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Immigrant Who Worked with Youth Remembered After Deadly Bombing

February 2, 2004
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Riding together recently on a Jerusalem bus, Devora Goldberg, 19, asked her uncle whether or not being on buses in Israel frightened him.

About 10 years ago, the Canadian-born Goldberg and his wife immigrated to Israel with their children, determined to make their lives here.

“To him, moving to Israel was the be-all and the end-all, saying things like ‘God did not take us out of Egypt to live in Toronto,’ ” recalled Goldberg’s long-time friend, Joe Halpert, who immigrated from Toronto around the same time.

Goldberg, a father of seven, was commuting by bus to his Jerusalem office, where he counseled at-risk teenagers and their families, when he was killed by the massive bomb set off by the suicide bomber, a Palestinian Authority policeman from Bethlehem.

A frequent contributor to Jewish newspapers and Web sites, Goldberg repeatedly had written about terrorist attacks. In one column he discussed the proximity between bombers and their victims, noting that every morning he traveled by Palestinian cities such as Bethlehem to reach Jerusalem from the religious Jewish community in the West Bank where he lived, Beitar Illit.

Referring to a 2002 attack, he wrote, “The bomber could very well be someone I have seen in a passing moment,” he wrote in an article originally printed on Israel National’s Opinion page on Nov. 24, 2002. “I think we are in this bloody mess because many of the politicos making life and death decisions for this country have forgotten that terror is just a five-minute ride from home, anywhere.”

Goldberg is remembered as a charismatic, almost larger-than-life figure who fit a tremendous amount into the day — balancing work, his home life, involvement in three synagogues and civic activities.

Bearded and burly, he always was on hand with a joke and an extraordinary capacity to help others, relatives and friends say.

He had a master’s degree in education and training in crisis counseling and conflict resolution. He spent the last decade dealing with children, especially those with special needs and teens in crisis.

His colleagues say part of his talent was an ability to focus on children’s abilities instead of their disabilities, and to push them to reach their potential.

One of his past jobs was with the Jerusalem municipality helping get teenagers off the streets. He recently had opened his own office where he privately counseled troubled teenagers and their families, many of whom came from Jerusalem’s Orthodox, English-speaking community.

He also hosted a local radio show focusing on teenagers.

For eight years Goldberg worked for Gan Harmony, a center that tries to integrate special-needs children into mainstream schools.

“He was a very strong personality. When he thought something was right he went all the way for it and didn’t mind taking slack over it,” said Shoshana Savyon, a supervisor of Goldberg’s at Gan Harmony who became a close friend. “He was willing to champion kids no one was willing to champion.”

As part of his work with Gan Harmony, Goldberg spent time at an Arab school in eastern Jerusalem, helping teachers develop a program to mainstream students with special needs.

Savyon related how a staff member at the school who worked with Goldberg began crying hysterically on the phone when she called to express condolences.

Last week Goldberg lectured to over 500 religious social workers and therapists at an international conference in Jerusalem on working with at-risk youth while staying within the framework of Jewish law.

“I will remember him as a person with a lot of charisma, optimism, energy and hope, a commitment to the Land of Israel, who was determined to make his life here and to make a difference,” said Dodi Tobin, director of social services for Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps North Americans immigrate to Israel. Goldberg worked closely with the group’s staff.

“He was very much about youth at risk and gave his heart and soul to that work. It will be a tremendous void felt by the teens he helped and the community,” Tobin said.

In Beitar Illit, a large settlement populated by Orthodox Jews in the hills near Jerusalem, Goldberg took a leading role in the community, including lobbying for more bus service to the settlement.

On Thursday he had a packed day of appointments with clients. That morning, however, he missed the bus he usually rode to Jerusalem and had to take a different one that took him to central Jerusalem — from where he caught the ill-fated No. 19 bus.

When clients started calling Goldberg’s home asking where he was, the family began to suspect that he may have been on the bombed bus.

In the Jewish World Review of Dec. 3, 2001, Goldberg wrote an article entitled, “Because, If You Don’t Cry, Who Will?” bemoaning Israelis’ complacency in the face of repeated suicide bombings.

“We have turned to stone. Some would call it ‘numbness.’ Some would call it ‘collective national shock,’ ” he wrote. “Some would say that we all have suffered never-ending trauma and it has affected our senses. Frankly, the excuses are worthless.”

“All the reasons in the world don’t justify our distance from the real pain that is burning in our midst. When an attack happens, in the heat of the moment, we frantically check to see if someone we know has been hurt or killed. And then, if we find out that ‘our friends and family are safe,’ we sigh a deep sigh of relief, grunt and grumble about the latest tragic event, and then we continue with our robotic motions and go on with our lives,” he wrote. “We have not lost our minds, my friends. We have lost our hearts. And that is why we keep on losing our lives.”

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