'Our lives were torn apart by terror and now we're trying to manage the pain'

Cheryl Mandel lost her soldier son in a gun battle with terrorists; Iriya Mordechai's husband was murdered by a suicide bomber; and Tal Hartuv nearly died in a gruesome attack that saw her friend killed


MATA, ISRAEL - DECEMBER 19: (ISRAEL OUT) Israeli Zaka volunteers carry the body of US citizen Christine Logan, on December 19, 2010 in Mata, Israel. Logan was stabbed to death near the village of Mata, some 25 kms southwest of Jerusalem, when she was hiking with a friend, Kaye Susan Wilson, at an archaeological site. According to reports Wilson, 46, a UK immigrant now living in Jerusalem, was also stabbed and pretended to be dead before fleeing the scene. (Photo by Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Getty Images)

At first glance, these three retired women have little in common: one was a dance teacher, another was a judge and another a tour guide.

But there is a tragic thread that connects them. Each has been the victim of terrorism, having made aliyah to Israel.

Cheryl Mandel lost her soldier son when he was fatally shot during a gun battle with terrorists; Iriya Mordechai was left a widow after her husband was murdered by a suicide bomber; and Tal Hartuv nearly died in a gruesome attack that saw her friend killed.

Toronto-born Mandel is the same age as the state of Israel and, for her, last week’s 75th anniversary was a time for reflection rather than celebration.

She and her husband, David, moved their family to Israel in 1987 but in March 2003 their 24-year-old son, Daniel, the middle sibling of their five children, was killed in a shoot-out between his army unit and a group of Palestinian terrorists.

The events of 20 years ago remain as sharp and painful for Mandel as if they had taken place today.

“Daniel excelled in the army,” she told the JC. “He was known to be a very creative and unusual officer. He would take his soldiers all over the country because he felt it was important that they should understand what they were fighting for. He was very beloved.”

How does anyone cope with the loss of a child, especially when, as was the case for this family, there are younger siblings due to go into the army?

For Mandel, support came in the form of OneFamily, a non-profit organisation dedicated to taking care of victims of terror in Israel. The organisation supports civilians and soldiers of all ages, helping those who have been wounded and bereaved family members.

In the Jewish tradition of celebrating life, 18 young Israelis have been named after Daniel, that number being the numeric equivalent of the Hebrew word for “life”, chai.

Two years before Mandel was robbed of her son, Mordechai had her husband taken from her.

During Succot, in October 2001, a 17-year-old Palestinian, Ahmad Abdel Muneim Draghma, stopped on the road at the entrance to Kibbutz Shluchot, in the Beit Shean valley. One of the kibbutz members, Yair Mordechai, 43, got out of his car to ask what the teenager wanted.

Draghma’s reply is not recorded: he pulled a cord on his backpack, killing both himself and Yair.

The kibbutznik’s devastated American-born widow is still trying to come to terms with her husband’s murder. The couple, each of whom had children from previous marriages, had been together since March 1994.

Mordechai, a lawyer and judge, has focused up on bringing up her and Yair’s children, and the daughter the couple had together. She was barely two years old when her father was killed.

“I don’t want any of the children to lose the ability to give of themselves or to let others help them,” Mordechai said.

Only last week, 80-year-old grandmother Inga Avramyan was crushed by her ceiling when a rocket slammed into home in Rehovot.

Each time Mordechai hears of another Israeli terror attack, “it’s like having a new bruise on already scarred skin,” the widow said.

She has made a point of visiting the families of other terrorist victims to offer her condolences.

Poignantly, it has been Yair himself who has helped her to cope with the trauma of his death: “He built me up and knew how to express his appreciation and love. That became my toolbox”.

Unlike Mandel and Mordechai, Hartuv lives in the knowledge that those responsible for her ordeal are still alive. The two men who in December 2010 attacked Hartuv and killed her friend, Kristine Luken, are in Israeli jails.

The British-born tour guide met Kristine, a US Christian, four months prior to the attack when Hartuv was leading an interfaith group of visitors around Holocaust sites in Poland.

“We got friendly and I asked her to come and spend a long weekend with me whenever she got time off work. She arrived on Friday night and was murdered on Saturday afternoon.”

The two women were on a hiking tour in the Mata Forest close to Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, when they were viciously attacked by Ayad Fatafta and Kifah Ghanimat.

Both women were tied up, and Kristine was stabbed to death. Hartuv — then known as Kay Wilson — was able, despite horrific injuries, to stab her attacker with a tiny penknife, leading to forensic identification from his DNA.

The men ultimately confessed to the attack and the earlier murder of another Israeli woman, Neta Sorek.

“Over the last few years I’ve been talking with various people, including rabbis, about the idea of forgiveness [but] I realised I don’t want to forgive,” said Hartuv.

“I can’t forgive the murder of Kristine. In Judaism, the wronged and the wrongdoer are the only parties who can negotiate forgiveness. When someone has been murdered, they’re not there to be asked.”

Hartuv refuses to blame other Palestinians and Arabs; instead, she has forged friendships.

Today she works at Yad Vashem, which she said had afforded her a “greater sense of [Jewish] peoplehood”.

“When we suffer a terror attack, we can feel terribly alone… Doing this has helped me put my own suffering into perspective,” she said.

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