Last week marked 20 years since the suicide bombing at the Sbarro pizza store in the central most crowded intersection of downtown Jerusalem.
For those who were ten years old and above, that day will never be forgotten, and for those who were younger or not yet born, it is a day that should never be forgotten. I’ll explain why.
The intifada was an incessant series of Arab terrorist attacks that began in 2001 and raged on for five long years. Suicide bombers walked into supermarkets, jumped onto buses, sat in restaurants, and pulled the trigger on the explosive vest they were wearing under their clothes, blowing themselves to smithereens, for the joy and honor of killing as many Jews as possible together with themselves. The terrorists, younger and older, male and female, married and single, professionals and laborers are promised to be greeted in heaven by 72 virgins and their family members are rewarded with pride, prestige and perpetual monthly stipends for life, in an amount that adjusts based on the number of Jews he/she succeeds to kill.
During those five years, 1,200 innocent civilians, Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and citizens of many countries, were murdered, and over 10,000 were wounded, maimed, deformed, and some reduced to a permanent vegetative state and are still in hospitals now, 20 years later.
There were hundreds of terror attacks, but this one, 20 years ago, at the Sbarro pizza shop, shocked and traumatized a nation more than any other.
A young Arab man walked into Sbarro’s at lunchtime carrying a closed guitar case, loaded inside with explosives, screws and bolts, and approached the counter where many kids were standing in line to order their pizzas. Speaking in Arabic, he calmly and quietly told the Arabs working behind the counter of his intentions and instructed them to escape quickly, to save their lives.
Then he pulled the detonator that rocked Jerusalem for miles around and decimated the restaurant, murdering 15 victims, mostly children, wounding over 125 people and leaving legs, arms, and heads strewn across the floor and on the sidewalk outside.
That was the shockwave that thrust myself and my family onto a life-changing course of action.
Our enemies want to destroy and at least demoralize the Jewish population who have returned, after 2,000 years, to our ancestral homeland. We can’t let them achieve victory in any of their goals. Each person and family who was struck in a terrorist attack would be helped to physically and emotionally recover and to stand tall with optimism looking out toward their future. Thus was founded the OneFamily Fund, an organization that has raised and invested over $65 million during the last 20 years rebuilding the shattered lives of over 10,000 family members, Jews and non-Jews, whose lives were struck by terror.
What was it about this single event, 20 years ago, that changed our lives?
One family that moved to Israel from Holland were in the crowded line that day at Sbarro’s, a mom, a dad, and five of their eight children. Only two young sisters survived.
A young woman from Los Angeles, the only child of Holocaust survivors, pregnant with her first child, was murdered, leaving her older parents with no ancestors and no progeny, having witnessed the murder of three generations of their family just because they were Jewish.
A young mother, survived by her three-year-old daughter, lies unconscious in a hospital to this day, having never moved, opened her eyes, or uttered a syllable for 20 years since that moment.
One 15-year-old girl was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, sedated and operated upon. Her life was saved. A day later, when she awoke, she looked at her dad and her first words were, “What happened to the family that stood next to me in line.” She asked again. Not wanting to crush her fragile state with the devastating truth, he asked her why it was so important for her to know. She told him that she remembers lying on the floor next to a family and she heard the little boy screaming, “Help me, Daddy, Help me!”
And she heard his father say, “Hold my hand and say Sh’ma Yisrael with me” – the words uttered for thousands of years by every Jew, in their last breath, dying at the hands of a despicable hater of every Jew. Did they live?
The suicide bombing at Sbarro’s is a day that should never be forgotten – not during our collective lifetimes – because it is not the last one. In every millennium of Jewish history, this story has been relived thousands of times. And the hate that lies at the root of this phenomenum is sprouting and spreading the world over, right now, in front of our eyes. The ADL Global 100 countries anti-Semitism survey shows that over 26% of the world’s population, 1,090,000,000 people, are walking side by side with us on this planet, infected with Jew hatred. That’s five times more than the number of people on this globe who have been infected by COVID.
Both are plagues. Both are lethal.
We must never forget, lest we allow its devastating consequences to happen again.
One other crucial message is embedded in this memory. Yes, there are Jews of influence in many countries who try, when necessary, to protect the indigenous Jewish residents from harm.
But there is only one country where Jews have power – the power to defend our people.
By Marc Belzberg