Education in Israel

Last week I attended the graduation ceremony at Tiltan, one of Haifa’s two art schools.

It is stunning to consider that, in a city with a population of less than 300,000 residents, we have two universities, including the world renowned Technion Institute, two art colleges and a teacher’s training college. Haifa also has one of the most famous high-schools in the country – which was founded 103 years ago, before Israel became a State. We have one of the best grade-schools in the country as well.

Education has always been important to Jews. We are, after all, the People of the Book.

Tiltan is a school of design and visual media. The student population, like at all the institutes of higher education in Haifa, is mixed Jewish and Arab.

The graduation ceremony I attended took place on the roof of the school. It was packed. The sheer amount of creative people all together was amazing to consider and doubly so after learning that the ceremony was split in to two sections, according to what the students studied. There were simply too many students to include in a single event. When considering that this is just one of two art schools in Haifa it becomes even more remarkable.


There was an exhibition of student projects on each floor of the school. The projects are made available for public viewing so that, in addition to displaying the students’ achievements for friends and family, business people can come scout out fresh talent they would like to work with.

The building itself is interesting. The funky interior design is wh20160714_225911cat could be expected of any art school, anywhere in the world. It is in the basement where visitors can see the building’s past – under the British Mandate it was used as a bank and it still has safe-rooms, where the money was once stored, fortified doors and all.

The ceremony was uniquely Israeli; very simply arranged and ultra-casual but it was the content that made it unlike anything you would find anywhere else in the world.

The ceremony started acknowledging students who had been killed in terror attacks over the years, people whose families donated scholarships in memory of their loved ones. These scholarships were given to exceptional students: men and women, Jews and Arabs.

First, second and third year students who were outstanding in their field of study received certificates of excellence. More than one student was honored for their kindness towards others, for going out of their way to assist people in need.

From the beginning of the ceremony a woman sat at the side of the stage, translating everything in to sign language. Who was she translating for? Simultaneous sign language translation is done for prime time news on tv but is not something one would normally see at a graduation ceremony. It wasn’t long before I discovered the explanation. The student deemed the overall most outstanding in her studies also happens to be deaf. This translator had attended every class with her throughout her three years of study! Many of students, her friends, surrounded her, also speaking in sign language.

Everyone in the audience quickly learned that raising your arms and shaking your hands signifies applause which was given with great enthusiasm.

In an aside, the Master of Ceremonies, noted that this student would also be participating in the upcoming Olympics though he did not say in what capacity.

At one point a certain student was invited to the stage. I wondered how he would mount the stage as he was in a wheelchair and there were a few steps to reach the stage. Out of nowhere a few students unfolded a mobile ramp, set it in place and made sure it was safe for the young man to roll up and take center stage. To my surprise music began playing and the young man began singing.

Did you know it’s possible to dance in a wheelchair?

His song was about hopes, dreams and achievement. The crowd was moved by the strength of his performance, the uplifting music (not by his handicap).

20160714_225835For those attending, not already familiar with the story, we were given an explanation. This young man had not been wheelchair-bound all his life. It was in 2009 that his life changed. He was one of the victims of an attack that horrified the nation: a psychopathic nut shot up a youth LGBT nightclub, murdering two and injuring others. This was one of the injured.

He will never be able to walk again but he soars on his music, proving to us all that it is possible to skip walking and move straight to flying…

As the ceremony continued, the ramp was moved aside just as swiftly as it had been put down. A representative of the bereaved families stood up to speak and present the scholarships. He spoke of his daughter who had been blown up in a suicide attack in Haifa. He spoke of her creativity and how he was happy that other students could expand on her ideas, how the students should grasp on to even the most fleeting of ideas, never dismissing them, because it is impossible to know what something that began small could eventually grow to be…

I watched as the graduating students received their certificates. Jews, Arabs, new immigrants, young and older students. People of all shapes and sizes. One mother received her diploma with a baby in her arm and her older children by her side. The ramp was again brought out to accommodate a different student in a motorized wheelchair. It seemed like he was born with cerebral palsy which weakens and can, as in his case, deform the body but does not affect the quality of the mind inside the head.

After the ceremony was over, the exhibition of student projects was officially opened. Some were not that great. Most were really interesting, thought provoking and unusual.

It was a night celebrating academic achievement, education and accomplishment.

Education is important but the real education isn’t in books.

In a ceremony honoring so many talented people and so much obvious academic achievement, the real accomplishment, the real education was in being a better human being: someone who knows that value is in content of character, not the way a person looks, their background or anything else.

The real education was in the understanding that if you allow your spirit to soar and you try hard enough nothing can ever hold you back: “If you can dream it, you can make it real.”

How very Israeli.









Yes. I said it.

Don’t jump on me, hear me out. This is not about being derogatory to an entire culture, this is about a little discussed but very dangerous trend that is effecting the entire world.

Yes. This is a generalization. Again – this is NOT about individuals, it’s about a culture.

To clarify (because many people find this confusing):
Not all Arabs are Muslim, there are Arab Christians too. In addition, not all Muslims are Arabs; for example the Muslims in Iran, Indonesia and Africa (who are converts to Islam). Arab culture stems from Islamic domination but is not consigned only to people of Muslim faith. There is an empathy problem in the Arab world. People of Arab descent raised in Western cultures will have more difficulty identifying with what I am writing. Looking to the Middle East (and ideology exported from the Middle East) things become more clear.

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. To be moved by the joy of another, to feel someone else’s pain. A word seldom used, an idea seldom discussed… where does empathy come from? What happens when it is missing?

Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there is a lack of empathy, something else will enter the void and take its place.

In recent years it has become impossible to ignore the violence that seems to permeate the Arab world. 9/11, 7/7 and an ever increasing list of terror attacks have brought Arab violence in to focus: violence against women, animals, gays and the handicapped – violence against anyone weak. ‘Honor killings,’ fathers killing their own daughters, sons killing their own mothers in the name of ‘honor’. Violence against Christians, Jews… Muslims killing Muslims that are not the right kind of Muslim. Muslims killing Muslims, killing their own neighbors. Trading in slaves. Terrorism: Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Jabat Al Nusra, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Hezbollah, Hizbut Tahrir… Did I miss anyone?

Even the most politically correct amongst us have difficulty explaining it away: “its workplace violence,” “because poverty,” “because Israel.” None of these often postulated “reasons” stand up under scrutiny. Others, knowing there is no excusing the inexcusable, often go to the other extreme, saying that the solution is to ban all Arabs (i.e. all Muslims). There are those who add all kinds of unhelpful descriptions, the most popular being “monsters” and “in-human animals”.

None of this does any good. In fact it is exactly the opposite: BOTH attitudes create a lot of damage. Turning a blind eye to atrocities does not make them go away. Defining people as monsters is equally damaging. Monsters can only be expected to behave in a monstrous fashion.

The true horror is that we are talking about people. It is people that are hurting other people (and animals) in atrocious, sickening ways.

The real question is: how can people commit acts of unspeakable violence and cruelty?

And the very politically incorrect but oh so crucial question: Why are atrocious acts so common in Arab society?

How could 17 year old, Muhammad Tarayra, sneak in to Hallel Yaffa Ariel’s bedroom, look at the sleeping 13 year old and think it reasonable, even honorable, to slit her throat? How could his mother declare that she is proud that her son is a murderer?

How? Why?

It is not enough to say: “hatred flamed by incitement”. There is something sacred about the life of a person. It takes an enormous void, a deep darkness inside to get to the point where it feels right to take the life of a child. Something is terribly wrong with the mother that rejoices in the death of her son, rejoices that he ripped away the life of someone else’s child.

Neither saw Hallel as a person. To them, no life is sacred. Not hers or their own. There is no horror in slaughtering a child in her own bed. That was only a means to an end and thus both justifiable and praiseworthy.

This is not the existence of hatred for hatred burns itself out. Hatred can be transformed in to love – both are strong emotions, passions that are flipsides of the same coin. This is the lack of emotion, the inability to identify with emotions – not Hallel’s, nor those of the people who loved her or even their own.

Empathy starts with small things. Early in life.

I have Arab friends (does that surprise you?). They are good, decent people. They aren’t terrorist or violent, they are just normal people trying to live normal lives. With all that, it was in their home that I recognized the empathy problem.

A small incident connected the dots for me, something most people would probably overlook. It happened when they were playing with their grandson.

Their first grandson, a boy named after the grandfather, is a source of extreme pride and joy. They love the boy very much, spoil him rotten and would do practically anything for him.

I watched the grandmother take the grandson, a toddler about one year old, lift him high in the air and then roll him down her chest in a kind of summersault. The grandmother was laughing at the game she invented. The baby, frightened by the height and being turned upside-down began to cry. She knew it was just a game, nothing bad would happen so she continued – up in the air, flip upside-down, laughing while he cried.

The grandmother, did not feel the fear of her beloved grandson. A woman who would never purposely hurt this child in any way, scared him and laughed while he cried. She could not feel his pain. She had no empathy for him.

This is just a tiny incident but it is one amongst countless incidents in a life. A message from the people closest to this child, the people who will be the most influential in forming his personality.

If the people closest to him do not recognize his pain, if they laugh when he cries, what will he learn?

If, when he grows a bit older, he hurts an animal and it cries out in pain, will it be so strange for him to respond by laughing? (This too, I have seen far too many times.)

When he grows up and gets married, if he hurts his wife, emotionally or physically and she cries, how will he respond? Will it be strange if he does not see a reason to reach out in compassion?

Remember, this is a good family. A kind and decent family. What happens in families that are cruel and violent? In families that pro-actively support violent activities?

Most people are focusing on the manifestations of violence. I think we should take a good hard look at their source. Understanding the cause is the beginning of the solution.

It’s all about empathy.

It begins with small incidents, very early in life. The void created by the lack of empathy is an open door, beckoning for violence to enter. The problem begins small but it is like a vacuum in space that pulls everything in to it. Light does not shine in the vacuum, everything implodes inwards.

The Arab world has an empathy problem. A big problem. And we are all suffering from the consequences.

Parents all over the world declare that they love their children so much that they would even die for them. In most countries that would be a hypothetical situation. In Israel it is not.

Honoring Ro’i Klein, 10 years after the Second Lebanon War.

This is the spirit of Israel.

Inspiration from Zion: This is a Love Story

 Meet Ro’i Klein. Look at his face. Doesn’t he look like a sweet and gentle man? 31 years old, husband to Sarah, father of three year old Gilad and one and a half year old Yoav, Ro’i (pronounced “Row-ee”) was supposed to celebrate his birthday on July 27th.

Admired for his calm peacefulness and constant smile, Ro’i was known for saying: “If I don’t do it, who will?” Many of Israel’s best say that exact same thing.

People who live in other countries do not understand why we Israelis love our soldiers so much. We keep saying that we hate war and violence, loving our soldiers doesn’t seem to fall in line with that sentiment. Ro’i Klein and others like him are the reason why.

Ro’i was a Major and Deputy Commander of the 51st Unit of the elite Golani Brigade. Golani has a slogan that captures the atmosphere…

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Ten years ago, on July 12th, 2006 the Second Lebanon War began with a coordinated Hezbollah attack on Israeli civilians and soldiers. They rained missiles down on towns in northern Israel causing injury, destruction and most of all distraction which they used to attack IDF soldiers. Hezbollah fighters crossed the border from Lebanon in to Israel, killed eight soldiers and kidnapped two, taking them back across the border in to Lebanon.

For Hezbollah that was a fantastic day.

The war lasted 34 days month. For that period of time the entire north of Israel was under siege. Our soldiers were fighting (and dying) inside Lebanon while everyone else was struggling to live in between missile bombardments.

During that time I was living with my mother in Karmiel. Lenny, who I had not yet met, was in Haifa documented the missile destruction in his beloved city. Haifa is not a border town and until that time no one dreamed that war would come to Haifa. But it did.

War in Haifa by Lenny M

Image from the War in Haifa photo series created by photojournalist Lenny M from Haifa. The series is in presentation format, according to days and can be viewed at: http://www.slideshare.net/lionhearte/

Below is a letter I wrote on July 15th 2006, three days in to the war. Three days of bombardment.

At the time I had no idea how long it would last or how it would end – a forced cease-fire in name only that has given Hezbollah time to rearm, becoming stronger and more deadly than they were then.

Update from Israel July 15, 2006

Dear all,

My thanks go out to all those who wrote or called, sending prayers for my safety and that of my family and my fellow Israelis. Your support, care and concern are much appreciated!

Some people have asked if I am safe. The answer to that is no. Israel has been bombarded with katusha rockets for the past few days now. We’re told that Hezbollah has fired some 750 rockets on Israel’s northern towns since Israel was attacked on Wednesday.

Some people have asked how far away I am from the rockets. Yesterday the answer to that was – a neighborhood away. Today the answer to that is – a street away.

This morning my mother and I went to visit my grandparents (who also live in Karmiel) and while there, out of curiosity I counted “booms”, katushas hitting Karmiel. I counted 14 that hit one after another. Earlier in the day there had been a few hits, one or two at a time, sometimes four in a row… there were more after the string of fourteen too… Oh, and for those who want to know why I wasn’t in a bomb shelter, I will get to that a bit later.

The rain of missiles all around us didn’t cause my family to panic but it did make it difficult to eat brunch calmly. A friend of the family called to check up on my grandparents; my mother and grandfather sat down to watch the news bulletin and I did the Israeli thing – I reached for my trusty cell phone and started making calls, checking up on all the people I know in the area. Most people I spoke with said they were fine. Yaron (the dear man who helped so much with the Healing Teddies Project) said that a katusha landed five meters from him but that he was ok. A good friend of my mother’s told me that she and her daughter were currently with relatives in Tel Aviv but that she knew a katusha had fallen on her street. She wondered if she’d return to a house with no windows (as they might have been broken out as a result of the missile hit).

My grandparents’ neighbor called to let us know where the katushas had landed: by the high school I attended, on the street below my grandparents’ house, some of whose residents used to go to school with me, on the street I used to live on before I moved to my current house, by (or in, I don’t yet know) the Karmiel college campus and on and on. In the previous two days I had heard of katushas landing in other places:  where friends and college classmates live, in a town that has a pub/club I used to frequent (they had really good music there), in Tzfat near the army base where I served and where officers and career soldiers I used to work with still serve, in Meron a town I used to pass through on my way to Tzfat, etc. etc. So many places that have been part of my life, so many people I know or once knew, people I may not get to see often or even speak with but people I still care very much about…

My grandparents’ neighbor told us that, like quite a few others, she decided to take her daughters to stay in the center of the country for a while. They couldn’t take the stress of the katusha bombardment or the frightening thought of “what if” – what if it had been their house hit rather than the house on the street below? It’s not the way I choose to handle this current difficulty but I completely understand their perspective. A friend of mine told me this morning that she had been unable to properly sleep at night because she had been repeatedly woken by the sound of explosions. When terrorism succeeds in disrupting your daily routine, making it impossible to function (as a result of spreading fear or simply depriving someone of their basic needs like sleep) – that’s when you know that the terrorists are winning.

Some of you asked if I’m ok. This question is very easy for me to answer. In my mind it is a question very different from “are you safe?” I can be in danger, upset, sad or angry and still be ok. I refuse to be anything other than ok!

I was horrified when I heard the news that two of our beloved soldiers had been taken hostage by Hezbollah. We already had one soldier hostage to the Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah is much worse than the Hamas. My heart felt very heavy when I heard that other soldiers had been wounded and some killed. I have seen into the lives of the wounded and the bereaved and am fully aware of the long, arduous journey they have ahead. I wish I could relieve them of their burden.  Since then there have been many more injuries and some deaths; both civilians and soldiers have been wounded and killed.

When I saw the footage of our tank blowing up I felt as if gripped in a vise, the weight of what had happened squeezing my lungs. The boys inside would never go home to their mothers. Civilians on a border town had been filming the army’s movements, they saw the tank explode right in front of them and they were helpless to do anything about it.

For me the story of a female farmer was the worst. She and her workers were stuck for hours in her apple orchards; they couldn’t work and they couldn’t leave because fighting was going on all around them. She didn’t have time to panic; she had to keep her workers calm so that they could stay safe. She thought the army would come and rescue them, taking them out of danger in an armored vehicle but no one came. Finally the fighting died down and the woman decided to drive home herself. She described driving down the road, past the twisted wreck that remained of the army vehicles attacked by the Hezbollah.

The soldiers didn’t come to her rescue because they had been ambushed and murdered, two taken hostage.

In a steady but very quiet voice she said: “I had to drive past the vehicle that had the soldiers’ bodies in it and that was very hard for me.” Hearing that, I wanted to collapse into the floor, pull the tiles over my head and just stay there. Horrible, terrible situations…

You might ask, with all that how can I possibly say that I am ok? The answer is, because I am. I choose to be ok.

I choose to love the strong brave people all around me. I choose to be thankful to those who are protecting me, whether they be in uniform or are currently wearing angel’s wings, I am so thankful for the work they are doing, the sacrifices they are making. Bad as things are, I choose to distance myself from fear and bring myself as close as possible to calm, tranquility and love. That choice was why I did not go down to the bomb shelter when, on Thursday, the sirens went off. I hadn’t heard those sirens since the Gulf War in 1991. My neighbors ran in a panic to the communal shelter. My mother and I chose to stay at home. I closed the windows and put on peaceful music. The chances of a direct hit on our house are very small, why should I huddle in fear and discomfort in a bomb shelter?

[After seeing the impact of missiles I became a bit more enthusiastic about getting the bomb shelter and I certainly would have stayed in the shelter if at the time I had children to protect]

In the Gulf War I learned not to panic from an air raid siren, to take precautions and reasonable risks and to leave fear out of the equation as much as possible. Fifteen years have passed since I learned that lesson! Today we kept to the middle section of my grandparent’s house, away from the windows (potential flying glass in an explosion) and comfortably ate a nice meal together. What’s better – sitting in a stuffy shelter anxious to hear where the rockets landed or spending quality time with one’s family and catching up with the news in comfort? I chose comfort. For people living in other places in Israel choosing as I did today may not have been a reasonable risk and it’s good that they chose otherwise. Had I been in the house in Karmiel that received a direct katusha hit I might be dead now rather than writing you this update (the other rockets landed outside houses, in yards, parking lots etc rather than inside). I am well aware of this fact and I choose to be ok with this.

My country, my town, I am being bombarded by missiles at no provocation. The people launching them belong to an organization hell-bent on destroying my country. They are incapable of defeating Israel in a fair fight, army to army, so they use guerilla warfare and psychological warfare. This is terrorism plain and simple. Terrorism can be used to devastating effect but no matter how dire the situation, there is always a loophole.

Throwing rockets at my country, my family and my home is supposed to terrify me and weaken me. But instead I can choose the loophole, I can react differently. That is what I have chosen. A terrorist can cause property damage, can ruin places I enjoy, hurt my friends, family and countrymen (and women). A terrorist can make my life difficult, unpleasant and even kill me. There is only one thing a terrorist cannot do and that is break my spirit. I have ultimate control over that!

I hear helicopters overhead now, flying towards Lebanon. I do not know what tomorrow will bring or even what will happen in the remaining hours of the night. What I do know is that the Israeli people are stubborn and their spirit is strong. And that is why I believe with all my heart that spirit will triumph over terrorism.

May all innocents be protected, may all the hurting be healed,

Forest Rain


Safe room

How many of us have watched our children sleeping? It’s an almost sacred moment when the troubles fall away and all you see is the miracle of your child being alive.

When we sleep we are at our most vulnerable. A bedroom should be a safe room, a sanctuary.

Hallel’s bedroom was not a safe room. The 17 year old should never have been in her room. As she lay sleeping, her breath did not speak to him of the miracle of life. To him it was a beckoning call to murder. He slaughtered 13.5 year old Hallel with a knife, pouring her life out all over her bed.

Hallel’s room was far from safe.


Hallel, the girl named after a song sung in praise of God, did not merit having a safe room. Because she was Jewish. Because she was Israeli. Not even her American citizenship could protect her.

Hallel danced and drew pictures. She especially liked drawing animals. A child who chose to become a vegetarian because she loved animals so much that she refused to be responsible for their slaughter – that is the child who was slaughtered.

Can you imagine continuing to live in the home where your baby was murdered? Could you go in to her room? Walk by the door? Could you sleep at night knowing your other two girls are asleep in the rooms next to where your child died?

This is Hallel’s room, the day after. Her two little sisters, ages 10 and 4, and their friends filled her room with the sounds of children, sounds of life. Their parents sat and watched, their eyes going back and forth between Hallel’s drawings and the new drawings the girls were making.

This is what strength looks like.

Hallels room

It is impossible for me not to think of the “safe spaces” college students in America have begun demanding. It seems to have become a trend to insist that language is curtailed to prevent tender souls being crushed by the wrong choice of word.

Hallel’s sisters and their friends have no illusions about safe spaces.

These small children know that life is a choice and freedom is a state of mind. Terror (and what could be more terrifying?!) will not drive them from their home. They know what is important. Hallel’s 4 year old sister found a blood spot on Hallel’s mattress that the people who cleaned up missed. She asked her mother if they could leave the spot there because that was the only part of her sister they have left. She knows not to ask for a “safe space,” what she wants is her sister.

These tiny children know that no one can control their surroundings tightly enough to ensure that they are completely protected. They however will always have the power to choose how to react. Their parents taught them that the correct response to devastating horror is to continue to live. The correct response to terrible, sickening violence is to create something beautiful.

Terrorism can rip their loved ones away from them but no one will ever be able to crush their souls. That is true strength.

Who would ever have thought that power looks like small children drawing pictures in a bedroom?


A girl named Hallel: praise, glorify.
Praise to God for granting a mother a child she desperately wanted.
A song of praise, a song of life.

13.5 years Hallel lived, smiled and danced. Her presence made her family happy.
This morning it ended.

Not by accident. Or because of a disease.

A person took her life. A young man, just a few years older than Hallel.

Not with a bomb.
Not with a gun.
With a knife.
A knife is a very personal way to kill.
It is up close and personal.
There is no escaping the feeling of the blade plunging in to flesh.

He snuck in to her home, in to her room and stood over her while she was sleeping.
In the sanctity of her own bed, he murdered her.

It wasn’t a monster that stole away Hallel’s life. It was a person.
Monsters are not real.
He too had a mother. She too has a song.
Her song is very different.
She praises death.
She glories in a son that is a murderer. She glories in the death of her own son.
For her, there is no glory in life, not even the life of her own child.

What darkness is this? A void so deep that there is no love inside, no compassion.
Not for a 13.5 year old girl asleep in her own bed.
A hate so enormous that it seemed reasonable to butcher an innocent child…
The life of a child had no value to her murderer but maybe that is not so strange when we see that his life had no value for his own mother….

What horrible darkness is this?

It is not one murderer, one terrorist or one mother. It is an entire society that is cultivating hate. Instead of working to diminish the darkness they are making it grow, perpetuating the evil.

People, not monsters, are teaching their children to hate. And to murder. Their value is in causing our deaths. Causing our suffering.

While Israeli parents glory in the lives of their children, Arab parents are glorying in the deaths of both our children and their own.

I am beginning to believe that it is not us they truly hate. It is themselves.

As I hear more and more reports on the terror attack in Orlando I can’t help but think that there is something terribly wrong in America.

No, I don’t mean the crippling political correctness that is killing the western world. At least at the moment, that’s not what I am referring to.

I’m not talking about gun laws either.

There is something wrong with the people, the regular people.

I grew up on the idea that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Today I wonder where these qualities have gone.

Now just to be clear, I am not judging the victims of this attack. Each person did the best they knew how in a horrible situation. My question is, how can it be that people have so given their faith to the government, to the “authorities” that they have forgotten to have faith in themselves? How can it be that in a place packed with hundreds of people not one tried to stop the terrorist? 8 people working together could certainly have stopped the massacre.

(Does no one in America remember Flight 93 on 9/11?)

Reports describe the Orlando victims down on the floor, cowering in corners, praying not to be killed. They were waiting for the authorities to save them.

For 49 people it took too long.

Imran Yousuf, a 24-year-old Hindu and former Marine helped dozens escape. Good for him. In an interview he expressed sorrow that he had not managed to help more. That says a lot about the quality of his character.

“But”, you might ask me, “Imran Yousuf had Marine training. None of the other people had any kind of training. They didn’t have guns to fight the terrorist… ”

This is true. It is also not the point. It’s not about training and it’s not about guns. It’s about refusing to lie down and die. Literally. It’s about refusing to allow others to be killed next to you.

It’s about spirit. It’s about determination.

Haim Smadar is an example of this. He is just one of countless Israeli heroes who refused to let others die on his watch. He had no special training. He had no weapons. He was just an average, middle aged man earning a minimum wage and trying to get by in life. He was one of those gray people you could pass by and never notice…

It has nothing to do with training or weapons.

Haim Smadar is proof. This is his story.

‘With my own body I would stop him’

By Etgar Lefkovitz

The Jerusalem Post 4.12.2002

(April 12) – Haim Smadar gave his life to stop a suicide bomber from entering a crowded
supermarket. His widow, Shoshana, talks to Etgar Lefkovits about who he was and what he leaves behind.

He was not supposed to be at the Jerusalem supermarket.

But when on the morning of March 29 Haim Smadar got a call from the boss oHaim Smadarf the security company which employed him asking him to work half a day’s shift as a guard at Supersol, the 55-year-old father of five agreed. The school where he usually worked as a guard was closed for the Passover holiday so the supermarket job was welcome. He chose the Kiryat Hayovel position over the other options he was offered in Ramot and Abu Gosh because it was in the neighborhood in which he had grown up. It was also to be the site of his death.

Two hours after Smadar started his shift the usual peace and quiet of Kiryat Hayovel was shattered when an 18-year-old Palestinian girl, wearing a belt of explosives strapped around her waist, approached the market entrance.

Smadar was immediately suspicious of her. He grabbed her by the arms, and said: “You are not coming in here. You and I will blow up here.”

These were his last words, according to witness accounts confirmed in police testimony, and recalled by Smadar’s wife of 25 years, Shoshana, in an interview she gave The Jerusalem Post Magazine during the shiva at their small apartment in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Neveh Ya’acov.

“God gave him the strength to do it. He was sent to the place with a mission,” Shoshana says of her husband’s sacrifice.

Seconds after he confronted the terrorist, and apparently tried to wrestle with her and push her away from the store, the suicide bomber set off her bomb killing Smadar, and a 17-year-old shopper, Rachel Levy, a high school pupil who loved photography.

Smadar’s wife thinks that her Arabic-speaking husband’s suspicions may have been raised by the exchange of words that he picked up between the terrorist and several Arab women selling mint and vegetables in the commercial square seconds before she entered the supermarket.

Her husband apparently heard the bomber warning the women to flee.

“He understood what she was telling them, and this set off alarm bells,” Shoshana Smadar says. [It was reported that the suicide bomber told them to leave the premises]

Immediately after the bombing, police said that by struggling with the bomber at the entrance to the store Smadar had undoubtedly averted an even greater disaster from occurring as he prevented her from going deeper into the supermarket, where the impact of the shrapnel-packed explosives inevitably would have been much more lethal.

Indeed, during subsequent examination of the large bomb, security officials noted that the make up of the explosives was not very different from that of the bomb used by the Hamas suicide attacker in the Passover massacre at Netanya’s Park Hotel which killed 27 people.

Following the bombing at Haifa’s Matza Restaurant a few days later – when 16 people lost their lives – Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna said that had the eatery been protected by a guard – “like the guard in Kiryat Hayovel” – the scope of the attack there too would have been greatly lessened.

Smadar’s bravery and self-sacrifice are perhaps the main consolation helping his family cope with their loss, his wife says.

“That is our comfort. To know that 20 other families are not going through what we are right now,” says Shoshana Smadar.

Now she is concerned about the daily struggle of looking after her family, particularly how to finance the high cost of treatment and hearing aids for their two deaf children.

The morning of the attack started out like any other for the family. Tunisian-born Haim Smadar, who immigrated to Israel with his family as a toddler, had worked for the past three years as the security guard for a Ma’alot Dafna school. He was home for the Passover holiday with his wife and some of the children, who range in age from 32 to 15.

In the morning, Smadar, who frequently lent a helping hand and was known as a Mr. Fix-It, went up to the roof of his building to mend a water leak for his neighbor.

“He always found time to help others,” says Shoshana, a sentiment echoed by the principal of the school where he usually worked.

At 9:30, Smadar got the call from his boss asking him to work for a few hours.

As he ate a quick breakfast of hard-boiled eggs on matza, Smadar asked his wife to iron his security guard’s uniform, with a sense of urgency and pressure that she thought of only later.

Before he left at 10:30, Smadar promised his wife he would be back in the afternoon, and reminded her not to forget to buy cigarettes at the kiosk when she went shopping.

“I’ll be back at three and we’ll eat then because what with this Passover matza breakfast, I certainly will be hungry by then,” he told her. He asked her to prepare his favorite stuffed meats.

At 2 p.m., Shoshana’s daughter told her mother that there had just been a terror attack in Kiryat Hayovel.

“Where in Kiryat Hayovel?” she asked her heart thumping.

“At the supermarket,” her daughter answered.

Deep down, Shoshana knew something terrible had happened.

“I just heard the word Kiryat Hayovel and I began to be nervous. Why, why did they take him from me?” she thought to herself, not daring to tell her children of her own suspicions.

Shoshana quickly called her husband’s employer.

“Is it Haim? Is it Haim?” she asked after hearing a guard had been killed and another seriously wounded.

“I don’t know,” was all he could honestly reply.

In the next few hours, while it was still unclear whether Smadar was dead or whether he was the guard who had survived, Shoshana says she thought she would die.

“The tension was killing me. I begged them, ‘Just tell me who it is,” she said in tears.

While Shoshana waiting to hear her husband’s fate, news spread of the supermarket guard’s act of self sacrifice. Haim’s sister, Ilana Avitan, was talking of to her neighbor of the heroic deed committed by the security man, unaware that it was her brother.

“I said how heroic, how brave this guard was,” Avitan recalls.

Fifteen minutes later, her husband came in to tell her the guard she had been talking about was Haim.

Nati Smadar, 15, had a special relationship with his father as his youngest child. “A few days ago something strange happened,” he says. “Every time we made kiddush I would ask to do the blessing and my father always told me I could do the blessing after he dies. Seder night was the first time he let me read the blessings, as if he knew. He knew he was going to die.”

Consoling themselves with the dozens of phone calls they received last week from well-wishers and grateful people he had saved, Smadar’s wife and sister considered how the attack easily could have ended with scores of fatalities. “What would have happened if there had been a different guard stationed at the supermarket who had not have been as alert as he was?” Smadar wondered, as she asked one of the five children to show a visitor the certificate of merit that her husband had received from Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert last year for excellence and diligence in his job.

Thinking back to a time when she talked with her husband about the suicide bombing as they watched the pictures of a particularly horrific attack on TV, she recalls his words.

“I remember watching the pictures of the victims and their families and how I was crying and crying, and I asked him: ‘How much longer would this go on?’ she recounts.

“And he said to me: ‘Shoshana if a suicide bomber ever comes close to my school, he will not get past me. With my own body I would stop him.”


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