Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky presented a check for more than $100,000 to the family of Har Nof terror attack victim Howie (Chaim) Rothman in Jerusalem on Monday.
The funds were raised by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and are meant to assist with Rothman’s medical expenses and his family’s financial needs. The Toronto community asked Sharansky to present the check on its behalf to Rothman’s family.
Rothman, 54, was badly injured in the November 18, 2014, terror attack on a synagogue in the western part of the city’s Orthodox Jewish Har Nof neighborhood by Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal, Palestinian cousins from East Jerusalem. Five people — four worshipers and a policeman who tried to stop the attack — were killed by the gun-, meat cleaver- and axe-wielding terrorists.
The Toronto Jewish community sprung into action upon hearing that Rothman, a local-born father of 10 who immigrated to Israel almost 30 years ago, was a victim of the attack.
“We are very impressed by the mobilization of the Toronto community,” said Sharansky as he met with Rothman’s wife, Risa; brother Steven; and sister-in-law Victoria in his office on Monday afternoon.
“The Jewish Agency has a small budget to help victims of terror. Most of the financial support comes from the Diaspora, and the Canadian Jewish community is a special community and the Toronto Federation is a great partner,” Sharansky said.
Adam Minsky, senior vice president for community capacity building for the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, was on hand for the check presentation.
“We are incredibly privileged to join in the effort to contribute to the healing process of Howie and his family,” he told The Times of Israel.
Rothman’s brother Steven, who arrived with his wife from Toronto on January 2 for a two-week visit, stressed the importance of the financial support from the Toronto community, as well as that of additional help the family has received from the One Family Fund and Israel’s National Insurance Institute.
“Howie is still in a coma and we don’t know how long he will be in this situation,” he said.
Steven was relieved to see that his brother was in better condition than he had expected. He reported that Rothman, although still in a coma, is breathing on his own and appears to be opening his left eye and showing emotion in response to visitors’ speaking or singing to him.
Rothman lost the sight in his right eye after his optic nerve was severed by a blow, apparently by a meat cleaver, to the right side of his head.
“He suffered severe injuries to the right side of his head and to his left arm. His left arm was almost severed. He has had major surgeries on his eye, brain and arm,” his brother reported.
According to Steven, doctors cannot at this point provide a prognosis for his brother’s recovery. Plans to transfer Rothman from the neurological service at Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem to the Loewenstein Hospital Rehabilitation Center in Ra’anana are on hold due to a fever that he has developed.
In his conversation with the Rothman family, Sharansky emphasized that Jews are fighting terrorism all over the world.
“This is the reality we live in. Our victories are accompanied by tragedies,” he said.
Risa Rothman, who first faced tragedy nine years ago when her and her husband’s eldest son died in an accident, is relying on routine and her belief system to help her get through this difficult time.
“I leave home every day at eight in the morning and sit with Howie in the hospital until three in the afternoon,” she said. “I am doing what I am supposed to be doing right now.”
Risa Rothman believes that there is a message to be learned from the terror attack that has devastated her family.
“The Jewish people have to work on having peace among themselves. Since the attack, there has been a tremendous amount of reaching out and coming together,” she said.
She added that she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from all quarters, and by the fact that Jews worldwide are praying for her husband.
Risa Rothman even employs her highly developed sense of black humor to cope with the tragedy that has befallen her. Cracking jokes — so she laughs instead of cries — is something she can do to make it easier to get through this unforeseen turn of events.
“Someone is controlling the script,” she said, looking skyward. “It’s my job to deal with it as best I can.”