“I slept for an entire week. I felt terrible fatigue. I barely managed to hold myself together. We were convinced that this weakness came from an infection that had developed in my abdomen. Still, it was very strange. I was unusually tired. When I began to feel even sicker, I went to the hospital. The diagnosis I received there was clear: I had experienced a heart attack and I needed a stent urgently. Within a short time, I underwent the operation and, bechasdei Shomayim, my life was saved. Nine months after I was given my life as a gift, after I was critically wounded in the terror attack in Har Nof, the gift was given to me a second time.”
Rabbi Eitan Mualmi of Har Nof, who was critically wounded in the massacre in Har Nof ten months ago, spoke to the Yated in an emotional interview about the miracles that Hashem has performed for him throughout the past year. The man who survived a blow to his head with an axe, who had one of his hands nearly severed by brutal terrorists, and whose family was told by the doctors to prepare to take their leave of him ultimately returned to life. Ever since then, he has been thanking Hashem and giving praise to Him without end.
Shots in the Middle of Davening
Let us start at the beginning of the story. Rabbi Mualmi, who is better known to most of us as Eitan ben Sarah, went to daven Shacharis at Kehillas Bnei Torah in Har Nof on an ordinary morning at the end of Cheshvan last year. In the middle of davening, two Arab murderers burst into the shul, shooting at the mispallelim and striking them viciously with axes. The results were horrific. Four of the mispallelim were killed and several more were injured, including some who suffered severe injuries.
Rabbi Mualmi was one of those who were critically wounded. Unconscious, he was rushed to the hospital with a severe wound to his head and with one hand almost completely severed. The hand was attached to his body only by a patch of skin and a small amount of tissue. He remained in the hospital for many days, completely unconscious and hovering between life and death. He slept deeply, unaware of the tempest taking place within the Jewish people or of the countless prayers that were being poured out for his recovery. For days after those terrible moments that changed his life, he was enveloped in blackness.
But he will never forget those chilling moments of the attack in the shul, which he recounted in the course of his interview with us.
“In the middle of davening, someone said that there was shooting. We didn’t move. Suddenly, two Arabs came into the room, armed with axes, knives and a gun. I don’t remember how I was wounded. I do remember that I picked up a chair and stood facing them. They left me alone and I went on. I didn’t think of running away at that moment, but that saved my life. Had I run, they would have shot me.”
Mrs. Adina Mualmi, Reb Eitan’s wife, adds, “Because he brandished the chair in front of the terrorists, several of the mispallelim had a few precious seconds to run out of the shul and that saved their lives. My husband doesn’t like to speak about that. He gets upset when people tell him that he is a hero.”
Rabbi Mualmi, what are your feelings in retrospect, after such a difficult experience?
“Hashem, in His great mercy, saved me from a horrific death. It was in the merit of the tefillos of all of Klal Yisroel. May they only continue that way. May everyone continue davening, and with those prayers, we will merit the arrival of Moshiach.
“The principal of Talmud Torah Ohr Chodosh, where I am a rebbi, was out of the country at the time. When he returned to Eretz Yisroel, he said to me, ‘Everywhere I went, your name was there. People are davening for you.’ Imagine what would happen if every Jew had that much kavanah in davening for Moshiach in the brachah of ‘Es tzemach Dovid avdecha.’”
Do you have any thoughts about what happened that morning, about the great loss we suffered from that massacre?
“No. I can only recall those moments from my own vantage point, but I don’t think about it. At first, I didn’t even want to see the pictures of the shul after the attack. Several months ago, when I went back to the shul, I felt great emotion. It was deeply moving to see how the shul was continuing to function as usual. The four large lit candles reminded us of the terrible loss we had suffered, the loss of our four friends. But still, the sounds of Torah and tefillah are continuing. That is the greatest source of joy.”
How much do you remember from the attack?
“I don’t remember most of it, not even the moment I was wounded. I do remember that Rabbi Rotman — Reb Chaim Yechiel ben Malka, may he have a refuah sheleimah — left the shul first to wash his hands for Birkas Kohanim, and then he was shot and seriously wounded.”
What did you do after you were wounded?
“For about fifteen minutes, I lay on the floor, wrapped in a tallis. I was afraid to move. In the meantime, I lost a lot of blood. The blood kept flowing, without letting up at all. After several minutes had passed, I had lost so much blood that I was simply lying in a puddle of it. But I still didn’t move.”
And that is what saved your life.
Were there any sounds in the background? Were people shouting?
And what happened next?
“I left the shul on my own, walking very unsteadily. Someone said to me, ‘Come, get into the ambulance,’ and I did. They put a blanket over my face. And that is the last thing I remember before I woke up here, in the hospital.”
How long were you unconscious?
“For two and a half weeks, I was intubated and under sedation. Almost four weeks after the attack, on the day of my grandson’s bris, I was shown a video of the simchah. There were three doctors here at the time, one of whom was surgeon who had been asked, when I arrived, what my chances were of living to see the bris. He had said that there was no chance of that.”
Never Despairing of a Miracle
It is said that people tend to get used to good things very quickly. But it doesn’t seem possible for any human being to become jaded to the type of miracles that Rabbi Mualmi has experienced. No one can remain dispassionate upon hearing him describe those horrendous moments and listening to him give thanks to Hashem for his salvation. The pure joy of a person who returned from the dead in the fullest sense is something to which no one can remain apathetic. Indeed, that is the way it should be. Every day, we give thanks to Hashem “for Your miracles that are with us every day.” Sometimes, it is hard to internalize the meaning of those words and to experience their power. But in this case, it is not difficult at all.
Rabbi Mualmi, did you recognize either of the terrorists? Had you seen them before?
“I remember the face of one of them. He worked in the area.”
What are your feelings about employing Palestinians?
“I think that the government needs to put an end to it. There is no choice; it is simply too dangerous. After the attack, weapons were distributed to hundreds of people in Har Nof. That was a good step, but it is important to contend with the actual phenomenon of people employing Palestinians.”
What is your message after returning to life from such severe injuries?
“To never give up. Every tefillah is like drilling into a wall. Every time you drill, you make a hole or widen one. Every tefillah strengthens us and moves us forward. Even if we don’t see the yeshuah, we must have faith that it is on its way. The Arizal says that every person should strengthen himself in an area that is difficult for him; he should work to change something that is hard for him. A person needs to work specifically on a trait with which he has difficulty. I draw strength from other people becoming more committed to Yiddishkeit. It gives me the energy and the motivation to keep moving forward on this challenging path to a full recovery, with Hashem’s help.”
Indeed, it has been an astounding journey. As Mrs. Mualmi relates, “When he came to the hospital after the attack, he had no chance of survival. Boruch Hashem, we have seen open miracles.”
Is that what they told you when he arrived? That there was no hope?
“Exactly. He came to the hospital in critical condition. They prepared us for the worst. They didn’t even know what to treat first — his hand, which was almost completely severed, or his head, which was severely wounded. I am absolutely certain that it was only the tefillos of so many other Jews that pierced the Heavens and saved his life. They spent many hours operating on his hand. It was a very complex operation. They reattached the sinews, the arteries and veins, and the nerves. They managed to save it at the last minute.”
Today, Rabbi Mualmi is able to move the hand that was almost lost. “I have regained much of the feeling in that hand,” he relates. “There is still a long road ahead of me, but boruch Hashem the hand has been reattached. I am absolutely certain that it is only the power of Klal Yisroel’s prayers that caused me to be saved and to continue making progress.”
Even the Doctors Admitted
Adina Mualmi relates that even the doctors could not ignore the power of the prayers being said for her husband.
What did the doctors say?
“One of them told us, ‘As I said when you first arrived, he had no chance of surviving. It was only your prayers that brought him to where he is today. I have no other explanation for it.’ He made that statement in front of two other doctors. For us, the meaning of tefillah is completely different today. Now we have a much more powerful sense of what it means that Hashem brings the dead back to life and gives sight to the blind.”
“The doctor told me that even if I survived, there was a chance of severe brain damage,” Rabbi Mualmi adds. “I have no doubt that I owe my yeshuah solely to all the tefillos. I am recuperating because of the tefillos of other Jews, and because of the Torah. At my grandson’s bris several weeks after the attack, one of my sons asked the sandek for a brachah for Torah and yiras Shomayim. That is what gives me strength,” he says tearfully.
The Mualmi family has been through an extremely difficult period since the horrendous attack abruptly shattered their tranquil lives. Even now, Reb Eitan continues to undergo rehabilitation. The road to a full recovery is still a long one, and it is lined with plenty of hurdles. He goes to the hospital several times a week for physical therapy and grueling treatments. Considering his condition after he was injured, the success of the rehabilitation process has been astounding.
Mrs. Mualmi, how did you find out what had happened to your husband?
“I knew before anyone told me. The window of our home faces the shul. My children saw my husband on a stretcher and shouted out to me that he was being taken into an ambulance. I ran downstairs, but the police wouldn’t let me go near him. They told me that there might be more wounded people. I received a phone call from Hadassah only at about 8:00.” The terror attack took place at 7:00.
What did they tell you?
“To come to the emergency room right away and to bring someone with me.”
Who went with you?
“My two oldest sons. One of them drove. It was a nightmarish ride. We were all incredibly tense. I will never forget it.”
What did you find when you got to the hospital?
“My husband was already having a CT scan of his head. Then he was rushed into surgery, so I didn’t get to see him until 4:00 in the afternoon. The doctor told us that the situation was critical and that he didn’t think there was any chance of survival. He was concerned that my husband might have suffered a severe brain injury. His head had been open for a long time, and they were worried about edemas.”
The Mualmis’ son, Shlomo, relates that he was in yeshiva when he heard about the attack. “My friends came over to me and told me that there had been a terror attack in a shul. They didn’t know that I had anything to do with it, but I called home and my sister told me that our father was in the hospital. I raced home to be with my younger siblings. I saw the psychologists there and I was afraid. I was certain that the worst had happened. I asked them to stop talking already and just to tell me what had happened. I thought they come only when someone has died.”
As they dealt with their personal woes, the Mualmi family was encouraged by the massive communal efforts on their behalf. “There isn’t a single person who didn’t offer us help,” Adina Mualmi relates. “It was an incredible display of achdus. I had never seen anything like it. That is what gave me strength. It wasn’t just that people helped us; it was that they gave us the sense that we were doing them a favor by allowing them to help.”
Dangerous Condition, Dangerous Surgery
Back to the present: Nine months after the attack, Rabbi Mualmi began suffering from terrible fatigue, which he soon learned was the result of a heart attack. The urgent catheterization that he underwent saved his life. At the same time, as a result of his injuries, he was suffering from a severe abdominal infection.
“The doctors told us that the infection was very dangerous, even life-threatening,” Adina Mualmi relates. “The only option we had was for him to have an operation, which also posed a danger to his life. They told us this unambiguously: His life was in danger, but the operation could also jeopardize him. But we had no choice, because without the operation, he wouldn’t survive. With a heavy heart, we chose to have him undergo the surgery, knowing full well the danger that it posed.”
The surgery was a success, despite the tremendous danger it involved. “You could say that I received my life as a gift not once, not twice, but three times,” Rabbi Mualmi says, “once after the terror attack, then again after the heart attack, and now after the operation. All of this has happened in less than a year. Hashem has done incredible, open miracles for me, and I am filled with gratitude.”
Throughout our interview with him, Rabbi Mualmi expressed his gratitude to Hashem over and over. “It is important to me to give to thanks to Hashem, to sanctify His Name publicly for the salvation of my life. Everything comes from Above and is exactly calculated by the Master of the Universe. One of the terrorists tried to shoot Rabbi Goldstein’s son, and the bullet got stuck in his gun. There was no logical explanation for that. The boy escaped; it was a miracle. What chessed! We must give thanks and praise to Hashem for His constant wonders and miracles.”