Three American citizens residing in Israel lost their lives in two separate terrorist attacks during the last week.
Abigail Litle, 14, a Haifa eighth grader, was killed when the No. 37 bus she was riding after school blew up last Wednesday. A 20-year-old Hamas militant named Mahmoud Hamdan Kawasme of Hebron had detonated a bomb he strapped to his torso, killing 16 passengers, nearly all under the age of 20.
Two days later, on Friday night, Rabbi Eli Horowitz, 51, and his wife Dina, 49, were killed by a pair of Palestinian terrorists dressed as religious Jews as they ate their Sabbath meal in their home in Kiryat Arba, the Jewish neighborhood adjacent to Hebron, where they had resided for the last 17-and-a-half years.
Each of the three lives, as exposed in the strange, immodest light of post-mortem inquiries, reveals an unlikely trail leading to an early grave. The Hebron rabbi turns out to have been a former hippie, a former secular kibbutznik. And the Israeli schoolgirl, Hebrew speaking, active in peace talks between Jews and Muslims, turns out to have belonged to one of Israel’s least known minorities, the Evangelical Christians.
“My parents had a very special relationship to Hebron,” the Horowitzes’ daughter, Batsheva Sadan, 28, told the Forward. “Dad worked at the Shavei Hebron yeshiva here. But their relationship with the place was first and foremost with the patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is a very special relationship to place.”
Dina and Eli Horowitz were not what one might expect of a couple well established in the tiny, tightly-knit community of Jewish zealots in the ancient city of Hebron, where the Biblical Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Leah, and Jacob are all said to be buried, and where there has been a continuous Jewish presence for all of recorded history.
Asked about her parents’ politics, Sadan laughed. “Politics? It is hard to say. They were both very reasonable people. They revered and loved the state and its institutions — the army, the prime minister, whether it was Rabin or Sharon — like they revered and loved the Torah. Not many people here in Hebron saw it their way.”
Rabbi Horowitz, born in Israel of American parents, was reared in Silver Spring, Md., where his father directed a Jewish school. The son rebeled: Leaving high school early, he abandoned Judaism, hung out with a tough crowd his daughter describes as “hippie goys,” indulged in drugs and was eventually stopped by Florida police and charged with various petty crimes.
Eretz Israel, his parents thought, might be a safer place. At the age of 15, he was sent to live with an aunt living on a kibbutz run by the secular Zionist Hashomer Hatza’ir movement. “When his parents told him they were sending him to Israel he looked it up on a map and saw that it was on the way to India, so he said ‘Okay, it’s on my way’” Sadan said. “Even recently, he was always saying ‘I’m still on my way.’ Searching, searching, life for him was an ongoing search.”
While on the kibbutz, in a secular, nationalistic phase, he went by the name of Eli Carmeli, taking his new surname from the same Haifa hill upon which the bus of Abigail Litle would blow up.
At the Haifa home of Philip and Heidi Litle, the phone is answered in Hebrew. “Aba!” one of the children screamed, calling for his father.
Philip Litle, a native of Harrisonville, Mo., and his wife, originally from Dumont, N.J., met as undergraduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the early 1980s. He is a mechanical engineer. She is an architect. Together with their five children, they have lived in Israel for nearly 14 years.
“I don’t know how well people would understand why we’re here,” Philip Litle said, “but I’d say as an Evangelical Christian that we have a love for Israel and feel it is important to support Israel in tangible ways.”
Litle, who holds an MBA from Haifa’s Technion Institute of Technology, works for the Baptist Convention in Israel, a group that, among other purposes, offers support to the small community of so-called Messianic Jews in Israel. An estimated 5,000 Israeli Jews identify themselves as “Messianic,” or Jews who believe in Jesus as the messiah.
The Baptist community, made up of foreigners like the Litles who come to Israel out of religious motivation, is minuscule but well integrated into Israeli society. Those with permanent resident status serve in the Israeli army.
“We have a lot of American Jewish friends who’ve made aliyah,” Litle said. “For many, it is a struggle. We know yordim, people who’ve gone back. The whole world has economic problems, but here it is exacerbated by high taxes, high demand for security, army service, a lot of things that annoy, sometimes, American immigrants. Plus, you’ve got to learn Hebrew to get by. I mean, you can get by pretty well without it, but you won’t really get very far if you don’t get that Hebrew down!
“I couldn’t speak to those who don’t see any desire or reason to live in Israel,” he said. “But any Jewish person who comes here has to say, ‘My children are going to serve in the army and there will be casualties.’”
“We certainly did not think we‘d be losing one of our children, and yet you can’t come to Israel and ignore that fact.”
Hate crimes take place everywhere, Litle said, mentioning the attacks of September 11 and at Columbine high school. “In Israel, there is a lot of hate. But there is also a very effective security service that for the most part really prevents a lot of attacks. I know of a lot that were foiled.”
The Litles intend to remain in Israel, where an estimated 1,400 people attended their daughter’s funeral. Hundreds of students came from Haifa’s top high school, the Reali school, which Abigail attended and which lost three students in the attack.
She was buried in Haifa’s Christian cemetery in a coffin covered by the American and Israeli flags. The American ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, an Orthodox Jew, said Abigail is “a true bridge between our two countries, having been born in the United States and now, in eternal rest in Israel. She’s a true bridge between our faiths.”
“We’re not planning on leaving,” Abigail’s father said. “Our desire is to stay in Israel. And certainly, having left one of our children in the grave here, there is no reason to move on. We are part of the community here. You think sometimes that your friends have all visited and then more come by. And more.”