Title: Terror and Emunah in Har Nof
Author: Risa Rotman
Artscroll Mesorah Publications, 2017
On the morning of November 18, 2014, two Arab terrorists attacked worshippers during morning prayers in the Kehillas Bnei Torah Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood. Four of the worshippers and a police officer who responded to the attack were killed. The most seriously wounded person was from Canada.
When I heard this, I thought of the only Canadian I knew in Har Nof, Chaim Rotman. A friend called to tell me the wounded Canadian was Chaim.
I met Chaim in Israel in the early 1980s. At that time he was Howie. He was helping a rabbi at the Western Wall set up students and other visitors for Shabbat meals. We were both from Canada. In 1986, he married Risa and they made aliyah to Israel.
Chaim was one of the kindest people I knew. He didn’t wait for people to ask for his help. He looked for people to help. When we drove between Jerusalem and the Har Nof neighborhood and he saw someone walking he would pull over and offer them a ride.
After the attack, he was in a coma for 11 months. Terror and Emunah in Har Nof by his widow Risa is a moving and inspiring memoir of those eleven months when their struggle became a focus of the Jewish world.
The Talmud teaches that all Israel are responsible for one another. Risa writes that the terrorists attacked Chaim with a knife to his head because he was a Jew — therefore the Jewish people had to take special care of him. Family, friends, neighbors, rabbis, social workers, Chaim’s colleagues at the Israeli State Comptroller and complete strangers were all part of what Risa describes as a fierce tidal wave of kindness.
There were fundraising campaigns in the United States and Canada. In Har Nof, people would knock on her door, hand her an envelope of money and say their community raised this money and is praying for Chaim.
Risa’s journey begins at the ICU at Hadassah Ein Kerem where she spent hours on a bench in between visits with Chaim. Their teenage daughter Yaffa became the family’s media spokesperson for reporters who came to the hospital. Risa made shiva visits to the families of the victims who were killed and when they asked how Chaim was, she replied, “He is alive.”
From Hadassah, Chaim was transferred Beit Levenstein in Raanana, about an hour from Jerusalem, for rehabilitation. He stayed there for six months. She describes a hopeful stage when they were sure Chaim was squeezing their hands when they would hold his good hand – but ultimately there was no proof if this was a conscious act or just reflexes.
Chaim was then moved to Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem which enabled people to visit him constantly. One neighbor from Har Nof wanted to organize a Tehillim rally to have one million people say Tehillim on Chaim’s behalf but his rabbi told him he could only do it if Chaim’s recovery was not dependent on a miracle. The idea ended when Risa told him it would take a miracle.
As Chaim’s condition deteriorated he was transferred to Shaarei Zedek Hospital. On October 23, 2015, people commented that he was looking well when suddenly the blood pressure machine went off. Risa and the other family members said prayers. He passed away without regaining consciousness.
How does Risa have emunah — the belief that everything is from God — after what she describes as living day in and day out with the absolutely worst thing that could happen to the person you love the most in the world? After the attack a woman said Risa’s life is in limbo. Risa responded that her life was not in limbo and that no Jew is ever in limbo. “This is the place where I am meant to be, at this time, to serve Hashem, and that is true for all Jews at any time or place in their journey.”
Read Terror and Emunah in Har Nof and be moved and inspired.