New York Brings Healing To Orphans of Terror


When both parents are murdered in terrorist attacks, their children lose more than the most important people in their lives. They also lose their foundation, their sense of stability and security. Their wounds last a lifetime, even as they grow up and build families of their own.

“It’s like a radioactive bomb and the radiation keeps hitting us, even after many years,” said Avigdor Gavish, 34, whose parents, brother, and grandfather were murdered in their own home in 2002 on the second night of Passover.   

“We have to cope with it every year that passes. It’s with me all the time,” he added.

Ayelet Dickstein, whose parents and nine-year old brother were murdered in 2002 in a road shooting, described the feeling as an extreme form of detachment.  “Think of every person as a balloon that’s tied with a string,” she explained. “You can fly away but you are still attached to the string and always have that connection. For me, there is no string. I’ll always lack that natural place to return to and call home.”

Avigdor and Ayelet are both part of OneFamily, which helps victims of terror rehabilitate and reintegrate into society. Seventeen members of the organization’s Orphan’s Division – made up entirely of terror victims who lost both parents in attacks – traveled to New York for a therapeutic retreat. The group was hosted by families in Riverdale, who opened their hearts and their homes and made them feel welcome and appreciated, providing an extended family.

The orphans visited the 9-11 Memorial, saw a performance of The Lion King on Broadway, went to Madison Square Garden for a Knicks game, and met with Israel’s Deputy UN Ambassador David Roet and Senator Lindsey Graham in Washington DC, among a host of other activities. 

The group even made a stop at Carnegie Hall where Avigdor, a professional musician, fulfilled a lifelong dream by playing piano on the fabled stage. 

Most importantly, they spent time together, sharing their stories with people who understand the challenges they face and offer support. According to OneFamily psychologist Yonatan Amit, spending time with others like them away from the pressures of their daily lives is a crucial part of their healing process.

“They have to leave their normal lives in order to focus on themselves,” he said. “And they need the support structure they form with other members of the division. They face life without a real home, and without any sort of anchor.”

Cousins Vicki Gez Jen and Janiv Karlinski, whose mothers are sisters, both lost their parents in 2011. Their parents were on a bus to Eilat that came under an intense terrorist attack that left nine people killed. Tamar Kapach Kol lost her parents in a road shooting as they traveled home to Jerusalem from Gush Katif after the last Shabbat before Israel withdrew from the territory. 

Two siblings from the Halevy family were also part of the trip. Their parents were killed by a suicide bomber. The couple had stopped at a hitchhiking point to offer a lift. Three people entered the car, including the bomber who was disguised as a haredi Jew.

Throughout the visit, the orphans shared their stories with the community, who were eager to learn more about their experience. One of the orphans described how she learned about her parents’ murder:

“The news on TV said, ‘A terrorist attack in Kedumim, with no casualties.’ But for some reason, I felt my heart was going to explode. I just knew they were killed. I called the Kedumim security guard, who is a friend of ours, and I heard him cover the phone and say, “Be quiet, it’s their daughter.” That’s when I knew without a doubt they were the victims.

“That evening we drove to the spot. The car was still there, and fire was coming out of one of the headlights. My older brother, who got close to the car, said during the Shiva, that he saw them sitting in their seats, holding hands. So that’s the image I’ve kept in my mind.”

Ayelet’s brother Didi Dickstein said OneFamily plays a vital role in the lives of the orphans. “It’s a void that can never be filled,” he said. “But having someone there for you, someone who wants to be there for you as you deal with painful issues, that’s where OneFamily really comes through for me.”

Tzvi Yehuda Dickstein said the retreat gave the orphans a feeling they have missed since their parents were killed. “What we lack in life without our parents, the support they provide, someone who cares about you and puts you first, and will always be at your side,” he said. “That’s the kind of support we felt on this trip, and that is the biggest gift we could receive.”

Gavish family and OneFamily founder Marc Belzberg (second from left) surround musician Avigdor Gavish on stage at Carnegie Hall.
Orphans of terror make visit to United Nations headquarters in New York