office. Today, along with everything else, he finds time to volunteer there twice a week.The Malkas are all very close to David and his new family. When he remarried, David asked Suzy and Momi to walk him down the aisle and stand with him under the huppa beside his parents. They agreed without a moment’s hesitation.“David and Limor’s children are like our grandchildren, but certainly not a replacement for our girls, who never got a chance to live,” Suzy says with a sigh. “And of course, we are still in touch with the families of Moshav Katif who now live in Amatzia, near Kiryat Gat.”“So our lives go on, and being busy, busy, busy is what keeps us going. Our children and grandchildren understand the importance of our work and are very encouraging and proud of what we do. Since that terrible day, books have been written about Tali and the girls, a lovely playground children enjoy all year round has been built in their memory by the Ashkelon Municipality, and we have been bolstered by OneFamily, a support group for Israeli victims of terrorism and their families.“We go to the graves on Remembrance Day, at the memorial, of course, when we have something to talk to them about, before family occasions, and whenever we have something in our hearts to tell them. The other kids do the same.“I don’t wish this on anyone, not on anyone. We got used to living with the pain and we focus on the glass that is half full.”Savta Suzy takes a long breath and sighs.“We’re not angry at God, but we are so very, very angry at the terrorists who murdered our girls, wiped out six totally innocent beautiful lives. Our faith doesn’t cause us to question God. It’s in His hands.“And so we go on living, doing the best we can, because that is what Tali and the girls would have wanted us to do.”Merav on Her Magic Bimba is available from Yoram Ohev Tsion, 054-949-9154. All proceeds go to Tali Beyad Rama.