A OneFamily widows' retreat in 2019. Credit: onefamilytogether.org.
A OneFamily widows' retreat in 2019. Credit: onefamilytogether.org.
featureIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Women who lost loved ones to terror gather in Jerusalem

The OneFamily event saw the bereaved come from across Israel.

As the July heat beat down on a tent city erected by opponents of judicial reform in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park, not far from the Knesset and Israel’s Supreme Court, hundreds of women were gathering at the nearby Ramada Hotel to experience a different kind of warmth. 

The Women’s Empowerment Event, conducted in Hebrew on Tuesday, is not one you want to be invited to attend. Each of the women lost a son or a daughter, a father or a mother, or another close family member, in a terrorist attack.

The women came from across Israel, from Metula and Beit She’an in the North, and from Arad, Beersheva and Sderot in the South. Not everyone was Jewish.

The OneFamily Together Organization, headed by Chantal Belzberg and based in Jerusalem, has been hosting events for victims of terrorism for more than two decades. It was standing room only at this year’s Women’s Empowerment event, held as in the past ahead of Tisha B’Av. More than 450 women listened to an impressive lineup of speakers.

I arrived during the morning buffet brunch, crowded with hundreds of women. I did not see anyone I knew personally, but too many faces were familiar as I recognized them from public photos or videos, from emotional funerals or shivah visits of government officials, after, in an instant, a terrorist turned these women’s world upside down with a bullet, knife, stone or car. 

It was hard to find a comfortable spot to put down a small plate in the room filled with women munching vegetables, eating sandwiches and salad, drinking coffee, hugging each other like long-lost relatives, and pushing beautiful babies in strollers.

When I finally found a place to sit, a woman asked me: “Whose mother are you?”

It has been years since anyone asked me that question. Surprised, slowly, “Efrat, Asher…,” I started to mumble in quizzical, hesitant response.

“I am the mother of Noam Raz,” she interrupted, leaving me in stunned silence.

I remembered the name. I could only muster a faint smile and nod my head.

Sgt. Maj. Raz, 47, of the Border Police’s elite Yamam counterterror unit, was killed by gunfire during an operation that included raids on terrorism suspects’ homes in Burqin, near Jenin, on May 15, 2022. The long list of his deeds as a volunteer EMT filled the news for days. He left behind his wife and six children.

“Who was murdered in your family?”

One story shared is hard to believe. As told to JNS, “About a week ago I signed up for the annual women’s seminar called Female Empowerment organized by OneFamily, but in these days of destruction, I didn’t really find the strength to go to the conference. And then there is Nava from OneFamily calling and asking if I can bring a bereaved mother with me who also lives in Holon and should really participate.”

Ilana Shevach goes on to explain, “This morning, Mrs. Dora Abramov gets into my car. I turned to her and asked: ‘Dora, who was murdered in your family?’”

Abramov responded, “My daughter Osnat was 17 years old when she was murdered in the [Karkur Junction] bus bombing attack [along with 13 other people] in 2002 by Nasser Jarrer, the leader of the ‘military’ wing of Hamas, the Izz-Din al-Qassam Brigades. And what happened to you?”

“Our son Raziel was murdered by the son of your daughter’s murderer!” Shevach respond in shock. 

Ahmed Nasser Jarrer, the 22-year-old son of Nasser Jarrer, murdered Raziel Shevah in 2018. Ahmed Jarrer was six years old when his father murdered Osnat.

The two women embraced.

Reena Robinson, the mother of one of the two IDF soldiers killed in the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002, summed up her experience for JNS, “Yesterday was powerful and meaningful. The speakers were all of a high caliber and gave good tips and concrete techniques for coping. It was also spiritually in keeping with the Nine Days [leading to Tisha B’Av] and the terrible conflict in the country [about judicial reform]. Spreading ahavat chinam [loving others freely without judgment].”

Socializing with women from all walks of life who share a common bond is very empowering, Robinson said.

“I reconnected with women I have met in the past and spent quality time with friends whom I am in touch with. I got to catch up with the mother of the soldier who was killed at the same time as Matanya. We haven’t seen each other since last year’s event and it was meaningful speaking with her yesterday.”

Staff Sgt. Matanya Robinson from Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi in the Beit She’an Valley was 22 when he was ambushed in the Jenin camp in April 2002.

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