WASHINGTON — Chaya Zissel Braun never lived to visit the United States, but the three-month-old Israeli-US citizen who was killed Wednesday when a terrorist plowed his car into her stroller will be remembered in far-away Rockland County, NY.
Braun is not the first child with close ties to Rockland County to die at the hands of terrorists in Jerusalem – two other young children from the county that includes predominantly Jewish towns like Monsey and New Square have been killed in terror attacks since 2000.
Braun’s mother, Chani Braun, grew up in Monsey before moving to Israel. People close to the family in the New York town said that the Brauns struggled for years to conceive a child, before Chaya was born three months ago.
“My senses are numb, I cry with the family,” wrote Rockland County Legislator Aron Wieder Thursday. The legislator knows the baby’s family, many members of whom still live in the area.
Only hours before the deadly Jerusalem attack, Chaya’s grandmother had concluded a visit with her granddaughter and family, and boarded a plane back to New York. Hearing of the tragedy when she landed in the US, she returned to Israel to bury her granddaughter on the same day.
Chaya’s grandfather, Shimshon Halperin, called Chaya a “pure soul” who “didn’t do anything bad to anybody,” but said he and her parents have accepted “with love” what he sees as God’s decree.
Ramapo Councilman Daniel Friedman, who also represents Monsey, says that everybody in the area’s expansive Jewish community knows people who have immigrated to Israel, and that incidents like the Wednesday tragedy touch the entire community.
This is not the first time that the close relationship between Rockland County’s Jewish community and Israel has placed its residents on the front lines.
In August 2003, three people with ties to the area were killed in a suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus. Like the Brauns on Wednesday, many of the people on the bus were returning from the Western Wall. Among those families was that of 3-year-old Tehilla Nathanson. Like Chaya Zissel Braun, Tehilla’s mother, Chana, grew up in Monsey. Tehilla was killed in the blast, and her parents and two sisters were injured.
The same bombing killed 3-month-old Shmuel Taubenfeld and his mother Goldie, 43. The Taubenfelds were visiting Jerusalem from New Square, NY, another predominantly Jewish community in Rockland County.
Friedman described a tremendous outpouring of support and sympathy Thursday for members of the Braun family in the New York community.
“Our hearts are completely broken by yesterday’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem that killed Chaya Zissel Braun,” wrote longtime Rockland County representative to Congress Nita Lowey (D-NY) in a statement. “Such indiscriminate hatred and targeted violence against innocent civilians, including this three month old baby girl with family right here in Rockland County, shocks the conscience and must be universally condemned.”
Lowey said that her “thoughts and prayers are with Chaya’s entire family in both Israel and the United States, and all of the defenseless victims who were injured during yesterday’s attack. Their grief from this nightmare is felt around the world.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also responded to the attack on Twitter Thursday, offering his “condolences to the Brauns from Rockland County who lost their newborn in yesterday’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem. Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet.”
Although local lawmakers like Friedman said that the best response they could offer to the attack was to support the community in its mourning, Lowey took away a larger message from the incident.
“The United States must stand fully behind our ally Israel as the Israeli government works even harder to prevent such senseless violence in the future and to safeguard its citizens from the forces of pure evil,” the legislator insisted.