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On this day, June 1, 2001 a Hamas terrorist, walked into a Tel Aviv dance club at the Dolphinarium and blew himself up murdering 21 young Israelis and injuring 132.

Jenya Dorfman was 15 years old.

The story below is not her story.
Jenya’s story is that of a happy, dancing girl. A regular teenager.

Jenya Dorfman

This is the story of a pure gesture on night of horrors, the story of humanity and kindness on the deepest and most basic level.

Faina and Frank

The events of a single night created an unbreakable connection between Faina and Frank. Two people, from worlds apart, they would normally never have met but that night was no normal night. Their story is not that of a romance but it is a story of love. Theirs is a story of humanity and kindness on the deepest and most basic level.

It was a Friday night. Frank Eggmann, assistant to the Ambassador of Switzerland posted in Israel was in his room. Suddenly he heard the sound of an enormous explosion. A suicide bomber had blown himself up in the midst of a crowd of teenagers waiting to enter their favorite disco, the Dolfinarium.

Frank ran down the street to the Dolfinarium to see if he could help. He was witness to untold horrors. Youth blown to bits. Frank searched for someone he could help. Frank approached a boy who was lying on the ground but as he drew near he realized that the boy was dead; there was nothing Frank could do for him. A girl lying on the ground caught his eye. She was severely wounded, bleeding from a head injury. Frank knew he lacked the medical skills needed to assist Jenya so he did the only thing he could think of doing. He sat on the ground next to her and held her hand.

Meanwhile, Faina, Jenya’s mother, was at a birthday party. Jenya usually went with her to such events but Faina understood when her daughter said she’d rather go out with her friends that night. At the party Faina ate and talked with her friends. Faina never dreamt that at that very moment her beloved only child was on the ground, holding the hand of the assistant to the Ambassador of Switzerland as she lay dying.

Frank sat with Jenya while she bled. All he could do was be with her. Frank and Jenya were surrounded by ugliness and pain, screaming and blood, life pouring out on cement. The two of them, an island of prayer in a sea of madness.

That night one terrorist directed his life’s blood to killing children, to causing pain to as many people as possible. The terrorist sacrificed his humanity on the alter of hatred. Frank, in contrast, placed all of his humanity in the hand of a fifteen year old girl.

Faina did not have a good time at the party and she didn’t know why. She felt an enormous weight on her heart and she desperately wanted to go home. Someone told Faina that there had been an attack at the disco. At first she wasn’t worried but when Jenya did not answer her cell phone Faina started to become nervous. Friends drove Faina home; she prayed the whole way.

Faina hoped to find Jenya safely at home but the house was empty. A neighbor said that three wild-eyed and shaking teenagers had come looking for Faina, to say that Jenya was hurt and taken to the hospital. The hospital emergency phone lines were swamped so Faina did the only thing she could – she got a friend to take her to the hospital in search of her wounded child. It was probably hope that took Faina to Wolfson hospital where they treat the “mild” to “moderate” cases. Faina fought through a hellish scene of frantic families, friends, ambulances, police cars, sirens and shouting only to be given the terrifying news – Jenya was at Ichilov hospital, where the “serious” cases are taken. When Faina finally found her daughter, Jenya had already slipped into a coma. For 18 long days Jenya retained her fragile hold on life but while Faina was at her side all day, each day Jenya was already gone. Faina never got to talk to her beloved child again. Simply to hold Jenya’s hand and feel her squeezing her back would have meant the world to Faina.

The day after the attack Frank had scanned the papers for Jenya’s picture. He was pleased that he didn’t see her face amongst those of the dead children. Frank searched for her in the hospitals but didn’t find her. Something drove him on and on in his search. Frank went from hospital room to hospital room, visiting with the wounded and their families. Over one hundred teenagers were wounded in the attack and Frank saw most of them. Amongst so many faces and stories it was Jenya that was seared into his mind. Frank wanted very much to find her, to find her family.

Faina had heard that Frank had been at the scene of the attack and that he had done everything in his power to comfort a dying girl. Faina wanted desperately for it to have been Jenya. A mother had spent fifteen years raising her child, taking care of her, enjoying her personality, watching her dance and laugh and when her baby needed her she wasn’t there to protect her. With all her soul Faina yearned for there to have been someone there to make things a little less horrible for her precious child.

The day after the attack, a picture was published of Jenya with Frank next to her, holding her hand as she lay bleeding. Faina heard about the picture and wanted to see it so that she could find out if it was Jenya Frank had been with or not. There was great reluctance to send the picture, the organization that had it was afraid to further traumatize a bereaved mother by showing her such a difficult picture. It was five months before Faina saw the picture, before she discovered that it was Jenya’s hand that Frank held that night.

Jenya and Frank after Dolfinarium attack

Frank had cut-out and kept the photo of him with Jenya. He wanted to find her mother and tell her about her daughter’s last moments.

When they finally met face to face, Frank told Faina everything he could remember about that night. Faina was grateful to hear the details, for her it was like extending Jenya’s life by a few extra moments.

It comforts Faina to know that Frank was with Jenya. A beautiful, dancing, pixie child like Jenya should never have had such violence and hatred directed at her. Thanks to Frank Jenya’s last experience was that of kindness and compassion, not horror. Etched into his heart and mind, Frank cannot forget Jenya and through her, Faina. The slaughter of innocents brought them together, kindness created a bond between them.

Two people from different cultures, with different languages and backgrounds, living on different continents, are connected by an unbreakable bond. No amount of time or distance will change this for it has nothing to do with the amount of contact or communication between them. Theirs is the bond of kindness, of a hand holding a hand in a night of terror. The purity of this gesture on a night of horrors tells the story of humanity and kindness on the deepest and most basic level. This gesture did not stop at Jenya, it was passed on, through her to Faina who became its beneficiary. The strength of this seemingly small gesture is that which is given by what some would call God and what I call Love. A child can be murdered but even a small act of Love lives on.

********************************************

You can contact Faina via the site dedicated to Jenya Dorfman: http://www.jenyadorfman.net/about-us.php

Israel has her own version of scouts. Their slogan is also “Be prepared”.

Today I went to a celebration of the 90th anniversary of a Haifa based scouts troupe. I, who dbe preparedid not attend the scouts, watched as the old-timers came, as well as their children and grandchildren – all people who belonged to the troupe. They came with crumpled faces, walking sticks and even a wheelchair, proudly wearing the troupe scarf they were given in the entrance.

Each age group came in, looking for their friends. And they found them. Some people they see often, others people they had not seen in years.

The question in the entrance was: “What year did you finish? 1925? 1950? 1960? 1970? 1980? 1990? 2000?” The kids managing the event were troupe leaders that will finish their leadership in the scouts in 2017.

You might ask: “How is it possible to have a 90 year old scout troupe when the country is only 67 years old?”

In Israel it is possible. Because Jews were in Israel before Israel was officially reinstated as the Jewish State (there were Jewish Scouts in Europe too, before the rise of the Nazis made it impossible to continue). Because wherever there are Jews there is culture. Because frameworks to teach and guide children are given high priority.

Where there is a will there is a way.

Leaders Eat Last

Simon Sinek explains what real leadership is, what “Leaders Eat Last” means.

It’s very literal and it is exactly what we seen so often in the IDF and with Israeli civilians, including small children. It’s less common in our politicians but normal, average Israelis recognize this quality and even expect it. Extraordinary actions are, in Israel, often the “right thing to do” and people just do them.

Too few people know understand and know how to recognize real leadership. Simon Sinek does.

Watching the news about the devastating earthquake in Nepal I was struck by something small but very significant.

Although we have enough local problems to keep us occupied, Israel has been following the details of this disaster – because there were 2000 Israelis in Nepal when the earthquake hit and because, whenever possible, Israel reaches out to help. Over the years, the IDF’s humanitarian aid has served as a source of relief for people all over the world. From India and Turkey to Argentina, America, Haiti and most recently the Philippines, Israel has lent a helping hand to dozens of countries hit by natural disasters.

Tiny Israel.

We’ve all been following the stories from Nepal. The Israelis found and rescued. The on-going search for still missing Or Asraf, the only unaccounted for Israeli.

IDF search and rescue in Nepal

The search and rescue experts from Israel, equipped with everything including specially trained dogs looking for local survivors – we rejoice with the reports of the people they rescued, those that survived miraculously, after days of being trapped under rubble. The team of Israeli medical experts who flew to Kathmandu, set up a field hospital and in the first day of operation treated some 100 people. It was to the Israeli hospital that the Americans took the 15 year old boy they rescued today after he had been trapped 5 days under rubble.

We’ve heard these stories before. When there is an earthquake, tsunami or devastating terror attack, Israel volunteers to help. The cynical would say that Israel must do it for political gain however the practical will answer that there isn’t much gain from helping African countries, 3rd world nations… no one really cares about them and there really isn’t much to gain from assisting them – except the knowledge that we did everything we can to assuage suffering. And because we identify and empathize. Because life is precious and healing is holy.

This is an automatic response. These are the standards we set for ourselves and something that is pretty much taken for granted by the average Israeli. It’s what’s expected. It’s the right thing to do.

It’s fascinating how just a few words said by one Israeli woman in Nepal, waiting to be brought back to Israeli put everything in perspective.

The woman described seeing a man who was outside, waiting like she was. She was inside, with the other Israelis, sheltered and safe, waiting for the plane to come from Israel to bring them home. He was outside, in the cold, with nowhere to go. She approached the man and he told her he was from Switzerland. She asked, “What did your embassy tell you to do? What assistance did they give you?” His reply shocked her.

“Nothing,” he said, “They told me to figure it out on my own.”

The woman was horrified. It had never crossed her mind that there was a possibility of not getting help. She knew with absolute certainty that the Israeli embassy would bring help from Israel, half way around the world and she, along with all the other Israelis would be rescued.

And she was right.

The difference between yes and no, between help and no help make all the difference in the world.

Israel protects Israelis everywhere. But not just Israelis – Israelis demand more of this little country.

Some Israelis were attacked by local Nepalese who saw helicopters coming to rescue the Israelis and wanted to be rescued as well. What did the Israelis do in turn?

They demanded that the State of Israel send enough aide to rescue all of the trapped Israelis AND assist the Nepalese who had lost everything. The Israelis understood the desperation of people whose homes had been ruined, whose families were torn apart. Instead of being outraged at being attacked, they empathized and demanded assistance for their attackers.

They demanded Israel come to the rescue. Not Nepal. Not nearby India, the UN or America but little Israel.

Isn’t that striking?

Little country. Big difference.

Today is the eve of Memorial Day for IDF soldiers and victims of terrorism.

Written in big letters on the front page of today's newspaper, giving tribute and honor to Israel's fallen soldiers

Written in big letters on the front page of today’s newspaper, giving tribute and honor to Israel’s fallen soldiers

Tomorrow night Memorial Day becomes Independence Day. The contrast is harsh, painful and deliberate.

Because of them, thanks to them, the Nation of Israel has a State.

(23,320 soldiers killed from a nation of 7 million is a huge amount. No family can remain untouched…)

Memorial Day for Israel’s soldiers comes exactly one week after Holocaust Memorial Day which comes one week after Passover. The pattern is deliberate and purposeful, it is necessary to remember the past in order to appreciate the present and prepare for the future.

We must remember slavery to understand the true value of freedom.

We must remember that the most civilized nation on earth could create the living hell of the concentration camps. We must also remember that when the world went mad there were still those who did not go off the cliff. There were those that retained human decency and those that endangered themselves to save others.

We must remember the soldiers that died so that we might live.

Throughout the ages Jews have been murdered simply because they are Jews. The promise of the State of Israel is to provide safety and protection for the Jewish people. Even today Jews are not safe – not in Toulouse, London, Kansas or even Israel. The more than 2000 year old hope to be a nation, free in our country has not yet been realized…

Usually forgotten but important to recognize and honor are those that overcame. Their battle is no less heroic than that of the soldiers on the battlefield.

Those that survived, those that went on with grief in their hearts and horror in the memory, they are the ones that enable this nation to exist and even thrive. This is true for the Holocaust survivors as well as the survivors of the wars and all the terror attacks Israel has and is being subjected to…

I can only try to imagine the difficulty of creating a new family after witnessing the murder of your family and friends – each new child both a joyous victory and devastating reminder of the dead.

The ability to laugh and smile after being immersed in horror is the unsung heroism of the survivors.

The ability to continue living and create new life and reasons to celebrate is the ultimate triumph of the bereaved. The gaping wound of a beloved child, husband or friend killed never truly heals but other aspects of life can be strengthened.

Our vulnerability and our wounds prompt the building of unparalleled strength of spirit.

Because of them. Thanks to them.

Memory shapes personality – of people and of nations.

Recently I’ve been contemplating the significance of collective memory. In Passover the Jewish people are commanded to remember how God delivered us from slavery over 3000 years ago. Not how our ancestors were freed from slavery, rather how each and every one of us was personally delivered from slavery. This is a very different, very personal perspective and one of the major difference between the Jewish people and all other nations. Collective consciousness is purposely expanded to encompass our Jewish brothers and sisters in other countries, across generations and spanning centuries. What happens (happened) to them happens (happened) to us. This awareness shapes Jewish consciousness, teaches values and drives actions.

Today my thoughts are on the significance of personal memory. Sima Maschkowski (mother of my beloved Lenny), passed away this morningSima Maschkowski.

Sima was one of the kindest people I have ever met. The core of her being was kindness and love.

I know because Alzheimer’s disease stripped her of everything else.

What do you know when you can’t remember anything?

By the end Sima didn’t recognize the home she lived in for over fifty years. She had no idea where she was. A gregarious and lively person, Sima could no longer recognize her neighbors or long-time friends. Sima who loved pretty clothes didn’t remember how to get dressed on her own. She, who loved fresh fruit and spices forgot about food and didn’t remember how to eat on her own. She even forgot that she loved having hot coffee in the morning and in the afternoon.

Sima often confused the names of her son and grandchildren. She would call one by the other’s name. And when she couldn’t recall the name she’d say: “Hello my Prince!”

Even when she started forgetting how to talk Sima knew that she loved her family with a passion. She recognized the people that belonged to her and the only thing she cared about was their happiness. When she was unable to do anything else she sat for hours, looking at pictures of her family and saying to them: “Bless you, God bless you.”

Alzheimer strips away everything. Knowledge acquired throughout a life becomes inaccessible and inapplicable. Everything stays inside the brain but the person is unable to pull it out and put it to use in the appropriate time or way. Social skills and norms evaporate. Language disappears. Slowly it becomes harder and harder to connect with others.

Memory shapes so much of who we are. Like an onion stripped of its layers, less and less remains. When there are no more layers the onion leaves scent / flavor. Even without its layers, the essence remains.

Some people who have Alzheimer’s disease become violent and aggressive. When Sima had nothing left, she was kind. She was unable to demonstrate her kindness, she just was. That was her essence.

Born in India in 1928, aspired to be an educated, dignified lady, like the English ladies. Much of what she learned she taught herself by reading, practicing writing and emulating those she admired.

After the Second World War, Jews from Israel came to the Jewish community in India, bringing them news of the Holocaust and of the need to rebuild the Jewish nation in the land of Israel. As a result, Sima decided to leave her comfortable life in India and make Aliyah. Her mother was against the idea of her only daughter leaving to go so far away but Sima adamantly told her: “6 million Jews died. I have to go to help the people and build the Land.”

Today this is a dramatic and frightening move to make, the bravery it took then is difficult to comprehend.

In Israel Sima learned to be a nurse. Another way to help people. Remembering people she helped made her happy until she was no longer able to remember.

Sima loved children, especially babies. She used to bring toys to a poor family in the neighborhood and give them to the children when the parents weren’t around. She wanted to give without making the parents feel shame. She just wanted the children to be happy. Sima never looked for credit for the kind things she did. It is only because others saw her actions do we know about them today.

Sima married the love of her life and had one son who was the jewel of her eye – until her grandchildren were born. One jewel became three and everything centered on them. When they were happy she was happy.

Love and kindness is the essence of Sima. That was the connecting thread throughout her life and it is the memory she leaves behind for those who were blessed to know her.

What shapes your consciousness? Or mine? What is the essence we will leave behind?

Not to speak is to speak.

Thank you Senator Marco Rubio for speaking for Israel, American values and freedom.

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