September 1, 2005
Terror Victims Help Other Survivors
Yaffa Elharar, from Afula in northern Israel, has spent days outside a courtroom in the summer heat of Tampa, Fla., holding a photo of an attractive teenage girl and a sign proclaiming "The Blood of Our Children Calls for Justice."
Elharar is in the United States as a possible witness in the ongoing trial of Sami Al-Arian, accused of heading a Florida support group for Palestinian terrorists.
The photo is of her daughter, Maya, killed in 1994 at age 18, when a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a bus stop crowded with students.
Convicting accused terrorists is one part of Elharar's mission, which began with her daughter's death. The other, more central effort is helping the survivors of terror attacks and their families. To that end, Yaffa and her husband, Michel, set up the Organization of Victims of Terror in Israel in 1994, a few months after their family tragedy.
The couple recently stopped in Los Angeles to help launch a local branch of the nonprofit organization.
Another group that does similar work in the United States and Europe is One Family. That organization has distributed $13 million to some 2,500 families. It, too, is now setting up an office in Los Angeles.
Other groups focus on special needs, such as psychological aid for traumatized persons or working with parents who have lost children. The Maccabi World Union has launched Project Tikva to help rehabilitate terror victims through sports. Among the participants is Olympic swimming great Mark Spitz.
One of the main fundraisers, the Fund for Terror Victims, has distributed $18 million to nearly 3,000 families over the last four years. But this effort, which is part of the Jewish Agency for Israel, will shut down in December. Organizers cite a drop in terrorist bombings.
For the two groups set to open offices in Los Angeles, however, the need remains pressing.
Since the beginning of the second intifada on Sept. 9, 2000 to the present, a total of 1,063 Israeli civilians and soldiers have been killed and 7,376 injured in terrorist attacks, according to the official count by the Israel Defense Forces.
These figures, extrapolated to the population of the United States, would be the equivalent of the U.S. suffering close to 400,000 casualties from terrorist attacks.
One goal of the victim-aid groups has been to spread awareness of the suffering of families through national memorial services and centers.
"We found that the acts of the perpetrators were on the front page, and the names of the victims on the back page," Yaffa Elharar said.
Her husband, who retired to devote himself full time to the organization, oversees free legal consultations, vocational training and cultural and social activities. The nonprofit also assists orphans in celebrating bar mitzvahs and widows with the weddings of their children.
The Elharars' daughter died while trying to shield a 13-year-old girl. She was among eight killed and 52 wounded in the attack.
In Israel, the National Insurance Institute and the Jewish Agency have been providing basic living and rehabilitation allotments for wounded civilians and for stricken families.
What was lacking, said Yaffa Elharar, was adequate person-to-person emotional and psychological support for both the injured and their families.
The East Coast director of One Family knows firsthand about her clients'
Sarri Singer, the daughter of New Jersey state Sen. Robert Singer, was working in Jerusalem two years ago and riding on a No. 14 bus, when a terrorist, disguised as a pious Jew, came aboard. He blew himself up, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100.
It wasn't Sarri's first encounter with terror. On Sept. 11, she was working in New York at the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, when the two hijacked planes plowed into the World Trade Center, only two blocks from her office.
While recuperating from shrapnel wounds received during the bus bombing, she started volunteering at the One Family office in Israel, and last year assumed her present American post. One Family was founded and is headed by Marc Belzberg of the philanthropic Belzberg family of Vancouver and Los Angeles. Among the organization's main projects for victim families are camps for kids, retreats for parents, Big Brother and Big Sister programs, an orphan fund and a Simcha Fund for weddings.
"We are dealing, among other concerns, with 826 kids who lost a mother or father to terror, and 28 youths who have lost both parents," Belzberg said.
Belzberg is troubled by the decision of the decision of the Jewish Agency to discontinue its fund for victims. The result is likely to mean heavier responsibilities for private groups like his, he said.
•Organization of Victims of Terror in Israel (www.terror.co.il). Local contact is Raphael Ortasse (RAYSPACE@aol.com).\n
•One Family, contact Bari Holtzman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Other support organizations listed by the Israeli government and other sources, include:\n
•Almagor Terror Victims Association (www.terrorvictims.com)\n
•Project Tikvah (contact Simone@maccabiah17.com)