We travelled to New York as part of the Chabad Terror Victims Project. Ten people who were injured, helping each other. Together with me were Captain Ziv Shilon, critically wounded less than a year ago on the border with Gaza; Nati Hachkur, injured by a missile hit prior to Operation Cast Lead; Ziv Yitzhaki, injured in the Second Lebanon War; Noam Nakash, injured by a Qassam rocket four and half years ago; Andre Peck, injured in terrorist attack over 10 years ago; Yechiel Tzanany, injured a year ago from a rocket on the border with Gaza; Border Guard officer Albert Sabah, injured in a terrorist attack two years ago; and Dror Zicherman, critically injured in a 2005 in terrorist attack near the West Bank city of Tulkarem.
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Identify and understand
During our 10 days in New York, I was mostly moved by the community's sympathy. When I told them my story, I could see the pain in their faces, together with great sympathy, and how much they appreciate us. They called us "Israel's finest". They are people with a very big heart, and they took us to the most luxurious places and spared nothing.
Group members in Times Square (Photo: Bentzi Sasson)
They gave us a warm welcoming reception and plenty of food. Every day we had breakfast at a restaurant or at a community host's house. They took us flying above New York and all sorts of special places. One day we were taken to meet Amish people, who live without any technology whatsoever. Even though it may seem magical, you cannot envy them. They live in the past.
We were also taken to a Yankees baseball game. The game itself is somewhat boring, but just being at Yankee Stadium – a true temple for Americans – is an emotional experience. On Saturday night we performed Havdalah in Times Square, the center of the world, which was very emotional for me as a man of faith. I always believed there is a God, and thanks to the fact I was saved, that belief has become stronger. However I don't think I'll become more religious, it is not my nature.
In one of the dinners, with another 500 participants, each one of us told his story: How we were injured, what happened to us and what we've been going through since. For me it was very powerful to listen to the other stories. It made me feel I am not alone, and that others have gone through similar experiences, even though every story is completely different and unique. Of course, powerful connections were made with others. These are people I went to sleep with at night, woke up with in the morning, and spent 24 hours a day with. All of their stories moved me.
I too shared my story. I still remember everything, every moment. In July last year I flew with two childhood friends, Elior Priess and Maor Harush, to a dream vacation in Burgas, Bulgaria. Elior, Maor and three other Israelis were killed. I was severely wounded. I lost an eye and fought for my life. I was anaesthetized for two months, and only recently went back home to Akko.
Remember every minute
There are many who are injured and don't remember a thing, only what they have been told. I personally remember everything, and images still come back to me sometimes. It is not something that could disappear in such a short period of time. I remember how one of my friends joined the trip in the very last minute, and there was another friend who was very fortunate and did not join us in the end.
After we landed we picked up our luggage, went outside and looked for ways to get to our hotel, and then we approached the bus. The last sentence I remember one of my friends saying to me is: "Take the bag, we'll be right back." Then I remember the fire and smoke, the ringing in my ears, and how I was dragged from the burning bus. I closed my eyes and prayed for it all to end. Afterwards I somehow got my strength back and thought about my family and friends who are waiting for me. I started screaming. A few minutes afterwards I tried walking – and then the second explosion occurred.
'Always thinking about them, even in New York' (Photo: Bentzi Sasson)
The first thing I asked when I got up was where are they? Where are my childhood friends? Not a moment goes by that I don't think about them, even in New York. Why am I alive and they aren't. I would switch places with them right now, and I still can't believe my friends are not here with me.
Today I am still in rehabilitation. I do physiotherapy, go through all the treatments. There are still breakdowns here and there. I try to be as strong as I can and keep a warm connection with my belated friends' families. I feel we help each other. Right now I am fully focused on rehabilitation. It is my only goal, and the final aim is to go back to how I was before, and to be able to do everything I could before the injury. The things that help me get stronger and help me to move on are the things I also had before the attack – supportive family, girlfriend, friends and music – I have recently gone back to the DJ stand and everyone is helping and supporting me.
It is important for me to give my thanks to everyone who received us, the Jewish community, Chabad, and everyone who helped them. And to anyone who helps those who have gone through difficult times to have a moment of joy.
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