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The Fern Sidman Commentaries:


Can any of us ever imagine what our lives would be like had we personally survived a terrorist attack? In this age of ubiquitous terrorism, most of us only read about the horrific plight of victims of such attacks. We may certainly sympathize, yet we can never truly understand the emotional and physical trauma that envelopes the lives of those who are fortunate enough to survive. So is the case of a young Israeli man, whose miraculous story moved him to become a strident advocate for the rights of survivors of terrorism. Born in Jerusalem to Sephardic parents of Moroccon descent, Shlomi Azulay is a 34 year sabra, who is wise beyond his years.

Says Shlomi, "I was born and raised in Jerusalem, and even though I grew up in a traditional home, I was very much a modern secular Israeli. I had very long hair, wore an earring and was totally immersed in the 'rebellious youth' mode. I served in the army and when I was 23 in the year 1997, I decided to come to the United States for a short visit, perhaps 2-3 weeks and I ended up staying for six years."

While life in New York was exciting for Shlomi, he missed his family and friends in Israel and hadn't seen his mother for six years. For Shlomi the time had come to plan a trip back home and in the year 2002, Shlomi returned to Israel. While in Israel, a friend invited Shlomi to join him and others for an evening out at a new coffee shop in Jerusalem. It was a Motzei Shabbat, and even though Shlomi wasn't too thrilled about accepting the invitation, he nonetheless did so. "My friend was really excited about going to the Café Moment that happened to be located right across the street from then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's house. I accompanied him because I didn't want to disappoint him" says Shlomi. What occurred on that fateful night would change Shlomi's life forever.

"When we arrived the club was jammed packed, literally wall to wall people, and the waitress told us that if we wished to be served we should try and come back later when perhaps the crowds would diminish. My friend knew several people at the club and stopped to talk with them. We were headed towards the exit when my friend spotted a young woman that he knew. He stopped to talk with her, however when I realized that this was not going to be a brief conversation, I excused myself and told my friend that I would meet him outside when he was finished talking."

With pain etched on his face Shlomi continues, "I headed towards the exit and was standing at the threshold of the door when suddenly, out of nowhere, I heard a huge blast. My ears were ringing from the loudness of it. It was a bomb and it went off only three feet from where I was standing. I turned around and saw complete bedlam, total carnage, the likes of which no one could ever imagine. Body parts flying everywhere. I saw my friend's head blow right off his body. The young woman he was talking to also died. There was not even a scratch on her body. Her insides were blown up and it looked like she was sleeping. Had I stayed inside the club, I too, would have been killed."

In the end, eleven people were killed and over 100 were seriously injured. Shlomi was treated for shrapnel wounds to his face, three broken joints in his lower back and an injured knee. "Even though I was never really religious, in the aftermath of the bombing, I was livid with G-d. I was angry that G-d could let this happen. I really did not turn to religion at all for solace or comfort" said Shlomi.

"My life was a real mess. I couldn't function. I couldn't go to work. I couldn't deal with the nightmarish reality of what occurred. The government of Israel remained apathetic and totally indifferent to my plight and frankly, downright callous. They not only neglected to provide services to a survivor of terrorism, but they made me feel that I had to prove that I needed help. They made me feel as though somehow I was the criminal. I started to wonder to myself, who is our bigger enemy, the government of Israel or the Palestinian terrorists groups who engage in these suicide attacks", Shlomi recalls.

"Here I was, mired in my anger, rage and resentment, when things began to change. I wasn't at all cognizant of it at the time, but the events that followed were orchestrated through the compassion and mercy of the One Above, by Hashem Yisborach" says Shlomi.

Shlomi's mother felt her son's pain quite acutely, and one day through a chance meeting at her local JCC she met a representative from Hineni, the internationally renowned Torah outreach organization under the leadership of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. Shlomi's mother met Benjamin Phillips, the director of Hineni in Jerusalem who told her of Hineni's established programs for survivors of terrorist attacks, including the sponsorship of trips to Europe, the United States and elsewhere. She urged Shlomi to contact Hineni, to speak with them about participating in their programs.

"Suffice it to say, I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in contacting Hineni or getting involved in such a program. Admittedly, I was quite cynical. After living in the United States for six years, I just couldn't believe that an organization would give away free trips to Europe or anywhere in the world. Soon after, Benjamin called me and asked me to join the Hineni group on their forthcoming trip to England. I told him in no uncertain terms that I was not interested and literally hung up on him. Thank G-d, Benjamin persisted. He called me again and again and again and finally I relented and I agreed to come down to Hineni for an interview. I just couldn't believe that I didn't have to pay for anything, that everything was absolutely free. He told me that I would meet many other survivors of terrorism and that we would just relax, have fun and enjoy ourselves for a week. I was still very skeptical and extremely hesitant about making any commitments and Benjamin told me that the group is leaving for England and he's not going without me. After endlessly tossing this around in my mind, I finally said, 'Why not? What do I have to lose?' So, off I was to England with Hineni", Shlomi recalls.

According to Shlomi this was the best decision that he ever made. During his week in England he met many wonderful and kind people who understood and related to his plight. Shlomi and the other members of the Hineni group shared their experiences of surviving a terrorist attack, explored their emotions and graciously supported one another. Shlomi felt as though he made a new family with people who genuinely cared about him.

He also says that he will never forget the abundant kindness that was shown to him by the people with whom he stayed. "We all stayed with different families, who had been told our personal histories before we arrived. They were so understanding and exceptionally generous in every way" says Shlomi. He adds, "What really touched me in such a special way was our first Shabbos in England. At that time, I didn't understand anything about Hineni or Rebbetzin Jungreis, yet the entire community came to see us on that Shabbos and talked with us and provided us with every accommodation imaginable. It was right then and there that my romance with Hineni began."

After returning to Israel, Shlomi became totally immersed in Hineni activities. At the Hineni Center in Jerusalem, he began to give lectures about terrorism to audiences from virtually every country in the world. He even traveled to Holland where he addressed 1500 people; mostly members of a Christians for Israel organization. Shlomi became a media spokesman for Hineni in Israel and slowly but surely found himself as a chief advocate for Israeli survivors of Palestinian terrorism.

"I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Rebbetzin Jungreis on one of her trips to Hineni in Israel. We had a chance to go to the Kotel together and we talked on a deeper, more meaningful level. She really displayed such genuine empathy and inspired me to do great things for the Jewish people," says Shlomi. About two years after joining Hineni, Shlomi began to learn Torah on a regular basis. "The person who served as my inspiration to learn Torah was my friend Amichai, a yeshiva bochur who I met at Hineni. He, too was also injured in a terrorist attack. He began to call me once a week. It was a long process until I decided to wear a yarmulke, to pray everyday at shul, to put on tzitzes, but eventually I did and I am indebted to Hashem for bringing Amichai and Hineni into my life, says Shlomi.

Shlomi recounts his experiences at Hineni by saying that 99.9 percent of all the social services he received was through the efforts of Hineni. Everything from psychological counseling to complete medical care was provided free of charge to him and other survivors. "If I needed to see any doctors, any specialists, everything went through Hineni", says Shlomi. He says that the togetherness and love he felt at Hineni was beyond remarkable. "For us, the survivors of terrorism, the cohesive group atmosphere really aided us throughout our journey to healing and well being. We did everything as a group. We went out to a restaurant together, we went to a movie together, we learned Torah together."

Shlomi says that Hineni does not receive any monetary assistance from the Israeli government and is privately funded. He has also publicly challenged the government of Israel regarding funds sent to Israel by the worldwide Jewish community to help terrorist survivors and victims of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

"During the war, American Jews sent almost 40 million dollars to help Israelis directly effected by the war and other survivors. This money went through the UJA and Keren Hayesod and after engaging in extensive research, I found out that 39 million had vanished. The monies were never appropriated to Jews in Israel that are in such desperate need of services. As a matter of fact, I have proof that monies contributed not only did not end up assisting survivors of terrorism, but rather it was used to impede their progress. Soldiers were never given the bullet proof vests that were supposed to be provided. I have yet to receive an answer to my challenge from any government agency or representative and I think the American Jewish community must hold the government of Israel accountable", says Shlomi.

Shlomi continues to forge ahead with his advocacy work on behalf of survivors of terrorism and is currently organizing a trip to the United States for Israeli survivors of terrorism and soldiers. Says Shlomi, "I am grateful to Hashem that I can participate in this great mitzvah and I hope that everyone reading this will want to participate as well.

Anyway wishing to contact Shlomi Azulay to arrange for him to speak or to contribute funds for the upcoming trip for survivors of terrorism can reach him at: 646-220-0826 or by e-mail at

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