While riding on a bus in Jerusalem in May 2003, Steve Averbach noticed something strange about a Chasidic Jew seated nearby: A bulge was visible from underneath his jacket. Other passengers soon realized the possibility that the man was a suicide bomber, and began to take cover by ducking behind seats. Trained to fight terrorism as an Israel Defense Force soldier — and then as a commander of a police SWAT team — Averbach reached for his gun; while doing so, the man detonated his explosive vest, killing seven and wounding more than 26, according to CNN.com. Averbach suffered a spinal-cord injury, and is now a quadriplegic.
"I had to do everything in my power to change the situation," said Averbach, 40, who relayed his story on Nov. 2 to an audience of about 90 people at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley.
"This was a murderer whose only intent was to take as many Jewish lives as he could," he continued.
Since Averbach knows the physical and emotional challenges of recovering from a terror attack, he now puts his time and efforts into helping those victims who are children.
From Oct. 18 to Nov. 5, Averbach went on a tour, speaking in communities in Philadelphia, New York and his native New Jersey to help raise funds for Project Tikvah, a Maccabi World Union program that helps such kids rehabilitate through sports like swimming, biking, sailing and horseback-riding. The group currently serves 360 children, with 200 more on a waiting list, according to Averbach.
Along with being therapeutic for a recovering body, sports, believes Averbach, can be a catalyst in aiding the very youngest set get their lives back together. "It helps restore dignity and pride, and helps the children to want to go on."
His talk at Har Zion was hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which accepted donations that night for Project Tikvah through its Israel Emergency Fund.
Cindy Smuckler Dorani, co-chair of the Center for Israel and Overseas at Federation, told the group that the fundraising goal for the evening had been set at $225,000.
After a short video depicting images of children who've been blinded or lost limbs to terror, Averbach relayed to the crowd how inspiring it is to see kids relish a little time playing sports.
"I see these children, and I consider myself lucky," he said.
"I may not have the use of my limbs, but I still have a wife and four boys. These kids don't even have the capacity to understand what has happened to them."