Thursday, Jul 25, 2024

Diary from Yerushalayim: Purim 5771 and its Aftermath

Wednesday afternoon, at 3:02 p.m., just five minutes after I walked through the door, my cell phone started ringing. I followed the sound and rummaged through my pocketbook in time to hear the desperate voice on the other end. “Mommy, where are you?” “At home,” I replied. There was an audible sigh of relief. My oldest daughter then told me to stay put, as there was a terror attack outside Binyanei Ha'umah, a location I frequent at least twice a day and where I had been not an hour earlier. After three years of relative quiet, the tenseness of being in Eretz Yisroel, a nation surrounded by 70 wolves, was back in the air.

I hung up the phone and turned up the radio to the background of the screeching emergency vehicles that could be heard from our house just five minutes from Binyanei Ha’umah and even closer to Hatzolah and Magen Dovid Adom. I heard the confused reports coming from the reporters who were not acquainted with the location nor the specific bus routes involved, and of course I had the urge to just walk over to the site of the bombing, since all vehicular access had been cut off. My family, however, vetoed that plan. There was fear of further attacks, since it was confirmed that the perpetrator was not on the scene and the bag had exploded with a remote control. So, with a churning stomach, like everyone else, I just followed the reports with a clear picture of the location.


We were, and still are, reeling from the horror of the vicious Shabbos killings in Itamar, with visions of the Fogels popping in and out of our thoughts. With the resilience that is endemic in Israel, we all forged on with Purim preparations and the unique simchas Purim that pervades the whole country.


The day before Taanis Esther is when most of Israel’s children are dressed up for their school Purim parties. On a beautiful sunny day, the streets were filled with an elaborate colorful display of children of all ages decked out in their Purim costumes. My favorite was two sisters who were both dressed up like the Belzer Rebbetzin, with her unique head covering, a crown-like turban, one in electric green and one in turquoise.


The crowded streets were awash with color as people shopped in anticipation of all the festivities of Purim. Taanis Esther was a very warm day, and on Motzoei Shabbos, most of the country vibrated with simchas Purim. The music and festivities echoed from north to south, with a few enclaves like Yerushalayim still anticipating the Yom Tov. Sunday in Yerushalayim had the aura of Yom Tov, with many Yerushalmim in bigdei Shabbos. By the evening, we, too, were in the throes of Purim, utilizing the opportunity for kol haposhet yad in the city where the Shechinah rests.


Purim, with all its mitzvos bein adam laMakom and bein adam lachaveiro, is such an action-packed day that people feel they cannot possibly accomplish more than what is on their individual plateas they race against the clock to make the most of each mitzvah.


However, in Yerushalayim, there is one more precious facet to Purim. Many people, from Purim night and on, include a visit to the Kosel to maximize the eis ratzon for tefillah. There are those who say Tehillim at night. We got up early on a beautiful tranquil morning and headed to the Kosel to daven under the clear blue skies to the twitter of the birds. The scene at the Kosel was indeed like Yom Kippur, as people poured out their hearts in tefillah before busying themselves with the hustle and bustle of Purim. What an extra zechus.


Yerushalayim has no Shushan Purim, but the following morning was like “the morning after.”


The glorious blue skies were replaced with overcast skies, cooler temperatures and occasional showers. Schools started late and everyone seemed to be in slow motion. The Machane Yehudah Shuk, usually bustling, was remarkably subdued as storeowners rearranged their merchandise, clearing out the remains of Purim. I did, however, notice increased security, with more soldiers positioned at the many entrances than I had seen recently. This, no doubt, was in response to the Itamar attack and the missile attacks in the Ashkelon area.


It was Tuesday night, shortly before midnight, when we got a phone call from friends that the Red Alert warning sirens were wailing through Ashdod. People were in a panic as they hurried their children in pajamas to their sealed rooms and those in older buildings ran to their shelters.


Two grad missiles hit an area in Ashdod and totally caught residents by surprise. It is just two years since Ashdod was under a constant barrage of missile attacks, causing most residents to temporarily relocate to safer areas of the country for several weeks.


On Wednesday morning, there were further missile attacks in Beer Sheva and in many southern cities. Schools there were closed and tens of thousands of students stayed home. One woman from Ashdod told me that there were intermittent sirens, so she took her work and her employee into her sealed room and she worked there for the rest of the week.


News of renewed missile attacks from Gaza unsettled people throughout the country, but that was overshadowed by the blatant attack in the center of Yerushalayim. A 56-year-old British tourist was killed in the terror attack and dozens, including six Americans, were injured, some very seriously.


19-year-old Leah Green of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, feels blessed that she is in a hospital after walking into the bomb blast. She suffered burns and shrapnel wounds.


The recent Mosdos Ohr HaTorah graduate was walking down the street when the bomb exploded and threw her into the air, her mother, Wendy Green, said. Her leg was on fire, and she put out the flames with her hands, her mother related.


“It was a kindness from Hashem that she wasn’t killed,” her mother related Leah telling her.


Amongst those who were lightly injured was a kallah who babysits regularly in Minchas Yitzchok. Paramedics treated her at the scene and put her onto a stretcher. She managed to get off the stretcher on her own, telling the medical team that she would be checked out by her own doctor. “I simply don’t have time for hospitals now,” she said. “I am getting married next week and have too much to do.”


“Pitzuz Shel Kiosk – Blast of a Kiosk” is located at a very busy bus stop between the Central Bus Station and Binyanei Ha’umah. The alert operator who saw the black bag hanging from the nearby telephone cautioned those within earshot to move out of the way and called police, but as he was on the phone, the bomb exploded and the hero himself was injured.


“Three yeshiva boys were sitting around the bag. I screamed, ‘Get out of here! That’s a suspicious bag!’” said David Amuyal from his hospital bed. Amuyal, whose call to the police just seconds before the blast most likely saved lives, is suffering from a fractured pelvis. Steel pellets penetrated his body and shrapnel is deeply embedded in his left hand and leg.


Amuyal’s brother-in-law, Shimshon Moshe, who owns the kiosk hit in the attack, arrived at the scene to examine the damage and start the cleanup. “Everything is like Sodom and Gomorrah here. I cleaned and swept the mess away and we’re over it,” he said.


“I got there at 12 p.m. and things were business as usual. As I was working, a chareidi guy came into the kiosk and told me, ‘There’s a bag outside.’ People constantly come in here telling me, ‘There’s a suspicious case or bag over there.’ I’m used to it. I didn’t get excited. I went outside and saw a black duffel bag on a rock near the phone booth.”


“There were three young yeshiva boys sitting around it, around 14-15 years old,” Amuyal added, reconstructing Wednesday’s events. “I looked at the bag and had a very strong bad feeling about it. It was new, very new, with a zipper and it seemed suspicious. At that very moment, I told them, ‘Move quickly. It’s a suspicious object. Evacuate the area immediately.’”


Amuyal then took out his cell phone and called the police to report the suspicious bag. “As I was on the phone, I felt a huge blast that threw me back. I was about a meter and a half (4.9 feet) away from the device, I flew 4-5 meters (13-16 feet) back and my body caught fire. I tried to put out the fire with my hands. I got up, walked around 15 meters away from the scene, and sat on a railing nearby.


“I couldn’t roll on the floor to put out the fire. I saw black and felt the shrapnel. At first my legs burned and when I looked down I saw that my stomach was completely open,” Amuyal said, adding that it took time before he felt the pain that gripped his entire body. “Some passersby came very quickly and started to administer first aid. The ambulances and security forces were right behind them.”


Amuyal says that it was a miracle that he was alive and that the blast didn’t claim more lives. He refuses to take credit for saving the lives of those near the bomb. “I’m not a hero. I tried. I did as much as I could, but I didn’t manage to get everyone away. If not for the miracle, I would be on the other side too. I felt death. I could have escaped, but I didn’t.”


He expressed anger at the way the authorities treated him and his family, the kiosk owners. “This is a place that serves the public. Everyone has nothing but praise for it. Yet, the municipality, instead of arranging for us to have protection, removed half a meter from our property. We used to have a rain cover, they took that off too,” he said.


“They should help a little, have a heart. The government doesn’t help either. [It] does nothing. They all talk before the elections; they want you then, but after the elections, nothing. The south is under fire and the residents remain unprotected.”


While Amuyal is recovering from his injuries, his brother-in-law Shimshon is back in the kiosk. He told Yediot Achronot, “The important thing is that my brother-in-law David get well swiftly.”


Shimshon, who was standing in the same spot David was last week during a 1994 terror attack that destroyed his kiosk, was saved this time because he had just left, leaving David in charge.


We were all frozen in time following the attack. We watched emergency vehicles pass and heard the ominous low-flying helicopters overhead. Even the young children had a heightened awareness. No one wanted to venture out at first and everyone delayed all plans for the afternoon. Our peaceful existence had been violated, and when we started resuming our activities, it was with a heightened awareness.


It was in the middle of that night that there was actually a “cheifetz chashud,” a suspicious suitcase, found and detonated in our building complex.


The blast had shaken buildings in Kiryat Moshe and Sarei Yisroel, and the fear for the safety of loved ones in the area was intensified, as people throughout the country who heard the news were unable to reach their loved ones immediately. Phone service in the area was down for about an hour, so communication was interrupted and frustrated parents and children were unable to reach their loved ones who they knew might be in the area.


One friend who lives in Sarei Yisroel was at work at the time, and her children who live out of Yerushalayim called her on her cell phone. She was totally unaware that there had been an attack. When her son asked where her husband was, she said that he had stopped by for a cup of coffee about an hour earlier. Within minutes, her son called back and said that an Arab had answered her husband’s cell phone! Unruffled, she tried her husband on a second landline and was relieved to hear his voice at the other end. Apparently, because of the interruption in phone service following the attack, some of the lines had been crossed.


By Thursday morning, everyone was back to their routines. As I passed the closed kiosk, most of the signs of the previous day’s carnage had been washed away by the intermittent rain or cleaned up. The glass from the bus stop had been shattered in the blast and there was a workman fixing the phone booth. Passersby stopped for a moment to contemplate the horror.


One of the employees at the gym under Binyanei Ha’umah described how she was just coming out of the tunnel underpass on her way to the bus stop when the blast occurred. She said that she felt it in the pit of her stomach. She came up the steps and, in the first moments, there was total silence. She surveyed the horrific scene, with blood spattered everywhere. There were injured people with shrapnel wounds and some who were on fire. She is no stranger to attacks, and as much as she was motivated to help, her instinct told her to get out of the area as fast as she could. There was no transportation and everything was quickly closed off, so she just ran and took the first taxi she could find on an adjacent street. The next day, after a very disturbed night during which she saw visions of the scene flashing in front of her eyes, her stomach still hurt from the effects of the blast.


Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat headed straight to the scene of the attack, assuring reporters that the first Yerushalayim Marathon would go on as scheduled on Friday. Yerushalayim was bursting with visitors from all over the world who had come to participate in the marathon. People were preparing for Shabbos on Thursday, since the city was to be closed to traffic in most areas on Friday for the marathon. Even children in the haimishe schools had to come and go from school without their usual transportation, and many parents opted to keep their children home that day. Weather-wise, Marathon Day was “a nice English day,” cool and cloudy with sunny intervals. Not long after the closing ceremonies in Gan Sacher, the heavens opened with a very heavy downpour of rain.


After a tiring week, starting with the euphoria of the simcha of Purim and continuing with the barrage of missiles in the south and the bombing in the center of Yerushalayim, the intense atmosphere relaxed as Yidden prepared for Shabbos, some in the comfort of their own homes and some recuperating in hospitals. Many ‘pleitim’ from Ashdod and Ashkelon shaken by the unpredictable attacks packed up their families and went to safer areas for Shabbos, hosted by friends and family. We enjoyed a family simcha in the picturesque tranquil neighborhood of Bayit Vegan. Over Shabbos, we enjoyed the breathtaking panoramic views of Yerushalayim bathed in glorious sunshine, which belied the horror we had just seen in the attack.


OnMotzoei Shabbos, we were relieved to hear that Shabbos throughout the country had been quiet. Our nieces and nephews from Ashdod who had been with us for Shabbos and were shaken by the uncertainty of the events of the last few days were relieved to hear that schools in Ashdod and the other affected cities would be open as usual and that they would be going home to a relatively safe environment and returning to school as normal.


Life on the street is back to normal as the Pesach season gets into full swing. And we here in Yerushalayim, together with all of you everywhere, continue to anticipate the geulah sheleimah,may it arrive bemeheirah beyomeinu.



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