In Judaism, the number 18, Chai, symbolizes life. It is a positive and affirming symbol, which is why you often see it in Jewish artwork and jewelry. For me, however, this year, it signifies the number of years since the day that my life changed forever.
I will never forget that day. It is that day that drives me to do the work I am doing today. Eighteen years ago, on June 11, 2003, an 18-year-old Palestinian terrorist, who had been radicalized and indoctrinated by the terrorist organization Hamas, boarded the bus that I was riding in Jerusalem and blew himself up.
His goal was to murder as many Jews as possible because they were Jews, and sadly, he succeeded in murdering 17 innocent people. It is impossible for me to understand a level of hatred so deep that he was willing to destroy his own life to murder and maim others.
We would think that no one could possibly justify or excuse that kind of visceral evil and hate, right? What if I told you that there is a prevailing belief that the evil terrorist is the victim, and the innocent lives he destroyed are the perpetrators?
That seems impossible, doesn’t it? And yet it is the grim reality.
Somehow, in our upside-down world, the terrorists were glorified by the supposedly enlightened West. After 18 years, we would think that things have changed. Tragically that is not the case.
I will never forget that moment 18 years ago. I will never forget the sounds of crushing metal and feeling the shockwave as the explosion tore through the bus.
I will never forget immediately shutting my eyes, an instinct that saved my sight. And I will never forget the moment of eerie silence that followed the blast—a silence so frightening, the silence of those who were dead in every seat around me.
I will never forget that I have marked that solemn anniversary 17 times in the past. It has always been a time for reflection, for recollections of those who were lost and a rededication of my life with the new lease I was inexplicably granted.
For the first time, this year, I felt something different. I felt anger.
How is it possible that my experience with terror wasn’t fleeting, and that it continues to this day with the same forces of evil conspiring to murder as many Jews as possible? Hamas doesn’t hide the ball. It makes its desire to murder as many Jews as possible clear.
In Israel’s latest defensive war, Hamas launched rockets with the intent and hope of inflicting the most severe civilian casualties. Its hatred is so deep that even as many as 25 percent of its rockets fell short, murdering its own people, yet it did not stop its barrage. Like the suicide bomber who struck my bus, Hamas is still willing to pay any price to murder as many Jews as possible.
In the past, I held out hope that America was different. America is a country that understands right from wrong and stands with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. Tragically, that is no longer the case, as this time, members of the U.S. Congress jumped to the defense of the unapologetic terrorists who have been murdering people for decades.
We must not allow the United States to lose its moral compass. If history has taught us anything, it is that while hate may start directed at the Jews, it rarely ends with the Jews. The famous adage that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” assumed that the danger came from apathy, not a lack of moral clarity. It never anticipated the current moral hypocrisy that celebrates evil and vilifies the innocent.
As such, we are even more obligated to ensure that we are not guilty of doing nothing. This is a time for action.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Surviving means that you gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through all this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
Looking fear and death in the face forever changed me. While I know I can personally deal with whatever comes along, I cannot remain silent as long as others are still forced to look that exact same fear in the face.
It is time for this to end. We must all stand up and raise our voices against evil. I believe my personal mission after surviving is to continue to find anything positive I can from this awful experience and to use my strength to advocate for victims, give them the strength to keep advocating for our own personal healing and, most importantly, for a world where peace is the norm and terror is no more.
But I can’t do this alone. This is the time that we must all speak up. We cannot allow evil to triumph, and we cannot allow this betrayal to take hold in the United States. We must all raise our voices for all that is right and just. Please join me.