Two decades after Sbarro suicide bombing, survivors’ scars are still healing

August 10, 2021 by  
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Twenty years ago, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Sbarro restaurant at the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Road in the centre of Jerusalem…writes Sharon Altshul.

The aftermath of the suicide bombing at the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem on Aug. 9, 2001, that killed 15 people and wounded around 130 others. Photo by Flash90.

Fifteen people were murdered, including even children, and 130 people injured. Dozens of families were destroyed in the blast.

The survivors have moved on, each in their own way, one day at a time. The nails and bolts packed into the bomb to increase its destructive properties have been removed with multiple surgeries over the years. Scars from the skin damaged in intense heat have healed under expert medical care.

On Monday at 2 p.m., posts on social media repeatedly recounted the names of those murdered on Aug. 9, 2001. But what about those who survived, who are also victims? Where are they today? How have they coped with their losses over the past two decades? How have they moved on without their loved ones?

One of the injured victims, Chana Nachenberg, has been in a vegetative state for the past 20 years. Her daughter, Sarah Shalev, who was 2 years old when injured in the blast along with her mother, admits during her teenage years that it was so difficult for her to see her mother that she didn’t go to the hospital to visit. Sarah often had to walk out of her friend’s bat mitzvah celebrations, and later, their weddings, when she realized that her mother would never celebrate with her. Even fireworks and bonfires were at times a source of trauma.

Now married and the mother of a young daughter, Sarah addressed an event hosted by OneFamily, a nonprofit organization providing financial and other assistance to thousands of terror victims throughout Israel.

“Today, my daughter Talia is approaching the age I was at the time of the terrorist attack, which raises fears, anxieties, and especially, a feeling of sadness about my mother not being active in my life,” she said. “However, I hope that unlike me, she gets to grow up with a loving mother who is always there for her at every moment of her life.”

Chaya Schijveschuurder was 8 when her parents and siblings went out for lunch at the popular pizzeria and were killed in the blast; she was seriously injured. Today, she is married and has a young son. As a teenager, the creation of the OneFamily helped Chaya; like many youth movements, it gave her “a sense of belonging.”

At the time of the terror attack, 12-year-old Michal Belzberg was preparing for her bat mitzvah in Jerusalem. On hearing the news of the murdered and the injured, she asked her parents, Marc and Chantal, to cancel her party and donate the money to help the survivors and their families. That’s how the OneFamily fund got started.

‘Where do we go with survivors’ guilt?

Malki Roth at the restaurant

The Sbarro bombing, for which Hamas and the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, occurred a year after the start of the Second Intifada—a decision by Palestinian leadership to strap bombs on Arab men and women to blow up on buses, restaurants, nightclubs and other areas where Israel civilians congregated. The violence began in September 2000 and last until February 2005. It claimed the lives of about 1,000 Israelis, as well as 64 foreigners.

Arnold and Frimet Roth’s daughter, Malki, 15 at the time, was killed with her friend, Micha Raziel. The Roths established the Malki Foundation, a nonprofit, empowering families to choose home care for their children with disabilities. The Roths have also worked to get Sbarro massacre mastermind Ahlam Tamimi extradited from Jordan to stand trial in the United States.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, teacher and graduate student Shoshana Greenbaum, who was killed in Sbarro, was the only child of Eliyahu Dovid Hayman. Her loss was magnified by the fact that she was pregnant when murdered. Her bereaved father finds comfort in the words of one of her students several years after the Sbarro bombing, addressed to Shoshana.

“One thing, however, that people have said about you over and over after your death has really hurt me and struck me as untrue. They say that it is so very sad how you died pregnant with your first child, and thus never had the privilege of caring for children of your own.

“I completely disagree, Morah [teacher]. You know why? Because I am your child, and every other student whom you ever taught considers themselves also as your child. And therefore, Morah, you have had hundreds of children, in whom you’ve planted seeds of love and Torah.”

Michael Schumacher, father of Sbarro survivor Yaffa Schumacher, asked, “There are weddings. Families. Year after year, where do we go with survivors’ guilt?”

He said he finds his inspiration, quoting the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in the writings of Austrian Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, who went on to become one of the world’s leading neurologists and a renowned psychiatrist: “Our lives are not determined by what happens to us, but rather by how we react to it.”

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl identified the way of realizing meaning in life: by making a difference in the world, by taking one’s experiences and using them to move forward.


One Response to “Two decades after Sbarro suicide bombing, survivors’ scars are still healing”
  1. Claudio Frank Kreffl says:

    I was born in Italy. When the Second World War ended I was 8 years old. I remember 1945.A group of people I did not know came to visit my Grandmother. When you are a child the adults don’t pay any attention to you, but you listen to them and are not shy to ask questions. They were all talking in German. Playing with other children we talked in Italian. After listening for a while my curiosity took over and I politely asked the woman towering over me in German ‘Why don’t I also get a bar of soap and a towel when I go in the bat?’ She was spoken to by other adults who probably told her not to tell me anything, but she paid them no attention. ‘They receive a soap and a towel before they go in the bathroom to get a brouse.’ at which I asked, ‘What is a brouse?’ and she said so nicely, ‘It is when the water comes down on you from the ceiling.’ I remember somebody rudely telling me to go and play or something. I do know I asked her, ‘Why do I have to fold my clothes and put them outside on a bench?’
    I don’t remember what else she said, but I do remember that somebody told me to go outside and play. I think that was my introduction to the past that shaped my future.I did not have to wait too long.

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