Roee Rosen was nine years old when he wrote a story about what it was like to lose his mother in a 2005 suicide bombing in the coastal city of Netanya, in which five people were killed.
Elia Rosen was 38 when she died at Hasharon Mall, and Roee was five. In his story, he says he wishes he could “go back to that age in order to tell her not to go to the mall. That maybe she should go another day.”
“When mom was killed I was very young, but I remember all of a sudden how she used to call me by a pet name. She called me ‘efroach’ (chick),” he writes. “I would so like to tell mom that I really, really miss her and want her to come back. But I also know that that’s not really possible.”
The now 13-year-old wrote the piece while on a camp with OneFamily, an Israeli organization that works to rehabilitate victims of terror attacks and their families. The story is one of 152 — including one by his brother Gal, now 20 — that OneFamily has published in the Hebrew book “Longing for a Hug” (“Ga’aguah Le’chibuk” in Hebrew), which launched Thursday in Tel Aviv with the gala opening of an exhibition of the same name.
Rosen has grown up so much since he wrote the piece, he says, that he doesn’t understand how he wrote it. And he doesn’t have a clear memory of how people reacted when he first read the story aloud one evening at camp. “Some people cried, I think,” he says. He didn’t really pay attention, though, because “I was crying myself.”
Bereaved children wrote their stories as part of an ongoing project at the camps that OneFamily runs throughout the year. Lina Sagi, the project’s coordinator, explains that it equipped the children with “tools that help them cope with bereavement and many situations that arise in everyday life.” For Rosen, writing about his experience felt like something he did for himself, a way of telling his mother directly how he felt about her death.
The exhibition explores healing and trauma, with 35 works by artists commissioned to make pieces based on stories in the book. Artists such as David D’Or, Nancy Brandes, JoJo and Elan Siman Tov became involved, and the works will be on display at the Hatachana compound in south Tel Aviv from Friday until September 29.
Prominent public figures including Education Minister Shay Piron, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz attended the event.
The book “Longing for a Hug” was five years in the making, explains founder and chairman Marc Belzberg. OneFamily had planned to publish it years earlier, but “there kept being more kids” who wanted to include their stories.
Belzberg, a Canadian immigrant to Israel, stock market trader and investor in high-tech, founded the organization along with his wife Chantal and daughter Michal. Today his wife is full-time volunteer CEO, and all seven of the Belzberg children are involved in some capacity, he says.
Thursday was to be the first time that the book’s contributors have seen it in the flesh. Rosen, for one, is excited to finally see the book, which he says OneFamily has been talking about publishing for years — and he wishes he could give everyone a copy. “They need to know, they need to feel what people feel, and not forget. It’s not just one person who is affected when someone dies [in a terror attack],” he says.
The specially commissioned works of art, which the artists donated to OneFamily, will be auctioned to raise funds in about six months time, says Belzberg. The books, meanwhile, will be available from the organization. But aside from raising funds, OneFamily also hopes to raise awareness of those left behind by terror attacks, who, Belzberg says, are often forgotten by the Israeli public.
Roee's father Gadi Rosen, concurs. "Now thank God there isn't an attack here every Thursday," but as time passes after an attack, he says, "there is a mental escape from the issue."
He sees this not only in Israel, but also abroad. "It's not in the headlines. Those who are in south Israel — they live it every day. But people abroad forget it." Meanwhile, "the family continues to deal with it. It's something that stays with them all the time,” he says.
For Belzberg, remembering the victims and their families is also important at a time of risk-taking for the peace process, and the recent release of Palestinian prisoners as part of negotiations.
“We are entering a critical time, I don’t want to get political, but we have to be aware of the risks. People don’t feel deep down what it means to take a risk." This has to be done, but with security as a priority, he says.
Those interested in purchasing the book should be in direct contact with OneFamily on 02-539-9000 or firstname.lastname@example.org