She’s ten years old today, but the last five years of her life have been robbed of the carefree innocence characteristic for children this age. In fact, it’s been a long time since Sara found any reason to smile.
Sara’s mother is in, what is described in laymen’s terms, a vegetative state. She’s been that way since she stopped in for a pizza at Sbarro’s on a hot Jerusalem August day in the summer of 2001, with little Sara in tow. The nail studded terrorist explosion killed 15 and maimed 90, wounding Sara’s mom beyond repair.
Sara lives in Modiin, where her father is struggling to maintain some semblance of a functional life for his children in the wake of this life-trauma. Chabad representative to Modiin, Rabbi Baruch Slonim, has made it his mission to bring some laughter back into the little gir’s life, and enrolled her in Chabad’s Gan Israel summer camp program.
Hundreds of young terror victims—immediate survivors of terror or children who’ve lost a parent or sibling in terror attacks—are enjoying a diversion from the trauma of their tender lives, as they participate in any of Chabad of Israel’s 230 Gan Israel camps. Chabad’s Terror Victim’s Program in Israel, which reaches out to some 2,000 survivor families, has placed special focus on creating an experience that caters to these children.
“The goal really is to imbue the children with a sense of faith and joy,” says Rabbi Yosef Ahronov, director of Lubavitch Youth of Israel. “The experience should be rehabilitative, emotionally and spiritually, for children who have suffered so much and so deeply.” Given the nature of the evil and tragedy that has shown itself to these children, that’s no small challenge to the counselors.
Rabbi Menachem Kotner, director of the Terror Victims Program, explains that many of the children have been physically wounded, and are wheelchair bound. Others are still in therapy. With their families typically strapped for funds and barely getting by, the additional expense—for children with special needs, would make summer camp tuition prohibitively expensive.
“The alternative was that these children would stay home and miss out on an experience that is so important to every child, especially to children who have known so much sadness and grief.” So Chabad’ Terror Victim Program is underwriting the cost of this initiative, explains Rabbi Kotner.
Two years ago, Mrs. L. of Jerusalem, became a widow, her children orphans, when her husband was killed in a terrorist bus explosion. Since then, Chabad in her community has devoted itself to helping her and her family cope, and enrolled her two daughters in Gan Israel this summer. In a letter she sent to Chabad’s Terror Victims Program, Mrs. L. writes: “We thank you from the depths of our hearts for all the wonderful things you have done for us.” Mrs. L. goes on to enumerate Chabad’s attentiveness to the family’s needs and problems, to “being there on all occasions, and to your listening ear.”
“We feel you were sent as good angels, to watch over us. . .”