JERUSALEM (Apr. 10)
Four injured Israelis — three soldiers and one civilian — lay in their hospital beds, ready to talk to their American visitors.
Their guests were 35 leaders from United Jewish Communities, in Israel for an emergency solidarity mission. The organization, an umbrella for local federations representing 700,000 Jews across North America, is currently planning an emergency fund-raising campaign for Israel.
“We need to make our communities better understand Israel’s need to defend itself,” said Michael Bohnen, chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “I think there will be tremendous support. People understand it’s a war and a crisis.”
During this week’s two-day trip, the leaders met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. They also received security briefings from senior Israel Defense Force officers and participated in a ceremony mourning the victims of the “Passover Massacre,” a suicide bombing that killed 27 Israelis celebrating a Passover seder.
“We do the easy part,” said Sandy Cahn, national chairperson of the UJC women’s campaign. “It is up to us to translate the story and make others understand that Israel is fighting for its very survival.”
But even when you’re ready to meet the human faces of the Israeli situation, it isn’t always easy to launch into conversation with wounded Israeli soldiers and terror victims.
“We need an ice-breaker,” joked one of the mission participants standing in the hospital room.
Within several minutes, however, each bed was surrounded by several visitors, who talked to the patients and listened to their stories.
Eli Samra lay in his bed, a red-haired, freckled 21-year-old with his arm in a cast and a smile on his face.
The Argentine immigrant was shot in the shoulder three weeks ago, when his army unit took over an apartment building in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“I was standing near a window keeping watch, feeling good, when a bullet ricocheted off the wall and into my arm,” Samra told several participants. “The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital.”
He had been scared to go into Ramallah, fearful of the unknown. But once they began the operation, taking over the top floor of an apartment building and herding tenants into the lower floors, he “got involved in the action.”
“You don’t think about what could happen, just doing what you’re supposed to do,” Samra said.
After weeks in the hospital, however, he’s had plenty of time to think — and he feels very lucky to have escaped relatively unscathed.
So does his neighbor in the next bed, Mordechai Mizrachi, who was injured in the Moment cafe bombing last month.
“I wake up every morning and groan about the pain, and then I consider the alternative,” said Mizrachi, whose left hand was almost completely severed in the bombing.
Mizrachi, 31, a computer programmer, was a regular at the popular cafe, located near the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem.
His sister had told him not to go to the often crowded cafe, but he went as usual on that Saturday night.
When the suicide bomber blew himself up, Mizrachi was sitting inside. He didn’t hear anything, just saw a blinding light in front of him. When he came to, he was lying on the floor, his left hand hanging by a few threads.
With a presence of mind he didn’t know he had, Mizrachi picked up his nearly severed left hand with his right.
“I don’t know how I did it,” he said. “I didn’t know I had that kind of emotional strength.”
His hand is now reattached and his entire arm is encased in a metal cage. It will take at least one more operation and three to six months of physiotherapy to regain 80 percent to 90 percent use of his arm. Luckily, he’s a rightie.
“You really need to see the human faces in this situation,” Cahn said. “People need to understand that 9/11 happens here every day.”