My family is undergoing a crash course in hanging on for dear life in a struggle against cancer. And in one bitter lesson along the way, I am once again reminded of the gaping hole Palestinian terrorism slashes deep within Israeli lives and society.
US-born and a near 25-year resident of Israel, I am a freelance journalist working and raising a family in Jerusalem. Reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict brings me into daily contact with newsmakers, politicians, and most importantly, those directly affected by terrorism's dead hand. More about that further down.
In August 2004, our 16-year old daughter Inbal Chaya began complaining about a number of seemingly unconnected health problems. At the beginning of September, she underwent a painful battery of CT scans and diagnostic tests at the Hadassah-
- -University Hospital Medical Center-Ein Kerem. We were handed the harrowing verdict: a large tumor diagnosed as a stage-3 type-B Lymphatic Lymphoma, was quietly, maliciously expanding beneath her sternum, crushing one lung and squeezing her trachea aside.
The prognosis for the cancer she is afflicted with - while pretty encouraging considering the alternative - has forced our family into a steep learning curve of coping with daily outpatient medical treatments at The Charlotte Weinberg Mother and Child Center at Hadassah; holding and encouraging Inbal throughout the painful, weakening course of chemotherapy treatments, and our constant weariness in coping with the more prosaic needs of working, running a household and raising a family while dealing with it all. The eminently world-class, compassionate medical team at Hadassah are a more than any family in such a predicament could hope for.
"Dealing with it all," in this case means being available around-the-clock, 24/7 to administer medication, help her bathe, dress, change her "Pikline" underarm infusion dressing, help her going up and down flights of stairs and even slowly shuffle across the house to the bathroom. Her last year of high school has been put on hold, despite constant visits by teachers and friends to help her keep up with studies. My wife has been forced to take an extended leave of absence from her banking position. As a correspondent it means being available to abandon a news report at a moment's notice, or even an interviewee in mid-discussion and race home to collect Inbal and rush over to the hospital at the first sign of unusual pain or abrupt change in body temperature.
Zichron Menachem, The Israeli Organization for the Support of Children with Cancer and their Families has come to our assistance in easing the burdens in a myriad of ways since we were first faced with Inbal's illness; from sending young women performing their National Service [NS] duties in lieu of IDF conscription, visiting with Inbal daily to aid and cheer her; to hosting our 4 other younger children in clubs and activities at the organization's recently-inaugurated, state-of-the-art Day Care center.
The kids and I spent a few hours at the center one evening several days ago. After going over homework assignments with them, we racked up the billiard balls for a game of pool in one of the center's multifunction rooms. As you step into the game room, just to the right of the doorway, the first thing that catches your eye is a stark memorial plaque: This room was established in loving memory of Nava Applebaum, a 20-year-old NS member murdered in a suicide bombing at Café Hillel in Jerusalem just over a year ago. The attack, in which she, her father Dr. David Applebaum and five others were killed and over 50 wounded, occurred on the eve of her wedding. Hamas took responsibility for the act; the 20-year-old Palestinian killer having been released from IDF detention earlier. The NS members aiding Inbal knew and loved Nava deeply. So did the afflicted children, their families, the staff and administration of Zichron Menachem. May it only bring some consolation to Nava's and her groom to be's family.
And that's where the deeply personal anguish sets in for me and countless other Israelis holding the line daily against illness and pain, and where the connection to Palestinian terrorism begins. After the glass and gore are cleaned away, the reporters close their notebooks and the religious mourning period concludes, families throughout the country must go on each with their own personal battle, but also with the feeling of a ragged black emptiness where someone like Nava or David was, that never goes away.
The way I felt seeing that pale green memorial tablet with Nava's name on it. An elegiac longing and sense of loss. And an inchoate anger at those who cheer on such obscene acts.
I didn't know either of the Applebaums. But after reporting on that attack the next day for Chicago's WGN AM radio, in tandem with fellow blogger and writer Brian Blum. His cousin Marla was killed in the bombing at Hebrew University in 2002.
I have come to learn much more about Dr. Applebaum's expertise and loving care helping both Israeli and Palestinian patients as head of Sha'are Tzedek Hospital's emergency room. A veteran immigrant from Cleveland, Ohio, Applebaum was an international authority on emergency medical care who established the hospital's world-renowned patient intake system. Applebaum had just returned to Israel from New York after addressing colleagues on first-responder trauma care at a terror symposium commemorating the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Nava's NS colleagues told me about her love, dedication and volunteer work helping children at Hadassah and Zichron Menachem. From the One Family Fund Memorial page for victims of terror attacks: "She would spend the entire day with the children, and a few weeks ago accompanied a group of them on a trip to Holland. 'She was an incredible girl,' said one of her classmates. 'She studied biology because she wanted to help find a cure for cancer.'"
That is what Nava and her father were.
This is what terrorists are: cold-blooded slayers of pure souls like Nava, who glory in the kill. Their despicable acts and the support of those behind them cruelly rip away from us those who selflessly gave of themselves to aid others, like Inbal.
But they will ultimately fail.
Inbal, and others like her coping with cancer, God willing, will heal.
May the memory of Nava and David, along with the over 1,000 slain in terrorist attacks here in Israel and abroad remain with us forever as a blessing.
(I translated this essay for Inbal. In an act of courage, integrity and sharing with others, Inbal has graciously assented to its publication. Photos and content will be updated as events permit. Comments and best wishes can be forwarded to Inbal at: email@example.com - DB)