March 30, 2010
Chatsworth family torn apart by the deaths of two children now struggles to keep their house
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The Hens’ one remaining child is Udi, the middle child. Now 31, he moved out of the house a year and a half ago. His father said Udi was no longer able to bear the grief permeating the house and the burden of consoling a perpetually tearful mother and a bitter, angry father.
For the past eight years, the Hens have not only dealt with sorrow and loss, they have also struggled with feelings of resentment, abandonment and injustice. For many years they pursued lawsuits related to their children’s deaths: They charged that the lack of security at LAX on the day of the attack was negligent and criminal — it was the first Fourth of July after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and security should have been heightened.
Their lawyer at the time cited “unsafe and dangerous” security conditions at the airport and inadequate medical care in the wrongful death of Victoria, according to a January 2003 Jewish Journal article.
A federal judge dismissed multiple lawsuits for a total of $87.5 million filed against the city of Los Angeles by the Hens and the family members of the other victims — 46-year-old Yaakov Aminov also died that day at the hands of Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, a 41-year-old Egyptian national. Several others were injured. The judge ruled that the families were not due any compensation because California law grants immunity to public agencies for failure to provide adequate police protection.
“The case was run like the Mafia,” Avinoam said, his voice rising with still-hot anger. “I wasn’t given the chance to speak; information was swept under the rug; my lawyer was mysteriously disbarred and disappeared. This was not justice.”
Avinoam spent years and $400,000 pursuing the lawsuit, investigating every detail of the attack and its aftermath, going so far as tracking down Hadayet’s wife in Egypt to ascertain the motives behind the terrorist’s brutal attack.
In Nimrod’s case, they believe his death was caused by poor care at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Woodland Hills, and they also charged the hospital with negligence. The day of their son’s accident, they said, doctors assured them that his surgery would be routine and that he would be fine. “They told us that within six months he’ll be playing soccer again,” Rachel said, tearing up. “The next day he was dead.”
A spokeswoman from the hospital said Nimrod was declared brain dead, according to a November 2002 Los Angeles Times story. His death may have been caused by a fat embolism, a condition similar to a blood clot that sometimes occurs with serious injuries, officials said at the time. When the Hens sued Kaiser, they also lost.
For years, politicians — both local and Israeli — including L.A. mayors, congressmen and consuls general have promised the Hens legal and financial assistance that has not materialized into anything substantial.
“We’ve met every Israeli consul that has come through Los Angeles,” Avinoam said. “They all sit and listen politely, but the moment we walk out their door, they forget about us.”
The Hens say they feel abandoned and forgotten by the Jewish community, as well. Initially there was a flood of support and condolences, but that ended, and the family was left to deal with their sorrow and mounting financial distress on their own. In addition to their mortgage woes, Avinoam’s online auto parts business is struggling, Rachel has not been able to hold a job for years, and the couple can’t afford health care.
They speak very highly of The Jewish Federation and the financial, psychological and social aid it provided in the past, but even that resource has dried up in recent years. Friends have slowly disappeared, uncomfortable with the somber atmosphere of the house, the Hens said. Visitors are infrequent, and interactions with the outside world are minimal. Rachel said she rarely leaves the house these days.
“We want people to realize the injustices that we have suffered,” Avinoam said. He is insistent on getting their story out and is considering writing a book about their ordeal.
“I promised my daughter the day she died that I would seek justice for her, and I will. The battle we are fighting today is about the house, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on the war for justice.”
Rachel said she often turns to God for solace. “I ask God, ‘Haven’t we suffered enough?’ ” she said. “The only things we have left to hope for are to save this house and to see Udi happy. I pray every day for my one remaining child to be safe and happy.”
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