Photograph courtesy of Tziporah Heller
Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller is a popular teacher at Har Nof’s Neve Yerushalayim College, whose grandson and son-in-law were at the Har Nof synagogue on Tuesday morning. Here is an update Heller sent to family and friends following the attack, published with her permission:
At about 7 am my daughter Miri called: “Mordechai just came home from shul. He said that Arabs came in and are shooting, and that a man with an axe is hitting everyone. Some of the people threw chairs at them, but it didn’t help.”
The twelve year old had hit the floor along with everyone else when the bullets began to fly. He was fully aware of what was going on, and what it meant. He somehow found the courage to let go of his father’s hand, crawl towards the exit and break into a run.
Some of you know Miri and her family. She has had some of you over for Shabbos and holidays, and others sleeping in one of her kid’s bedrooms when the crowd at my house gets too big to accommodate sanely.
Mordechai is blonde, freckled, and a soft spoken somewhat introverted and studious boy, much like his father, Shmuli. He is not Huck Finn, and the courage he found at those moments was a gift straight from G-d.
By the time he finished telling Miri what happened, sirens from Hatzalah ambulances, police cars, and Magen David could be heard telling her that there were casualties. “Where’s Shmuli?” was the thought that entered her mind again and again as the seconds which felt like hours began to tick. She called me and said, “Say Tehillim. There is shooting in Bnei Torah.”
I began to say the ancient prayers, stopped myself and called Rabbi Weidan, and told him what was happening. I then began the Tehillim again, knocked on my neighbor’s door and told her to do the same. Chani called and told me to look at the news to see what was really happening. Nothing was reported as yet. Of course not. It was only 7:10.
I realized that whether or not the attack was over, no one as yet knew whether the murderers had escaped. I called again, asking that everything be done to see that no one leaves the campus, and then called Miri. Thank G-d she had the sense to stay indoors and not run to the besieged synagogue. When Mordechai came home, the shooting was still happening.
By 7:20 we both realized that if she didn’t hear from Shmuli, something was very wrong. The police and other services had no information as yet to give to the public, but a family friend, who had seen the terror with his own eyes, said that Shmuli had been taken to Hadassah Hospital at Ein Kerem.
When Mordechai let go of his hand, he instinctively ran after the child, placing himself in the sight of the terrorists. One of them attacked him with his cleaver, hitting him on the left side of his head, his back and his arm. Somehow he made it to the door.
Josh White, a student of Machon Shlomo, was riding down Agassi Street on his bike. He noticed what he described later as “a lot of confusion” in front of Bnei Torah, asked someone what was going on, and surprisingly (for Har Nof) the man answered him in Hebrew! In the midst of what to him was gibberish, he picked up the word Aravim (Arabs) and immediately grasped what was happening.
He approached the shul and saw Shmuli, who was still conscious. The Machon student took of his shirt and stopped the bleeding, a move which may have saved Shmuli’s life. The shooting was still happening inside. It was about 7:15. The emergency crew drew back, but because Shmuli was already outside, they evacuated him, thus making him the first of the wounded to be taken to Hadassah, another factor in his survival.
Before collapsing, he asked where Mordechai was, and when he was told that the boy had run away from the carnage, he said, “Baruch Hashem.” (Shmuli has since regained consciousness in the hospital) Inside, the terrorists were continuing their “work”. When they entered they turned to their left, and immediately cut down Rabbi Twersky and Rav Kalman Levine who were standing in the corner. Reb Kalman was the husband of Chaya, formally Markowitz, who was a student and later a madrichah at Neve.
Her husband was not a regular attendee of Bnei Torah. He would generally daven in the earliest possible minyan so he could get in a couple of hours of learning before beginning his day. Yesterday he had a question about something he had learned and had gone after davening to Bnei Torah to put the question to its erudite rav, Rabbi Rubin. The question will now only be resolved in the Heavenly Acadamy.
Rev Avraham Goldberg, the third man to be killed, is Breina Goldberg’s husband. Many of you know Breina as the warm caring efficient secretary cum mother figure at the front desk in the afternoon. I don’t as yet know how her husband, or Reb Aryeh Kupinski, the fourth victim, met their deaths. The only thing that I know is that it was brutal and swift.
The first policemen to enter were traffic cops who knew what they were facing, and also knew that they were not wearing protective gear. They entered anyway and together with the forces that came afterwards ended the bloodbath. By 7:30 the murderers were apprehended.
Miri, my daughter Guli, and her husband were in Hadassah. Miri’s other kids were watched by relatives and friends for the day. Mordechai was urged to speak about what he saw again and again in order to diminish the damage of the trauma he had undergone. The rest of the family flowed in, saying Tehillim and waiting for updates. The hospital social worker, Aviva, who is blessed with the rare gift of being empathic without being overbearing, and the women of Ezer Mitzion (a volunteer organization), kept us well supplied with food, calming conversation and practical advice. We were allowed to see Shmuli, who was put under anesthesia. We don’t know if he heard us or not, but we were talking to him stressing that Mordechai was fine.
In the hours before the surgery was done, we found ourselves with Risa Rotman. Her husband, Chaim Yechiel ben Malka, was also attacked, and the extent of his wounds are very serious. Some of you may know Risa (who if I am not mistaken also is an OBG) and those of you whose husbands learned in Ohr Sameach or who recall Reb Meir Shuster, who he helped unstintingly for years, may know him as Howie.
The policeman who entered first, passed away. May Hashem avenge his blood. (Policeman Zedan Saif, who was shot in the head by one of the terrorists, died of his wounds hours later — the fifth victim.)
Every day in Eretz Yisrael is a gift and a miracle. I have no pretensions of knowing Hashem’s will, but I do know that everything He does is purposeful, and that His compassion is often hidden from the human eye.
Love always, Tziporah