Anna Krakovich's kind eyes and bright smile don't express the horror she experienced that tragic day eight years ago. Her small facial scars, however, are a permanent reminder of when "my hopes for a better future and a new life were turned into a nightmare."
The 44-year-old bombing survivor visited Los Angeles in mid-April to assist The Jewish Federation in launching their Jews in Crisis campaign. As Krakovich has dedicated her life to helping others who have endured similar trauma, she often travels to different U.S. cities to share her story and hopeful perspective. In addition, she is a full-time volunteer for the Israel Crisis Management Center (ICMC), a Tel Aviv-based organization that saved her life in 1994.
Krakovich moved to Haifa from her native Ukraine in 1991 with her 9-year-old daughter to start a new life. After learning enough Hebrew to get by, the single mother began teaching English as a second language at a school in Afula.
On April 6, 1994, she was waiting at a bus stop on her way home from school. Suddenly, a passing car made a U-turn and the driver set off a deadly explosion next to her. Krakovich suffered second- and third-degree burns over 70 percent of her body and was not expected to survive.
Krakovich woke up in the hospital surrounded by ICMC volunteers who tended to her needs. Because her language skills were limited, it took her a while to understand what had happened and who her benefactors were.
Meanwhile, the volunteers kept her company, contacted her mother in the Ukraine and cared for her daughter. To everyone's surprise, she began to recover. But due to the severity of her injuries, Krakovich had to go through rehabilitation therapy and was unable to function as a mother for two years. Volunteers continued to visit her throughout her ordeal. Krakovich has been involved with ICMC ever since.
"I became a volunteer because so much of hearts' warmth was given to me on top of financial support and technical things that were done for me," Krakovich said. "I felt a need to give something back."
She believes that her experience makes her a special kind of volunteer and noted that victims trust her optimism when they discover that she went through the ordeal herself. "I never tell my own story [to a victim]," Krakovich explained, while recalling her efforts during a Tel Aviv disco bombing. "I just held hands with the children, and they would say, 'Don't leave, don't leave.'"
Most of the victims in the Netanya bombing May 2001 were new immigrants, which helped Israeli society understand the plight of immigrant victims.
Executive Director Ruth Bar-On founded ICMC in 1993. The organization is Israel's only nationwide volunteer network providing assistance for new immigrants suddenly faced with crisis, terror or tragedy.
The group offers support by visiting victims at home and in the hospital, helping with transportation, assisting with burial costs, providing shelter, paying for certain medical procedures and other emergencies and offering legal and psychological support. Long-term care includes peer counseling, special outings, seminars for grandparents raising orphaned children, youth retreats and summer programs for children in the aftermath of tragedy.
The group has 500 volunteers who have worked on more than 8,000 cases. However, the number does not include extended family members.
"It's not only the person who was hit directly or the family of the bereaved. It spreads in circles," Krakovich explained. "It's the family first, then the siblings of the person who was killed, then the siblings and their friends who knew the family, who are not functioning properly because they need some psychological support." Krakovich explained.
While she is Jewish, Krakovich said there are volunteers from other religions and from all walks of life and ages. As a volunteer, Krakovich primarily offers support to victims in hospitals and takes on small tasks for families, such as taking a teenage girl to the doctor or meeting with a child's teacher when parents or grandparents are unable to do so.
"I don't pretend to stand instead of their missing parent," Krakovich insisted. "I just give them a hand." Krakovich is unable to accompany emergency teams to the scene of a bombing, because the experience is too much for her. "Every time a homicide-bombing happens, it's as if it's happening to me again," she said.
Taking out a photo album, she showed pictures of victims and volunteers. There's Eliezer N., who is now blind after sustaining injuries in a bombing. Sasha S., a 6-year-old boy, poses with his mother, Olessia. The recent Russian immigrants lost Sasha's father in the Netanya terrorist attack. Sasha and Olessia were both injured. The list goes on.
Krakovich is quick to point out that recent world events have enabled society to sympathize with victims of terror. "Recently, I find myself able to bring the message of the organization in the context of what's happening in Israel now," she said. "I met people in L.A. who realize that everything they do from letters to e-mails and telephone calls to the government to rallies and demonstrations -- bringing in their voices -- it helps.
"I think the rally in Washington had a tremendous effect on the Israeli public, because we see that we're not alone," she said, adding that Sept. 11 has helped the United States to comprehend the situation.
"ICMC deals with families in crisis, but the point is bringing people back to life," she said, clasping her hands together, which, upon close inspection, revealed skin grafts. "I was led through the hardest period of my life.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it on my own. Life will never be the same, but you have to go on. To find something new in it is what ICMC is about," she said with a smile, the hope perceptible in her eyes.