A Decade Later, Those Left Behind Reflect on Deadly Jerusalem Suicide Bombings

This year, Shushan Purim - the observance of Purim in Jerusalem - coincides with the 10th anniversary of the terrorist bombing at Moment Cafe in Jerusalem.

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Members of Israel's Anglo community are among those for whom next week's Purim festival is simply no longer the same.

For them, it is a day, a week, and a new month that coincides with some of the most brutal terrorist attacks perpetrated in Israel in recent memory.

Yishai Sompolinsky, an off-duty volunteer medic who was in the neighborhood that day, now a first responder for the Magen David Adom ambulance service.Credit: Emil Salman

"It's nothing to get excited about anymore," says Marlin Butchins of Durban, South Africa, whose mother and sister were among the 12 civilians and one Israeli soldier murdered on Purim eve in 1996, when a suicide bomber detonated a 20-kilogram nail bomb outside Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.

Butchins' sister had been shopping for a wedding dress for her daughter. "All the joy of Purim is gone," she says.

"It's something we've come to terms with," says Butchins' husband, Larry. "What is most difficult is the fact that my wife's sister would now be a grandmother to seven grandchildren, and my mother-in-law would have 10 great-grandchildren."

This year, Shushan Purim - the observance of Purim in Jerusalem - coincides with the 10th anniversary of the terrorist bombing at Moment Cafe in Jerusalem. Yishai Sompolinsky, the son of a New York City native, was only 17 when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive inside the cafe, killing 11 Israelis and wounding 54. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Sompolinsky, an off-duty volunteer medic who was in the neighborhood at the time, was forced to improvise, using his religious fringes as a tourniquet to stabilize a 20-year-old woman whose femoral artery in her thigh had been severed. Sompolinsky was later credited with saving her life and her leg.

"You have to develop nerves of steel. Otherwise, there's no other way," says Sompolinsky, 27, now a fourth-year medical student at Hadassah University Hospital and a first responder for Magen David Adom - Israel's national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service.

Now married with two children, Sompolinsky returned recently with friends to the site of the attack - today a restaurant named Restobar. Indeed, survivors of the attack continue to visit the restaurant "on a daily basis," according to Shahar and Avigail Levy, the owners of Restobar since 2006.

"The memories become a part of you," says Sompolinsky, who together with his colleagues at Magen David Adom were offered counseling after the attack. "That we handled it, together, as a group, made it easier for me," he recalls.

Though Sompolinsky says he has learned to move on, there still remain triggers that immediately bring him back, he says.

"The only flashbacks I get are when I drive past the sites of the attacks," he said. "For me, smell is a very strong trigger for memory. The fresh smell of burnt rubber or the smell of burnt glass can bring up these memories."

According to the website of Israel's Foreign Ministry, there were a total of 32 Palestinian terrorist attacks during the month of March in 2002, culminating with the March 27 suicide bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya on Passover eve. Two days later, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield, a large-scale military campaign aimed at thwarting the wave of attacks.

Among the 134 people who were murdered that month in suicide bombings, drive-by shootings or sniper attacks were Israelis, tourists, Israel Defense Forces soldiers and police, and international observers. More than 570 were injured or maimed, and over the course of six days that month - which was at the height of the second intifada - there were multiple incidents. Since that time, there have been repeated attempted attacks timed to coincide with Purim; most were thwarted, but others resulted in isolated incidents.

Some of the victims of these attacks say they are having trouble moving on.

"The process of mourning is different for every individual and even for each culture," says Sigal Haimov, who directs the 13-year-old "Hotline" for Natal, the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War. It claims to offer the only such line in Israel "offering immediate and ongoing assistance to citizens in distress who have experienced trauma and/or loss as a result of terror attacks or war," according to a statement.

"Culture influences the way in which people deal with their loss, particularly in a new country," according to Haimov, who says members of the Anglo-Saxon community are among those who use Natal's Hotline.

Though Haimov notes the diversity of the Anglo community, she says she has observed a pattern of hesitancy among some Anglos, who do not give full expression to their pain.

"Within some segments of the Anglo community - as with other ethnic groups - there is a culturally imposed restraint, to a certain extent," she says, noting a need to "keep a stiff upper lip and keep the pain inside." In treating survivors of terror attacks, Dr. Rony Berger of Ben-Gurion University's emergency department says he attempts to help survivors learn to deal with their memories and "control" them.

"We try to go into the memory and very slowly and gradually bring it out and reverse the process of desensitization, making them less sensitive," says Berger, who also serves as director of the disaster relief and rehabilitation unit at Brit Olam, an Israeli international relief organization. "Once they do that, they can try to go on with life," he says.



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