Recent terror victims share grief, and strategies for moving forward
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Recent terror victims share grief, and strategies for moving forward

Dafna Meir’s widower recalls the advice his wife once offered a bereaved friend: ‘Whether to choose life is the choice you need to make’

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Maya Rahimi, Natan Meir and Ofer Cohen share personal stories of grief and endurance at IFCJ's Yom Hazikaron event in Jerusalem to honor terror victims, May 9, 2016. (Courtesy)
Maya Rahimi, Natan Meir and Ofer Cohen share personal stories of grief and endurance at IFCJ's Yom Hazikaron event in Jerusalem to honor terror victims, May 9, 2016. (Courtesy)

Manya Lakin’s office is right next to the main Magen David Adom building in Jerusalem. Ambulances are constantly being dispatched from the area, and every time she hears a siren she jumps. She automatically checks her phone for news of a possible terror attack, just as she did the morning of last October 13, when the emergency vehicles were responding to an attack by Palestinian terrorists on a bus in the capital’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood.

Lakin’s 76-year-old father Richard, was on that bus. He was shot and stabbed by the terrorists and died two weeks later from his wounds.

“The trauma of what happened is with me all the time, but I’m carrying on with my regular routine. I may jump at every siren, but I’m functioning,” Lakin told The Times of Israel as she prepared to visit her father’s gravesite on Wednesday, Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror.

Getting on with life despite the devastating physical and emotional effects of terror was the predominant theme at a Memorial Day event hosted Monday evening in Jerusalem by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. It was attended by Lakin and many other recipients of grants for terror victims given by the organization since the beginning of the current terror wave last fall.

Manya Lakin (Facebook)
Manya Lakin (Facebook)

IFCJ, which promotes understanding between Jews and Christians and builds broad support for Israel, has so far issued 170 grants of NIS 4,000 (approximately $1,000) each to individuals affected by recent acts of terror in Israel. Israelis affected by the March 19 terrorist bombing in Istanbul also received grants.

“We have been issuing these grants within 24 hours of an attack, and a representative of our organization has delivered each one in person,” said IFCJ founder and president Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.

IFCJ provides other support for victims of terror and their families, such as emergency equipment for first responders and free counseling to victims of trauma. However, the organization decided to issue these direct grants as a means of helping with victims’ immediate financial needs.

“Perhaps $1,000 doesn’t seem like a lot, but it can really make a difference for families before government benefits kick in,” Eckstein said.

‘The trauma of what happened is with me all the time, but I’m carrying on with my regular routine. I may jump at every siren, but I’m functioning’

“But ultimately, giving money is symbolic. It doesn’t make the pain go away,” he added.

The convening of recent terror victims at this event was aimed at letting them know that even with the passage of time, they are still remembered and supported.

“These people feel like they are just another statistic, another terror victim. They’re not the first or only victim, and as soon as the news cycle moves on, they are forgotten. We want them to know they aren’t forgotten,” Eckstein said.

In his remarks to the victims gathered, Eckstein said he viewed them as heroes for not giving up, for continuing to live, love and be part of Israeli society.

For each, choosing life means something different.

Police guarding a bus after terrorists opened fire and stabbed passengers in Jerusalem on October 13, 2015. (Courtesy Police)
Police guarding a bus after terrorists opened fire and stabbed passengers in Jerusalem on October 13, 2015. (Courtesy Police)

Twenty-five-year-old Maya Rahimi recounted in detail her experience of the attack on the bus in Armon Hanatziv. Like Richard Lakin, Rahimi was riding the bus when two Palestinians boarded and began stabbing and shooting people.

“I crouched down under the seat. I prayed even though I come from a secular family. I decided to make a run for it because I figured I’d for sure die if I stayed where I was. At least if I ran, I’d have a chance of surviving,” she recounted.

Rahimi did not make it out of the bus without being attacked. One of the terrorists stabbed her in the shoulder, creating a 20-centimeter deep wound and a hole in her lung.

Border Police officer Hadar Cohen, 19, was killed during the terror attack at the Damascus Gate outside of Jerusalem's Old City on February 3, 2016. (Israel Police)
Border Police officer Hadar Cohen, 19, was killed during the terror attack at the Damascus Gate outside of Jerusalem’s Old City on February 3, 2016. (Israel Police)

Having later found a bullet casing in her bag, Rahimi understood that she narrowly escaped having been shot, as well.

Monday evening’s event was not the first time Rahimi had met Manya Lakin. The two women have sat together in court during legal proceedings against Jabel Mukaber resident and Hamas supporter Bilal Abu Ghanem, who has confessed to the attack that killed Lakin’s father and two other people. (Bahaa Alyan, the other terrorist, was killed by security forces at the scene.)

For Rahimi, following the legal case closely is a way for her to move forward while at the same time never forgetting what happened.

Lakin similarly believes that showing up in court is important to the healing process. And as an attorney, she also knows that it has practical ramifications.

‘When victims and victims’ families show up in court, it makes an impression on the judge’

“When victims and victims’ families show up in court, it makes an impression on the judge,” she remarked.

While Lakin follows the legal case against her father’s murderer, her brother Micah Avni has launched a legal and public campaign against incitement to murder and terror (in particular against Jews) on social media. He has brought a lawsuit against Facebook in the US and taken his case to the Knesset and the UN Human Rights Council, among other bodies.

Soldiers carry the coffin of 19-year-old Israeli border police officer Hadar Cohen on February 4, 2016 during her funeral in a cemetery in the town of Yehud. AFP / JACK GUEZ)
Soldiers carry the coffin of 19-year-old Israeli border police officer Hadar Cohen on February 4, 2016, during her funeral in a cemetery in the town of Yehud. AFP / JACK GUEZ)

Knowing that his daughter Hadar, a border policewoman killed by a terrorist outside Jerusalem’s Old City on February 3, acted bravely and saved others from harm is what keeps Ofer Cohen going.

“I always thought of Yom Hazikaron [Memorial Day] as a day for mourning soldiers who fell over the years in Israel’s just wars of defense. I never thought it would be a day marking my 19-year-old daughter’s giving her life for the country’s security,” Cohen shared.

‘I am full of pride that she saved lives’

“I am full of pride that she saved lives. Four newborn girls have already been named for her. This gives us such comfort, as does the embrace we have received from various organizations and the nation as a whole,” he added.

Natan Meir, whose wife Dafna was killed in front of her children by a terrorist who attacked her at her home in the Otniel settlement on January 17, admitted that some days he doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. Nonetheless, he and his kids muster the strength to persevere.

Dafna Meir, who was killed in a terrorist attack in her Otniel home on January 17, 2016 (screen capture)
Dafna Meir, who was killed in a terrorist attack in her Otniel home on January 17, 2016 (screen capture)

It turns out that his wife left an ethical will for the family that was revealed through a recent conversation Meir had with someone who knew his wife when she was a teenager. Dafna’s former classmate said the slain woman had told him something that helped him move forward after his brother, Cpl. Aryeh Frankenthal, a 19-year-old Armor Corps soldier, was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists after hitching a ride in the Beersheba area in 1994.

Dafna told the classmate that it would be completely understandable if he remained broken after what had happened to his brother. She told him that it was his choice to either continue forward with everyone else, or to stay behind.

“Whether to choose life is the choice you need to make,” Dafna told her friend.

“That’s an important imperative that I take with me,” her husband told those gathered Monday, all of whom knew from personal experience exactly what he meant.

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