March 30, 2010
Chatsworth family torn apart by the deaths of two children now struggles to keep their house
Avinoam Hen stood in his dark living room, looking through a sliding glass door.
“This whole backyard was once filled with young people, jumping off the roof into the pool, barbecuing steaks every weekend. I used to build a huge sukkah every year and invite half the neighborhood over for the holiday. We had everything we could want.”
His broad shoulders slumped. “Now, it’s all gone.”
Avinoam, 56, and his wife, Rachel, 62, came to the United States from Israel 20 years ago with three young children and the typical immigrant dream of a financially comfortable, sunny life in Southern California.
Avinoam ran a successful automotive parts business, the family bought a four-bedroom house with a pool in Chatsworth, and the children thrived in their new surroundings after getting through the initial struggle of adjusting to life in America. When the Northridge earthquake hit in 1994, the family considered moving back to Israel, but the children were adamant about staying in California. “We were that happy here,” Avinoam said.
Then, on July 4, 2002, the Hens’ world came crashing down. Their 25-year-old daughter, Victoria, was shot and killed in a terrorist attack while on duty as an El Al ticket agent at Los Angeles International Airport. Four months later, tragedy hit again when their 18-year-old son, Nimrod, died of complications resulting from a car accident a mile from their home. Less than a year after that, Avinoam was brutally attacked by a dog, broke both his hands and had to be on disability for nearly a year.
Avinoam’s business declined and they refinanced their home several times to stay afloat, with the result that the Hens soon found themselves faced with an adjustable- rate mortgage that raised their payments by more than 50 percent. Hoping that new housing legislation passed by the Obama administration would bail them out, they stopped making mortgage payments in October 2008 to qualify for a loan-modification program. Their application was denied, and they are now fighting to save their Chatsworth home from foreclosure.
In February, the couple received a temporary reprieve from Wells Fargo, which is acting as the servicing agent for an undisclosed private lender — who has so far denied the Hens’ application for a loan modification.
The reprieve was arranged by Raffi Tal of i Short Sale Inc., who along with Eli Tene, CEO of i Short Sale, has continued to work on the Hens’ behalf to try to get their loan modification approved so the family will have some time to stabilize their finances. Tene also contacted Congressman Howard Berman to solicit his help, and Berman, according to Tal, both wrote a letter and called the CEO of Wells Fargo Bank on the Hens’ behalf.
Berman also contacted a director in the U.S. Treasury Department for assistance, Tal said. And less than two hours after Berman contacted Wells Fargo, Tal received a phone call from the bank’s executive office saying that they were working on finding a solution. No final agreement has been reached yet, but the bank has expressed a commitment to working out a feasible arrangement for the Hens, according to Tal.
To visit the Hens’ home is to see a shrine to their lost life — which makes it unimaginable that they should have to leave.
“I can’t imagine losing this house,” Rachel Hen said, running her fingers over photographs of her deceased children, which hang in her dining room. “It’s all I have left of them.”
Every corner of the Hens’ modest four-bedroom house is a memorial to Victoria and Nimrod: The walls are covered with their photographs, shelves are cluttered with mementos, their rooms remain exactly as they were the day each died.
“This is the bathing suit she wore on Wednesday, right before she went to work,” Rachel said, picking up a blue-and-white striped bikini, now yellowed, on Victoria’s dresser. A 3-foot-long El Al model airplane, signed by Victoria’s co-workers, dominates the small bedroom.
The sheets on Nimrod’s bed are the same sheets he slept on the day before his car accident; parts of the model cars he loved to assemble are scattered on his desk. Two hookah pipes sit on a coffee table in his bedroom, where he liked to entertain friends. A high-school graduation photo shows Nimrod in his cap and gown, arm around Victoria, his beautiful, dark-haired sister. Five months after the photograph was taken, the siblings were together again, buried next to one another at Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills.