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Thursday, April 01, 2004


by Barbara Sofer, in the Jerusalem Post

On the Zargari family's living room couch Esther, six, is reading to her little sister Avigail. The joy and wonder of hearing a child reading fluently is magnified. Seven months ago, I met Esther lying in silence, a giant ventilator heaving above her. Like everyone, I added my prayers that she wouldn't be the 24th casualty of the Bus No. 2 bombing.

On Thursday evening, August 19, Esther's parents, Nava and Yaakov Zargari, took five of their six children on a summer outing to the Western Wall. They prayed and recited psalms for an hour. The night air turned chilly as they waited at the Kotel bus stop, glad when a double bus pulled up.

It filled quickly. Sons Michael 13, and Netanel eight, found seats up front. Esther sat by the window, near her Dad. Avigail, three, sat with her Mom who held baby Shmuel, 11 months, on her lap. The bus was so crammed with passengers that Nava handed Avigail over to Yaakov and gave the seat to a woman standing nearby.

The bus pulled into Shmuel Hanavi Street. Hebron teacher and Hamas member Raad Abd el-Hamid Maseq, 29, positioned himself in the middle of the bus and set off his deadly explosives.

The world went black and silent, like the darkness of Egypt. Nava uttered what she thought was a final confession before losing consciousness. When she came to, her lungs hurt. Ambulances were blaring, and people outside the bus were screaming for Nava to pass them Avigail through the window. Two lines from the 23rd psalm repeated in her head. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For Thou art with me."

Michael and Netanel were unharmed. Nava, moderately injured, was rushed away in an ambulance. Avigail's face was burned. Yaakov had a concussion and internal injuries. Shmuel, wrenched from his mother's arms by the blast, died of head injuries.

ESTHER HAD survived, but barely. Hers was the worst case of pediatric blast injury that the experienced Jerusalem doctors had ever seen among the living. The concussive wave of air pressure had broken her ear drums and torn her lungs.

Dr. Ido Yatziv, head of Hadassah's pediatric intensive care unit, stayed with her all night. "We needed everything we had ever learned, and then some, to make it through the night," he said.

At dawn, she was still alive. A network of prayers spread across Jerusalem, then Israel, and on the Internet across the world.

Dazed and medicated for her injuries, Nava absorbed the tragic news. Two days after the bombing, Yaakov woke up. Echoing the Talmudic story of Bruria and Rabbi Meir, Nava refused to tell her husband of baby Shmuel's death until after Shabbat.

She sat shiva by Esther's bedside. On the seventh day, Nava joined hundreds of men and women at her synagogue shouting prayers to heaven. "If Dr. Yatziv was using everything he and the other doctors could do, we had to use everything that people of faith can do, too."

At home, Nava's phone suddenly rang. It was Rina Yosephy, the nurse from the intensive care unit. The respirator was being removed. Esther could breathe on her own.

Later, Rina held the receiver to Esther's ear. "How are you feeling?" asked her mother. "Baruch Hashem, blessed be God," came a tiny voice. Then slowly, as she did each morning upon waking, Esther recited the Modeh Ani prayer. "I give thanks, living and sustaining Ruler, for You have returned to me my soul, nishmai." In Hebrew, the words for "soul" and "breathing" are almost the same.

Ten days later, wearing a new blue skirt and carrying a schoolbag on her back, Esther began first grade with her classmates. She's an excellent student, but her favorite subject is recess.

Preparing for Pessah, this week, Nava sometimes finds her face wet with tears as a book or a toy touches off memories of last Pessah, when her cleaning was punctuated by nursing Shmuel.

"I catch myself and remember that I have walked through the shadow of the valley of death, but God was always with me. I know there is a divine though mysterious purpose to our suffering."
One of the sources she quotes easily is the Book of Job – "In my flesh shall I see God whom I shall see for myself."

For the many commentaries I've studied on Job, I never really understood the resignation that comes from faith until I met Nava Zargari.

These days, Esther picks up Avigail from the nursery school beneath their building and they practice the Four Questions. The Zargaris will make Pessah at home. They'll speak long about the Exodus from Egypt and of what Nava Zargari calls "our own personal going out of Egypt." She says, "We will celebrate all those miracles God has wrought for us."

And the telling will go on. After Pessah, Dr. Yatziv will be presenting the medical story of Esther's recovery in the United States. In schools and women's gatherings in Israel, Nava will talk about the power of faith. Each respects the other. And so it should be among our people.