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U.s.-born Doctor, Daughter Die in Bombing on Eve of Her Wedding

September 11, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Sarah Spero still has the wedding invitation sitting on her desk.

Just a couple of weeks ago, she and her husband, Abba, residents of Cleveland Heights, bid farewell to their son, Yehuda, who was off to Israel to study in yeshiva and attend his cousin’s wedding.

On Tuesday night, Spero had to call his son with a devastating message.

“You’re not going to a wedding,” Abba Spero told him. Instead, the bride and her father, former Clevelander Dr. David Applebaum, were to be buried near their home outside Jerusalem.

Applebaum, 50, and his 20-year-old daughter, Nava, were among the seven killed and 51 wounded in the Sept. 9 suicide attack at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem, a day before Nava’s wedding.

A pioneer in the field of emergency medicine, Applebaum had just flown home from a conference at New York University to spend time with his daughter before her marriage. Nava, a volunteer with children suffering with cancer, was to be married to Hanan Sand the next day.

As the head of Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s emergency room services, Applebaum generally was one of the first physicians to rush to the hospital and treat victims of terrorist attacks.

“When he didn’t show up and I knew he was in Jerusalem and he hadn’t called, I knew a terrible tragedy had occurred,” said Shaare Tzedek hospital director Yonatan Halevy.

Shocked colleagues identified his body and that of his daughter at the scene. Applebaum was recognized by Dr. Yitzhak Glick, also a former resident of Cleveland who now lives in Efrat and had come to the site to help the wounded.

A physician at Cleveland’s Mt. Sinai Hospital until he made aliyah 20 years ago, Applebaum introduced the concept of private urgent-medical-care centers in Israel. In 1998, he opened his first Terem center at the Magen David Adom building in Jerusalem. Most recently, he streamlined the delivery of triage and emergency services in Israel; introduced computerization to track patients and treatments; and helped train doctors who were qualified to treat a broad range of emergencies.

Applebaum became an expert in using a clot-busting drug, streptokinase, which only a physician on-site can administer. He was one of about two dozen Israeli physicians who were board-certified in emergency medicine, and he held that designation in the United States as well.

When Sarah Spero learned of the terrible news after a call from Applebaum’s brother-in-law Tuesday night, “I put my head in my hands and didn’t move for an hour,” she said. She could not bring herself to call her husband, a professor at Cleveland State University, who was teaching a class. Instead, she waited until he returned home to break the tragic news.

“It is unbelievable. David was so full of life,” she said. A doting father of six, he also was a Torah scholar who translated the works of his former teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik. “David was very, very religious but not judgmental. He was an unconventional person who broke the mold.”

“David was a man of extreme talents in every area of life,” said his cousin, Abba Spero. “Our job in this world is to sanctify God’s name. He did that in his life. He devoted himself to medicine and to Judaism.”

Beachwood resident Dr. Samuel Spero, a cousin of David Applebaum’s, was supposed to attend the family wedding in Israel, but stayed home because of recent shoulder surgery.

Applebaum was a wonderful father, Spero said. Every week he would take time from his busy schedule to drive to the yeshiva where his boys were studying, and learn with them.

Just minutes before the suicide bombing, Applebaum called Spero to wish him a speedy recovery. He still has the message on his answering machine.

In a cheerful voice, Applebaum says, “This is your cousin David calling from Israel. Nava is standing right next to me.” It shouldn’t be long, he told Spero, before “you’re out there to punch with both arms. We re missing you; we just called to say hi.”

“David was in constant motion. I wondered when he slept,” said Florence Spero, another of Applebaum’s family members. “David had a wonderful closeness to us. He would always come to see us or call.”

Family member Sherilyn Mandelbaum of University Heights spoke to Applebaum Tuesday afternoon, just hours before he was killed. He was calling to thank her for a card she had sent congratulating him on Nava’s wedding. Mandelbaum says he ended the conversation saying that he “hoped the wedding would take place without incident.”

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