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Lost to a Suicide Bombing, Parents Fight to Memorialize Their Son

By , HAIFA, ISRAEL

In a snapshot, St.-Sgt. Eli Laham‘s wiry frame ripples with muscles hardened by his three years of service in Israel’s Military Police Counter Terrorism Unit, the elite Force 100. Another finds Eli cloaked in sand-and-sidewalk toned camouflage, charging ahead, gun drawn, astride a concrete barrier.

Eli returned safe and whole – with plans to travel to Thailand – from his dangerous duty. During his first week home from service, Eli boarded a bus on Moriah Boulevard to visit his ailing grandfather in a hospital in Carmel. A suicide bomber, belt packed with nails and twisted bits of metal, chose the same route.

Eli’s life was wrenched from him on the Egged bus along with 17 others, on March 5, 2003, but his story did not end there. Recently, representatives from Chabad’s Terror Victims Project helped his parents, Mordechai and Nava Laham, lay the cornerstone for a new synagogue to be built in Eli’s memory, the first in the overwhelmingly secular West Carmel section of Haifa. Yesterday, however, the Ministry of Housing and Construction unexpectedly yanked promised funding for the completion of the synagogue. ‘I am very depressed,’ said Nava Laham.

A sack full of papers, letters, notes in legalese swamps the Laham’s dining room table. Three years of letter writing campaigns, endless calls, meetings and media appeals raised the Lahams hopes that the government would come through with funding.

Neighbors, relatives and concerned Jews around the world donated toward the effort through Eli’s memorial website www.elil.zahav.net.il. The Lahams borrowed a substantial sum to begin building this summer, lest the hard won building permits expire.

To complete the synagogue, to be built atop government-run preschool, another $100,000 must be found. Contractually, the building will belong to the municipality. ‘Over the entire course of the three years of effort, we were given hope that the government would give money toward the construction of the synagogue,’ said Laham. Kind words offering ‘consideration’ of the Lahams’ request, grew into delays – blamed on stormy elections, political musical chairs – and finally ended a curtly worded letter from the Ministry that no financial aid would be forthcoming. ‘I can’t tell you what I have been through,’ said Laham. Ministry officials were not available for comment.

That a synagogue would be built in West Carmel at all is surprising. In the 2006 elections, nearly 29% of the vote went to the secular Kadima party; the religious Shas party received 3%. Currently, the area’s only Shabbat services are held in a room rented from a nursing home, where prayers compete with a blaring television and rattles from a Coke machine. Nor was a synagogue first on the Lahams’ list; initially they considered football related project, after the sport Eli so loved.

But among the many visitors to the Lahams’ home during the first week of mourning were Rabbi Shlomo Chaim and Malka Lisson, Chabad’s representatives in West Carmel, who returned again and again, just to talk, to check in. Unfortunately, Chabad is accustomed to these visits, and established Chabad’s Terror Victims Project to remain in contact with hundreds of families, widowed, orphaned, maimed, or simply bereft by terror, long after the headlines have moved on. Offering stipends until government funds kick in, delivering custom designed wheelchairs, supporting big-sister style programs for siblings in mourning, the roles of CTVP reflect the needs of those caught in the web of terror.

Grieving for Eli, Nava asked tough questions of Rabbi Lisson. Questions like Nava’s are beyond human comprehension, but she found Rabbi Lisson’s words intriguing, comforting, and she asked him use her living room to teach weekly lessons in Jewish thought. Monday nights, crowds of 30 pile into the Laham’s living room for Rabbi Lisson’s classes. Now, ‘people stop me on the street to ask me what the topic of the discussion will be,’ said Laham.

All along, Nava ‘battled the bureaucracy’ to build the synagogue, said Rabbi Lisson. ‘Nava is very strong, very active, and has a lot of influence over people.’ She is ‘like a mother lion,’ said Rabbi Menachem Kutner, director of CTVP activities. Nava refused the municipality’s olive branch offering to name a park with a carousel for Eli instead of a synagogue. ‘When I thought about building a shul, I felt a light inside me,’ said Nava. Without government funds, the Lahams are left wondering will that light have a chance to shine.

To donate, or for more information, see www.elil.zahav.net.il/ or call: 972-4-8372011.

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