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A Shul Softens the Blow for a Grieving Mother

June 30, 2005 By:
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Avivah Raziel, who helps bring life into the world as a neonatal nurse, was at work at Hadassah Hospital on Aug. 9, 2001, when she heard that a suicide bomber had struck a pizza place in the heart of Jerusalem, claiming 15 lives.

"My first thought was there must have been many young people there," explained Raziel, 52, who between June 15 to June 24 stayed on Philadelphia's Main Line as a guest of the Orthodox Congregation Beth Hamedrosh in Wynnewood.

Raziel recalled being initially unconcerned when her youngest daughter, 16-year-old Michal - who'd gone to spend the day with childhood friend Malki Roth - didn't answer her cell phone. But after hours of increasingly frantic phone calls to her three other daughters, and to family friends and area hospitals, she knew her worst fears had been realized.

Michal and Malki were indeed among those killed in the Sbarro bombing, which also injured 130 people, and for many symbolized the cruelty behind Palestinian terror. The incident was further etched in the Jewish consciousness when a short time later, Arab students at the Al-Najah University in Nablus staged a "Sbarro Cafe Exhibition" that glorified the bombings by recreating a room strewn with fake pizza slices and body parts.

Raziel offered her thoughts in a recent speech before about 30 members who'd gathered in the backyard of a Beth Hamedrosh congregant. The Philadelphia suburbanites were introduced to the Israeli through an organization known as One Family Fund, a private nonprofit founded in September 2001 to offer financial and emotional support to victims of Palestinian terrorism.

Letters, Phone Calls, Visits

In late 2001, the synagogue had contacted the organization, expressing an interest in reaching out to Israelis who had lost a family member due to terror, according to Linda Garfield, a Beth Hamedrosh member who coordinated Raziel's visit, even putting her up in her home.

One Family Fund matched the synagogue with Raziel, who said she was far more in need of emotional support than financial assistance. So congregants sent letters and e-mail, made phone calls, even visited her.

And what the synagogue offered, when she was ready, was a chance to escape and relax as a tourist, hence Raziel's trip here.

Garfield said congregants contributed about $2,000 for her to come to Pennsylvania from Jerusalem, and members took turns hosting the Israeli for the day, taking her on excursions to Amish country, New York City and Washington, D.C.

"If Avivah had lived in our community, we all would have rallied around her," noted Garfield. "Just because she lives in Israel doesn't mean we shouldn't rally around her."

During the speech, Raziel's strong front began to crumble as she veered from her written remarks to describe the process of identifying her daughter's body - a moment she described as the hardest in a life that's also endured the loss of a husband, who died in 1990 due to complications from a brain tumor.

"She looked asleep; she didn't look dead. I didn't want to leave the room - I just couldn't leave her," said the mother and grandmother. "Now, I am forever fearful for my [other] children. I wondered for a time whether I would stop believing [in God]."

While the loss is never far from her mind, Raziel has found a way to carry on with life. She returned to work several months later, and her three married daughters and eight grandchildren help fill the void.

"I told myself, 'You can get out of bed each morning,' " she said. "But it never goes away. It's not something you are able to put behind you."

Raziel noted that for a long time, she avoided restaurants and made her visits downtown as quick as possible. But now that the bombings seemed to have stopped, she is more likely to linger on Ben-Yehuda Street, where the now-rebuilt Sbarro once again serves as a hangout for Jerusalem's youth.

"If things started happening again, I would probably stop going," she admitted. "In the Diaspora, you worry about solutions to the conflict. In Israel, we worry whether or not our children will come home alive."

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