The Number 2 Bus Bombing Twenty Years On:

Creating a Kiddush Hashem in the Midst of Tragedy

by Bracha Toporowitch

L’lui nishmas all the kedoshim

It is the year after shemitah, a year that Chazal refer to as “B’motzei shvi’is ben David ba—In the year following shemitah the son of David [the Mashiach] comes.” What can we do to hasten the coming of Mashiach?

And we may ask, why talk about a bus bombing that took place twenty years ago, on 19 August (22 Av) 2003? People want spiritual arousal. They have a need to find meaning in tragedy.

There have been countless terror attacks in Israel. What makes this one different?

This piguah shook up the world. Israel’s chief pathologist, Professor Yehuda Hiss, said, “It’s one of the worst terrorist attacks, both because of the large number of victims and the difficulty in identifying them, and because among the victims are children.”

The terrorist managed to turn twenty-two of our brethren—religious men, women and children—into kedoshim and injure 130 individuals.

We may wonder, haven’t we suffered enough? It seems Hashem wishes to rouse us. Sometimes when a house is on fire and the child is sleeping, there may be no choice but to throw him out the window in order to save his life. This seemingly cruel act is carried out with love!

“But we were roused already, and no geulah came!” we cry. Weren’t we roused by the Holocaust, the Gulf War, the crashing of the Twin towers? Yes, we were roused, but then somehow we slipped back into our old ways.

It’s twenty years later, and we are forgetting the bombing of the Number 2 bus. We need to keep the emotion alive and not allow ourselves to become numb because of an onslaught of suffering. If we don’t do teshuvah, we are acting with cruelty, for then Hashem will need to send more tragedies to keep on rousing us. We need to remember the emotions and feel as if the victims were our sisters, our brothers, like one family.

Every piguah is a tragedy, but I can only talk about this one because it was my daughter’s family who were on that bus. As I lived through this horrific experience, I received some deep insights, helping me make sense of the tragedy. I wish to share them with you, so that you too can receive the inspiration I felt.

 In this terror bombing, the Jewish victims were all religiousYiddenreturning from the Koselafter davening Maariv. Then they were mercilessly murdered. What does it mean?

Kol man d’avid rachmanah d’tav avid—All that the Merciful One does, He does for good.” Every punishment is done middah k’neged middah (measure for measure), to show us what we need to change. Hashem wants geulah, more so than we do. Hashem has a timetable for the Final Redemption,which must come by a certain date, so He pushes us in a certain direction. I see that a lot of good came from this tragedy.

            The tremendous amount of achdus (unity) turned us into one family. And this loving family poured fountains of chessed upon the injured. The kiddush Hashem was unbelievable, attested by the fact that the reporters kept on coming back to hear more.

We are in galus because of sinas chinam (baseless hatred between Jews). With this tragic happening Am Yisrael showed ahavas chinam (unconditional love). Hashem brought out the best in us. Here was a model of how we should always be, not only after a piguah.

Hashem chose us as His nation, saying, “V’lakachti eschem li l’am—And I took you to me as a nation.” Sefer Yehoshua says, “V’ekach es avichem—And I took your father…”, referring to when Hashem told Avraham he would be the founder of His chosen nation.

I saw a hint in the letters of the word ekach, אקח. I saw ח—achdus, ק—kiddush Hashem and ח—chessed. These are the things that will bring the final geulah, a time when we will be taken and bonded to Hashem forever. These wonderful attributes came about as a result of the piguah.

My daughter Chany was severely injured, taken to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital and underwent two surgeries. Her husband suffered broken bones, a punctured lung and other injuries. The 6-year-old was slightly injured by shrapnel in her neck and was saved by a miracle—the shrapnel was only a fraction of an inch away from the jugular blood vessel. Had it punctured, she might have bled to death! The baby girl suffered broken bones, wounds and smoke inhalation. Three-year-old Tehilla, Hashem yinkom damah, did not survive.

Let me talk first about the kiddush Hashem. I was with Chany in the recovery room, when a television crew from the USA walked in. They wanted an interview, and as I spoke English, I agreed. I was still in a state of shock, numbed out, and since I was not overly emotional or hysterical right then, I had the ability to do it. I told the interviewer the little I knew of what had happened. When I said “They are still looking for Tehilla” Chany roused herself from her stupor. “What, they still haven’t found Tehilla!” She then noticed the group of people standing around her bed. She half sat up and said, “If you want to help me, pray. If you want to help all of us, pray. And take something upon yourselves to become better people, even a small thing, even just to smile to one another.” And then she fell back onto her pillow and blacked out. The interviewer had tears in his eyes as he turned to the camera and said, “Look at this woman. She is fighting for her life, and what is she thinking about? How to make the world a better place!”

This was the first of many interviews.

            When a reporter from the Maariv newspaper came, Chany was in the week of shiva for her daughter. The first thing she said to the reporter was, “I thank Hashem for my pain.” He was shocked. “What! What do you mean?” he shot at her. She replied evenly, “I thank Hashem for my physical pain because it stops me from feeling my emotional pain.” This irreligious Jew printed in large headlines, “She thanks G-d for her physical pain” and explained what she had said.

            The Ha’aretz newspaper reporter wrote, “I am 73 years old and have never had a good word to say about them (the Chareidim), but now I can only praise them for their strength and faith.”

            Again and again the reporters would ask me, “Where do you get your strength from?” At first I didn’t understand the question fully, but after hearing it so many times, I understood what they were asking. They could not imagine where they would get their strength from in such a situation. They wanted to understand how it is possible to be strong in a time of suffering. They were seeing a different picture and hearing different words from us than they were used to hearing. So I changed my answer. “If you ask for strength from Above, you get strength; if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

            I told everyone to pray to Hashem for us. And the pintele Yid (the Jewish spark) was roused, even in irreligious people.

            The chessed and achdus were amazing. Every kind of Jew came to help out. Some came from America at their own expense to help strangers in need. They came into our room, asking if we needed anything, and took out their cheque books. The Bikur Cholim girls’ organisation sent girls to stay in the hospital overnight so I could get some sleep. They spent Shabbos in the hospital to relieve parents and relatives of the injured. The One Family organisation, serving victims of terror, bought us a stroller for the baby and a microwave to warm up Chany’s specially prepared food, they gave us money for taxis, and so much more.

Unfortunately, rousal wears off, and we need to make serious efforts to keep it going. Without the Beis Hamikdash and without korbanos we only have tefillah (prayer).My daughter Chany Nathanson asked everyone to daven better. Daven for yourselves, your loved ones, for the geulah, for tikun ha’olam, for Hashem, who suffers along with us.

Sometimes it is easier to make a kiddush Hashem during a time of tragedy. During the daily grind of life it is much harder. One way of making a kiddush Hashem is b’seser (in your heart), perhaps giving in for the sake of peace. Take upon yourself one small thing to do for Hashem for the sake of achdus. Think about volunteering to become a study partner with an irreligious woman for the sake of our‘one family’. Hashem wants all of us to return to Him, and if we care for others, we will be assisted from heaven to succeed. And then we will finally bask in the light of the geulah sheleimah!


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Bracha Toporowitch
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