Israeli soldier Monique Goldwasser was not expected to live after a Palestinian bus driver deliberately struck her and other soldiers while they waited at a bus stop on Feb. 14, 2001.
"I thought, 'If Monique lives, I'll become the voice and face of all victims of terror in Israel,'" her mother, Sharon Evans, vowed.
Evans founded Adopt-a-Family, a project of the Coalition Against Terror, a nonprofit organization that matches Jewish organizations worldwide. As terrorism in Israel reaches an all-time high, Los Angeles communities have found that adopting victims of terror and their families has allowed them to support Israelis both financially and emotionally.
Stephen S. Wise's Young Congregation raised thousands of dollars for Goldwasser's recovery and has kept in touch with her. After 17 operations, the former dancer, whose left leg is paralyzed, came to Los Angeles with Evans to tell her story and walk in the 5K Walk (3.3-mile) portion of the Los Angeles Marathon on March 2 with her benefactors.
Members of the Young Congregation and StandWithUs, a pro-Israel advocacy group, joined her in the walk.
While her limp is noticeable, Goldwasser's radiant smile, sparkling eyes and positive outlook downplay her handicap. "I never thought I'd be able to do something like this walk," she said.
Around the city, communities treat their adoptees like one of their own.
Rifka Ben Daniel, director of Judaic studies at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School West in Agoura, contacted the Adopt-a-Family program last year; the school raised nearly $20,000 last April through a jog-a-thon and was able to adopt three Israeli families. Throughout the academic year, students send gifts and cards to the families and call them on their birthdays. Ben Daniel is in contact with all three families, offering emotional support whenever it is needed.
"It empowers the children to think that they can help somebody in Israel," said Ben Daniel, who met all three families when she visited Jerusalem last December.
Across town, students at Maimonides Academy in West Los Angeles adopted the Hadad family, who lost their wife and mother in a bus bombing in Haifa. The students raised $5,000 so that the father could buy a car to take his two young children to school.
"We were hoping [the students] would feel connected to some of the victims in Israel and know they are directly helping these children," said Marlene Kahan, one of the school's PTA presidents. To reinforce the emotional connection, the school raised money to fly the father and the two children to Los Angeles for Passover this year. While they are here, they will spend time with different Maimonides families.
The Young Israel of Century City was the first shul in the United States to participate in Adopt-a-Family. Rabbi Elazar Muskin and his congregation raised more than $40,000 for the Har-Sinai family in Susiya. Muskin has led three missions to Israel to visit the Har-Sinais, whose husband and father was murdered by terrorists.
"When you meet with [the family] in person and they know who [you] are, it makes an emotional connection," he said.
Rick Fishbein, the unofficial Los Angeles coordinator of Adopt-a-Family, helps the 20-30 Israeli families adopted by Los Angeles residents communicate with their benefactors.
Through the Wexner Heritage Foundation, a nationwide Jewish leadership group, Fishbein and his Los Angeles Wexner counterparts have adopted a family whose teenage daughter was injured in the Ben Yehuda Promenade bombing. In addition to supporting the family, Fishbein spends two to three hours each week talking to various Israeli adoptive families by telephone.
"It's very therapeutic for the victims to talk to someone who is not a part of the drama," he said.
For more information on Adopt-a-Family, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Rifka Ben Daniel at (818) 707-2365.