Jewish Journal

Can’t Stop ‘Moment’

by Jessica Steinberg

Posted on Jun. 20, 2002 at 8:00 pm

The entire cafe has been redone, from the tiled floor and free-standing square bar, to the newly installed bulletproof windows and replanted flower beds, but the effects of the March 9 bombing at the Moment cafe remain deeply etched in Maimon Amsalem's body and mind.

The left side of his 29-year-old body is riddled with shrapnel, from a bomb that was packed with screws and nails, which traveled through his buttocks and punctured his lung, broke his left hand and entered his ear. And his mind is full of the sounds of ambulance sirens, the scent of burning flesh and the face of his friend Avi Rachamim, whom he last saw laying on the floor beside him, near death.

"I've learned that you have to value life much more than we all do," said Amsalem, who had only been to Moment a handful of times before that fateful night. "You can't plan too much, because you really don't know what tomorrow will bring."

But the one thing he did plan was not to be at Moment when it reopened last week. Owner Yoram Cohen wasn't sure how he felt, either. He is still thinking about whether it was right or wrong to rebuild the café, after it became a symbol for all the politically generated violence that is wreaking havoc in this city.

"I don't want it to become a place of memoriam, where people put candles and flowers," said Cohen, looking around the spanking new cafe, which is quiet on a late weekday afternoon. "It's a place of leisure, not a battleground."

Nevertheless, he wonders how customers will be able to sit at the bar each morning, drinking coffee, eating croissants and reading their newspaper, knowing that someone died in that exact spot.

Amsalem was standing a few feet away from Moment's crowded bar, near the entrance to the café, when the bomber detonated himself. When he came to several minutes later, he opened his eyes and watched the white plaster ceiling crumble to the floor and saw the dust and powder settle on his body. The metal pieces of shrapnel were burning in his buttocks, and he called out for help, remaining conscious throughout the 15-minute ambulance ride, while the medical personnel tried to staunch the steady flow of blood.

In the three months since the suicide bombing attack that killed 11 and injured 50, Amsalem spent two weeks in the hospital, coming home to the apartment he shares with his mother and an intensive routine of painful physical therapy.

He recently started talking to a psychologist twice a week, for two-hour sessions, in order to grapple with some of the looming questions in his life. He wonders how he will earn a living, since he worked in construction, and now doesn't have the strength in his legs or left hand to saw, nail and plaster. He speculates how he will function in the real world, when he can't stand the sound of the sirens that wail constantly throughout Jerusalem, a city that is on high alert for potential bombings.

At the same time, Amsalem marvels at the quirks of fate brought upon him by his condition. He and his girlfriend of a year and a half had broken up a week before the bombing. Now they're back together after realizing that they broke up for "minuscule problems," he said. And Amsalem is thinking about going back to school to earn a degree in computer programming, something he always dreamed about doing.

On the phone, Amsalem speaks easily and clearly, but without great emotion. He says it's good for him to talk about the bombing, but wonders if he will ever regain his personal confidence.

"It all comes back to me," Amsalem said. "I'm scared of everything."

He is, however, angry and upset about the reopening of Moment, bothered by the idea that people will be sitting and enjoying themselves in the same place where 11 people died a violent death.

"I don't have any issue with this man," he said, referring to Cohen. "I just don't understand how anyone can go back there and be happy."

On bulletin boards and windows in the stores and cafes along Aza Road, the street where Moment is located, there are green-and-white stickers that read, "This Moment Can't Be Stopped," referring to the momentum behind the rapid rebuilding and reopening of the popular café.

Yet even now, as customers walk in, seemingly unperturbed after having their bags checked by one of the three security guards, Cohen isn't sure this was the right decision.

When he reopened for business, there was a glass plaque on the wall, with the names of the people who died that Saturday night. He didn't expect to have a slew of customers, maybe just some people who will come out of a skewed sense of solidarity.

And indeed, the place was full, but not as crowded as it has been in the past. Cohen's not sure if the crowds will ever return, or if he would even want them to return.

As for Amsalem, he knows he won't go back. Not to any coffeehouse. Not for now.

"I can't sit anywhere, not without great suspicion," he said. "I've lost all my personal confidence. I'm scared."

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