Twelve-and-a-half years ago, Chana Nachenberg was a young mother taking her two-year-old daughter, Sara, out for pizza with relatives. Then a suicide bomber blew himself up in the restaurant and tore apart their lives. Today, Chana is still unconscious.
August 9, 2001 was a sunny day. The Sbarro pizza restaurant, located at a busy intersection on the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Road, was doing a brisk business at lunch time when a Palestinian suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt that weighed between five to ten kilograms and contained explosives, nails, nuts and bolts detonated his bomb. Fifteen civilians were killed, including seven children and a pregnant woman; one hundred and thirty people were wounded. Among the critically injured was Chana Nachenberg. Miraculously, her daughter wasn’t hurt.
“When a bank closes for a break, clerks go into high-gear,” says David Nachenberg, who was working as a clerk in a major bank in Israel at the time of the attack. “I was racing through my work when my brother-in-law called me. I thought that perhaps my father, who was ill at the time, had taken a turn for the worse. Then he told me that my wife and daughter had been in a bombing.” David’s bright blue eyes dim with the memory. “My boss sent me in a taxi to the hospital.”
Chana had been in the restaurant with her daughter, her uncle and his wife. Her uncle was injured when a burning piece of the air conditioner, loosened by the blast, hit his head. His wife, however, managed to have Chana immediately evacuated into the intensive care ambulance that had providentially been close by and arrived within thirty seconds of the explosion. Instinctively, her aunt retained Chana’s pocketbook, not realizing that this meant Chana was without any ID. Sara was evacuated with her mother. “Sara was in shock and besides that, she never talked to strangers, so we had no way of tracing them,” says David. After going from hospital to hospital, Chana’s parents, Paula and Yitzchak Finer, found their daughter in the Intensive Care Unit of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital.
Chana had been critically injured when a nail from the bomb cut into one of her coronary arteries stopping blood flow to the brain. In addition, a metal nut had lodged itself in her lung. She was rushed to the hospital without a heartbeat, and there she was revived. At the hospital, Dr. Avraham Rivkind, head of the department of general surgery and trauma unit and revered for refusing to give up on the most hopeless patients, explained that brain damage occurs once the brain is deprived of oxygen for only two minutes. “Despite speedy care, Chana’s brain had probably been without oxygen for at least ten minutes,” says David. “Dr. Rivkind showed us her brain scan: the usual distinction between the grey and white matter was missing,” David continues, “He told us there was little hope – less than one percent chance that Chana would wake up.”
David has given the dry facts; now the raw emotion breaks through. “When something like this happens, you can never relive the good parts of your marriage,” he says. “And you don’t have a chance to make up for the bad.” A glance at family photos shows moments of happy family life that have become mere memories: a radiant dark-haired bride, proud parents, the excitement of a trip back home.
Patching Lives Together
In the years since the attack, Chana’s parents, helped by OneFamily Fund, a volunteer-based non-profit organization that empowers wounded victims, orphans of both parents, orphans of one parent, widows, widowers and bereaved parents and siblings to rebuild their lives, have done everything possible to care for their daughter in the hope that she will one day wake up. A program of intensive sensory stimulation includes oiling and massaging her limbs to keep some level of suppleness and avoid rigidity setting into the joints; she is regularly turned; and her senses are stimulated with company and music. Yet, tragically, there has been no sign of Chana emerging from the coma and the family has had to move forward with the heart-breaking consequences.Rhona Lewis