Vered Kashani, 29, was on the phone arranging hotel rooms for 22 Israeli terror victims scheduled to visit Los Angeles on Aug. 15, when she glanced at her computer and saw there had been an attack in the Emmanuel settlement in Israel.
"My first thought was, 'Oh! My cousin lives in Emmanuel,'" she said. "Then I got a call waiting, and it was my brother, who told me that my cousin was traveling on that bus with her three kids and her mother -- my aunt. It was a bulletproof bus, but when it went over a bomb, the windows blew out and the terrorists started shooting. My aunt died right away, then my cousin's 2-year-old got shot in the shoulder, my cousin got shot in her eye and cheek and her 11-month-old baby was shot dead.
"My cousin immediately called her husband. She said, 'They are shooting at us.' He didn't have a car, but he started running on the freeway, and when he got to the scene, he saw soldiers. He thought they were IDF soldiers [they were actually the terrorists who had stolen IDF uniforms]. So he approached them, and they shot him in front of her eyes. So she lost her mother, her baby and her husband in one day," Kashani told The Journal.
The murder of her relatives only strengthened Kashani's resolve to bring a group of terror victims to Los Angeles, so that the Jewish community here could see firsthand what the people in Israel are experiencing. The visit by the 22 victims, which Kashani is organizing under the auspices of the Southern California Jewish Center and in conjunction with the Israeli consulate, was born out of her frustration with what she calls anti-Israel campus propaganda, and what she sees as CNN's skewed coverage of the Middle East conflict.
"I am at UCLA getting my bachelor's degree in psychology and education, and every day when I go to campus, I see posters that equate Auschwitz with Palestine," she said. "I watch CNN, and I see them do a whole story on a [Palestinian] guy whose grapevine was destroyed, but they don't show Israelis being destroyed. They don't show the horror of what is going on in Israel, and someone has to do it. I think Israel needs this kind of Hasbara -- and a picture is worth 1,000 words. When people see a 10-year-old girl who was on her school bus when she and two siblings were bombed, and all three had their legs amputated, that does more than a speech given by anyone who is trying to explain his political agenda."
The 22 victims who are coming include Edna Shekalim, who had acid thrown at her face while she was working in a shoe store; Cohen Ofir, the father of the three aforementioned amputees, and Tamar and Joseph Zabicky, whose daughter, Hagit, was brutally murdered one day while hiking in Wadi Kelt.
"It is very difficult," Tamar Zabicky said over the phone from Jerusalem, "because every time we hear about another murder and another murder, we feel it so much, it hurts, again and again." Zabicky said that she would like to tell the people of Los Angeles that everyone who has "enough force" should come to Israel. "It is very important. Even with what happened at the university. I know that parents will not accept sending their children to learn here in Israel, but I think it is very important that the Diaspora supports us."
Kashani is hoping that the visit will generate a lot of media coverage, and that the community will come out in droves to hear the victims speak. She is also planning on having the victims speak to members of the Latino and African American communities, as well as on college campuses, and she is organizing a bar mitzvah celebration for Jonathan Altered, one of the visitors whose father was murdered seven years ago.
"The trip has two purposes," she said. "We want to comfort the victims, and to share our love with them, and to show them we care, even though we are far away. But we also have another purpose -- to explain Israel's position in defending herself."