Sunday, September 11, 2016

11-Sep-16: Fixing a plaque to a Jerusalem wall

Frimet Roth delivers a speech at the unveiling of the plaque
outside the Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria, September 23, 2003
It's September 11, the fifteenth anniversary of an event so evocative of hatred, bigotry and senseless carnage that it has become a by-word for the increasingly terror-infested era in which we live.

Fifteen years ago to the day, on September 11, 2001, a thousand or so residents of the Jerusalem neighbourhood where we live gathered in a public park at nightfall to remember two girls - one sixteen, one fifteen - who were among the victims of another massacre, brazenly carried out in the very center of Jerusalem, the nation's capital, a month earlier. The site of that attack was the local Sbarro pizzeria. Those two victims, among the 15 murdered and 130 maimed and injured on August 9, 2001, were our next-door neighbour's daughter Michal and our own daughter, Malki. The lovely girls had been the closest of friends.

In the year that followed, we fought an unpleasant and mean-spirited battle with the leadership of the Jerusalem municipality. The mayor at the time was Ehud Olmert. His career later brought him to the highest political position in the country and then after that to prison. He's there now.

What we sought to achieve was something simple: a plaque on the outside wall of the pizzeria, memorializing what had happened there at 2 o'clock on a hot summer's afternoon, with the names of the innocents killed in that Hamas massacre.

As with most of the battles we have felt obliged to conduct in Israel over the years, we saw this as a moral issue with deep resonance in Jewish tradition. We also saw it in personal terms; we sought no one's help in taking the fight to the authorities, and we got none. This battle, like most of the others, ended up providing us with mostly-unwanted insights into how power can be used and abused by the people who have their hands on the steering wheel of the city or the country.

At the end of this particular fight, we achieved a sort of pale victory.

One one hand, the mayor's office decided that a plaque would be placed on the outside wall of Sbarro, and a ceremony was scheduled.

But on a closely related matter - we had also requested that Jerusalem, which had already announced it was going to erect a monument to the memory of the 9/11 victims, should put up a memorial to Jerusalem's own, many victims of Arab-on-Israeli terror - we were given a run-around. That run-around actually never came to an end.

In the course of the following year, several bogus announcements were made by the municipality about plans to designate a site for a terror victims memorial. A public committee for making decisions about a Jerusalem memorial was announced. If it ever met, we never heard about it. Another announcement said a site in the Camp Allenby plot near the corner of Hevron Road and Yanovsky Street on Jerusalem's south side had been designated for a memorial to Jerusalem's terror victims and work was underway. Of course, nothing came of that.

Frimet Roth eventually published an angry complaint in a daily newspaper ["No memorial, not even a plaque", Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2003] in which she mentioned some of the evasions we had heard from city officials. The main argument: that Jerusalem was faced with having to put up some 30 terror memorial plaques, and that doing so would "interfere with the city's character and appeal" and chase away the tourists. No reason for us to comment on the stupidity of what we heard. Also - that the building owner objected, which seemed strange to us.

The simple plaque bears the names of
the fifteen people murdered inside
the Sbarro pizzeria and the
word "
To remember"
A few weeks after her article appeared, we were notified that a Sbarro plaque had finally been allowed, and a mid-afternoon ceremony was scheduled. Frimet was invited to be one of the speakers and accepted.

The text below is a translation of what she said in Hebrew. The date was September 23, 2003. The plaque is still there today though Sbarro is long gone.

And the need to remember and not forget continues to be axiomatic - and disputed.
Why We Need This Plaque 
By Frimet Roth
(First published in an article we posted on the Malki Foundation website thirteen years ago)
The path leading to the erection of this memorial plaque was neither short nor smooth. When we faced the obstacles, we asked ourselves whether it was really necessary at all.
There were times when the municipality made clear their feeling that a plaque would actually be detrimental - that it was bound to alter the character of the city of Jerusalem, even chase away tourists.
But we persevered - we, the bereaved families, along with the staff of the Municipality's Protocol Department - and we overcame those obstacles, even managing to have the plaque erected in time for the second "yahrzeit".
But the question, a legitimate one, remains What is the purpose of this memorial? It's safe to presume that we, the relatives of the victims, will not visit it and undoubtedly our pain will not abate, now that it is there. Our intense longing will continue - every day, every hour.
As I see it, the plaque's real significance is for others for those who never knew the victims personally, who never heard of their deaths, who heard but may have already forgotten. When these people pass by and chance upon the names of these martyrs, the collective memory of this horrendous war will be deepened.
And I believe this nation badly needs to work on its capacity to remember. To contend with constant fear, this nation has found it necessary to forget each terror attack and its victims as quickly as it can. Demolished business premises are speedily rebuilt; they're filled with customers looking for a fun time out.
I heard a television correspondent not long ago reporting from the site of a suicide bombing that had claimed six lives. He was speaking early on the following morning. He pointed to the heavy traffic and commented "Apparently the urge for routine is more powerful that everything else."
If he was correct, then the Jewish nation is paying too high a price for its normalcy. Remembering our victims a little more would not indicate weakness. Nor would it empower the enemy, or hinder our ability to cope. Remembering the outrages done to us is simply a normal, sensitive and positive reaction.
Jewish tradition encourages this approach. With the holiday of Rosh Hashana, also known as "Remembrance Day", drawing close, this is a most appropriate moment to emphasize the need to remember these victims. The men, the women and the many children who perished here were righteous, every one of them. Both in life, as we their loved ones can affirm, and in death, having died as martyrs - in sanctifying G-d's name.
Our Sages teach us that the righteous are considered alive even in death. For us, their parents, children, brothers and sisters, they truly live on in our hearts and memories. My hope is that they will now also live on in the thoughts of others, thanks to this plaque. Even if only briefly. And the promise of our Sages be fulfilled, as it says "Just as Yom Kippur atones, so too do the deaths of the righteous."
Earlier today, the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, we saw a featured op ed in the Financial Times which included this striking claim:
The real tragedy of terror is what it makes us do to each other. We start fearing people just because of how they look: the colour of their skin, the way they dress. 
We Tweeted this response:
If terror's "real tragedy" is fear of the other, do the dead, injured and survivors count?
Astoundingly, depressingly, that question still needs to be asked, and for many the answer is likely to be: "Well, it sort of depends."

It's not only in Jerusalem, but also in Jerusalem, that people need constantly to be reminded of the sanctity of human life, of the imperative of remembering and never forgetting the innocent victims, and of fighting the terrorists with total determination in order to defeat them.

1 comment:

Mr. Cohen said...

Please read these three short pro-Israel articles by Mr. Patrick Condell, who has no Jewish ancestors and no religious beliefs that might cause him to favor Jews: