After the Attack: The Unseen Torn and Tattered Lives of Terror Survivors

“When I heard that, I sat and wept, and was in mourning for days, fasting and praying to the God of Heaven.” (Nehemia 1:4)

As ZAKA volunteer Moti Bukchin said the words of the Havdalah prayer that transitions the Jewish people from the fragrance of Shabbat into the mundane week – “Behold, God is my savior, I will trust God and not be afraid” – this past Saturday night, his thoughts were not on his children playing or the delicious food his wife had prepared for the holy day. Rather, his thoughts had drifted to a scene several kilometers away, to the heinous terror attack in the Samarian community of Halamish.

On Friday night, 19-year-old Omar al-Abed entered the Salomon family’s home and murdered 36-year-old Elad Salomon, 46-year-old Chaya Salomon and their 70-year-old father, Yosef Salomon. Yosef’s wife, 68-year-old Tova, was also stabbed and is presently listed in serious condition at Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem. Elad’s wife rushed the children into a back room and locked the door, which the IDF says most likely saved them from being victims of the bloodbath.

“I complete the Havdalah ceremony with the words, ‘Who separates between the holy and the profane; between the light and dark; between Israel and the other nations’,” said Bukchin, who joined other ZAKA volunteers to clean up the blood and other human remains at the scene of the crime.

ZAKA volunteers are not allowed to take care of blood remains on Shabbat, explained Mati Goldstein, chief officer of the ZAKA International Rescue Unit. As such, he walked into a very complicated and dark scene on Saturday night – the yet untouched home of the murders.

“The Shabbat table was already ready for the shalom zachor (ceremony to celebrate the birth of a baby boy) that was supposed to be at that time,” Goldstein told Breaking Israel News. “The plata (hot plate), everything for Shabbat – all the food on the counters. And then on the floor, so much blood and other remains.”

ZAKA volunteer Mati Goldstein (left) helps clean up the remains of the horrific terror attack in Halamish. (Courtesy ZAKA)

The job of ZAKA is to make sure there are no traces of blood left so that survivors can come into the home to sit shiva, the traditional week-long mourning period. ZAKA also secures any remains in special blood and body bags that can be buried with the victims, as is protocol in Jewish law.

Goldstein already knew about the attack on Shabbat; he had received word on his ZAKA beeper. But he could not tell anyone what happened, so as not to disrupt the sanctity of the Sabbath. He held in news of the tragedy throughout the Jewish day of rest. Then, at nightfall, he shared the news with his wife and set out to the scene of the crime.

Here, they celebrated the new life of a baby, and then a terrorist came and took away lives. The family didn’t even have a chance to touch the foods they had prepared to celebrate the newborn.

“We have to take the light of Shabbat with us to light up the whole week,” said Goldstein. “To try to bring that light into something so dark – but I guess that is what God wanted us to do this week.”

Even though ZAKA left the house clean and white, the community will forever be affected by such events. According to Victor Waknine, a member of the Halamish communications department, already on Shabbat, community discussions about how to handle the tragedy took place. Psychologists and other professionals met with children and young adults in their classrooms and in community centers.

“The terrorist went into an intimate, family home – the place where you are supposed to feel the safest,” Waknine told Breaking Israel News. “There is a very difficult atmosphere in the community.”

David Rubin, founder and president of Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund, said that while adults can sometimes process through such a trauma by talking about it, children tend to respond by “going into a deep depression.”

“Children very often appear to hurry through the healing process and aside from the immediate shock and tears and visible suffering, children usually bury it inside – they don’t know how to deal with it verbally,” Rubin explained to Breaking Israel News.

The results can be symptoms that surface months or even years later. These include the inability to sleep, fear of going to sleep, sudden acts of aggression toward other children that defy rationality or sudden panic attacks.

David Rubin (Photo: Courtesy)

Moreover, he said the impact of an isolated attack in Halamish could affect not only the family or neighborhood, but all of Samaria.

“I can guarantee you there are hundreds of children who are traumatized at various levels from this attack,” said Rubin. “The Biblical heartland – Judea and Samaria – has experienced so many of these kinds of attacks, and these children immediately sense it could happen to them as well. It is a very real threat.”

Similarly, Sarri Singer, the founder and director of Strength to Strength, a non-profit organization that brings bereaved family members and victims of terror from around the world together to heal, said terror victims are often forgotten when “the next thing” happens and some other event takes over in the media.

“People need to realize, an attack happens in an instance, but its impact lasts a lifetime,” Singer, who survived the terrorist bombing on the No. 14 bus in Jerusalem on June 11, 2003, told Breaking Israel News. She said support is not one-size-fits-all. Victims and their families can need emotional, physical, medical, psychological or financial support for years following an attack.

OneFamily, an organization that rehabilitates, reintegrates and rebuilds the lives of Israel’s thousands of victims of terror attacks, connects survivors and their families with support groups to help them transition to a “new normal,” said OneFamily clinical social worker Yehuda Ish Shalom.

“We help them choose life again,” Ish Shalom told Breaking Israel News.

In the meantime, Waknine said the community of Halamish is trying to rile up its strength. On Saturday night, several young adult members of the community set up tents and sleeping bags on a nearby hilltop in an effort to show the world that they will not only maintain their hold on this Biblical land, but expand it in response to terror.

Waknine said Halamish wants to build a new neighborhood of 50 homes – already approved minus one final stamp of approval by the government – that it would now name in honor of the victims, Elad, Chaya and Yosef. “We want a Zionist answer,” he said of the community’s efforts to expand.

“We are now in the Three Weeks and about to start the Nine Days until the Ninth of Av, the date on which the Temple was demolished because of baseless hatred,” said ZAKA’s Goldstein. “Our efforts, any support that we show the family, this is unbridled love – and that is a very important and unique thing.”

The victims’ funerals are scheduled for Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Israel time.