August 10, 2000
One Year Later
How a single act of hate altered the lives of four people.
After Buford O. Furrow Jr. shot Eleanor Kadish's then 5-year-old son, Benjamin, she took a six-month leave from work to care for her child, who still has pain and walks with a limp. Kadish and her husband, Chuck, decided to send Ben to a non-Jewish camp this summer, in part because it is a less likely target for extremists. The first day of camp was difficult for Ben and his family. The boy cried and wondered, "What happens if someone comes here and tries to shoot me again?"Kadish, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, assured her son that she would do her best to keep him safe and believes the public underestimates the power of hate groups. That is why Eleanor, with Rep. Brad Sherman, is a key organizer of an Aug. 13 rally that will commemorate the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) shooting and raise awareness about hate crime (see box, page 12). Her life will never be the same, however. Kadish continues to wonder, often, whether her children are safe. "I relive [the shooting] every single day," she reveals. "I can't put sunscreen on my child without seeing the scars on his body.... But I feel blessed that I have my son."
A year ago, Jewish paramedic Todd Carb knelt beside Ben Kadish in an NVJCC hallway, struggling to work an IV into the boy's deflating veins. "I felt when I left the hospital that the family was going to be interring their child in a few days," recalls the 41-year-old Carb, who was honored by community groups and his Burbank synagogue for his work that day. "I had never see anyone come out of that level of shock."But Ben did live, thanks in part to Carb's actions. The paramedic went on to forge a relationship with the boy and his family, who invited him to dinner and a party commemorating Carb's 20th anniversary with the fire department. Sometimes, while visiting the Kadish family, the paramedic silently gazes at Ben as he is playing, giggling and acting like any other 6-year-old. "It's so rewarding to see," says Carb, who has struggled with the psychological burnout faced by all paramedics. Today, he keeps a photograph of Ben in his locker.
"Whenever I am having a frustrating day," he says, "I think of things like Ben."
The day Donna Finkelstein's daughter, Mindy, a JCC camp counselor, was discharged from the hospital, the media descended upon the family. But the Finkelsteins refused all interviews. "We really hid Mindy," Donna says, out of fear of neo-Nazi violence and later because then-16-year-old Mindy "needed to get back to being a teenager."
Donna then found her calling with the Million Mom March on Washington, a grass-roots effort for stronger weapons laws. "I was just so ready to do something, because I realized this shooting could not go away or be ignored," says the high school counselor, who immersed herself in organizing the May 2000 event and became close friends with another organizer, Loren Lieb, the mother of JCC victim Joshua Stepakoff.Mindy didn't return to work at the JCC, which she has attended since preschool, because the trauma was "too close," her mother says. Due to the trauma, distance from home has played a factor in the college Mindy will attend this fall.
A high point for the family, however, came when the teenager spoke before 750,000 participants at the Million Mom March in May. "At the end she wished me Happy Mother's Day, and I cried," says Donna, who is a chair of the new Valley chapter of the Million Mom March.
Joshua Stepakoff, then 6, returned to the NVJCC the Monday after he was shot in his pelvis and left leg by Furrow. His parents, Alan Stepakoff and Loren Lieb, didn't want expose Joshua to their fears about his returning to the JCC and wanted to show support for the camp counselors. Joshua is back at the NVJCC camp this summer and doesn't yet know he was the victim of a hate crime.
The shooting has turned Joshua's parents into activists. "We had never been politically involved, so the shooting was, in Furrow's words, a 'wake-up call,'" says Stepakoff, whose epidemiologist wife has immersed herself in gun-related issues as an organizer of the Million Mom March. Stepakoff, meanwhile, traveled to Washington to testify on behalf of a federal hate crimes bill and became active in the Anti-Defamation League and the Valley Hate Crimes Alliance. "I used to believe that hate crime wasn't a problem here," says Stepakoff, a deputy program manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "I don't believe that anymore."