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Shiva for a child slain in a Palestinian raid

The Hadani family was sitting shiva. The house was filled with family and friends observing the ancient Jewish custom, a custom that surrounds the bereaved with the living so they will not dwell morbidly on the dead. In the 48 hours since their daughter, Na’ami, who was 9, died in the Palestinian commando raid on the highway between here and Tel Aviv, Joseph and Levana Hadani have not been alone.

HAIFA, Israel – The Hadani family was sitting shiva. The house was filled with family and friends observing the ancient Jewish custom, a custom that surrounds the bereaved with the living so they will not dwell morbidly on the dead.

In the 48 hours since their daughter, Na'ami, who was 9, died in the Palestinian commando raid on the highway between here and Tel Aviv, Joseph and Levana Hadani have not been alone.

It was the same in a score of homes where the victims of the terrorists lived – neighbors and friends and family from all over Israel arriving to succor the survivors.

And it was the same, in a larger sense, throughout this tight little country, where everyone is touched by a single death and the death of 36 Jews is a tragedy both national and personal.

In English, the rite acted out by the Hadanis is called "sitting shiva for the dead."  But shiva is really for the living. The women bringing food and the men bringing news, and the coffee and the self-consciously normal talk are all designed to keep the family thinking in the present and looking to the future.

There is strength in feeling so much life around, warmth in kissing and being kissed.

In the Hadani home, the treatment was working. Joseph and Levana Hadani, their brothers and sisters and fathers, had gathered in a small room at one end of the apartment for part of the night, to quietly tell their story.

When the story was told, Joseph Hadani left the room for a moment, walking stiffly because of his wounds. When he came back, he was followed by four of his co-workers, who gathered behind him in the doorway.

Hadani drew to him Ayelet, 10, the daughter who remains, and he said in English he had obviously rehearsed:

"We are not broken."

It was to have been a festive occasion. Joseph Hadani's family and families of others in the national bus cooperative were on a sightseeing tour. Joseph, for a change, did not have to drive a bus.

His wife began her story.

"I heard a shot and I didn't know what happened. All the people in the bus were singing, and with accordion. Everyone was so happy. It was the end of the outing for the Egged (bus cooperative) and we were going back to Haifa.

"I heard the shots and I heard someone fall down, and I heard crying. I recognized my husband's voice and I began to cry, 'Yosi, Yosi, my husband. I ran to the front and shouted to them to open the door of the bus."

Levana Hadani was one of the lucky ones. She and Ayelet had been sitting in the back of the bus, away from the first bursts of machine-gun fire that came from the roadside.

The first bullets flying through the windshield wounded her younger daughter, Na'ami, who had been sitting in the little jump seat beside the driver, and her husband, Joseph, who had been standing just behind.

When the bus stopped, some of the other Egged drivers pulled Joseph onto the asphalt. Mrs. Hadani lifted her wounded daughter and ran toward the traffic to flag down a car.

"The man who stopped put his own children out of the car to take me and my daughter. Then he saw in his mirror the terrorists coming back toward the bus and his own children were around the bus with the shooting.

"He said he could not take me and he put me out on the road again. Then he went back to get his children."

The man was too late. He died trying to rescue his children from the machine-gun fire.

"So, I waited on the road and stopped a man and a woman who just saw the bus stopped on the side of the road, that's all. They didn't recognize what was going on. They started to pass it and they saw a man pointing a gun at the bus. They said they thought it was a soldier gone mad."

She got Na'ami into their car.

"The man (got out) and went to the other side of the road and began to stop the cars coming from Haifa. I was in the back of the car. And the woman turned it and put it across the road to stop the other cars.

"I felt so helpless. I saw my daughter's eyes close. Her head was open, here, at the top – so much blood. And I see here in her jaw a big hole. She doesn't move, but she breathes.

"I left my other daughter in the bus. I forgot everything. I cried in the back of the car, 'She's dying, dying. . . quickly, please. . .the hospital."

In the car, Mrs. Hadani found a piece of cotton, a little piece which she held ineffectually against the large wound in her daughter's head. With her other hand, she picked broken teeth and chewing gum from Na'ami's open mouth.

Crying, leaning over her daughter and dabbing at the large wound, Mrs. Hadani said softly over and over, "Reh yhi ye beseder – It'll be all right."

"I thought maybe she can hear me, maybe I can give her courage," Mrs. Hadani said.

At the hospital, they quickly took Na'ami away. The doctors gently told Mrs. Hadani they would do what they could, but she had seen the wound in the head and she knew. Ten minutes later, her husband was wheeled in.

"He spoke and I heard him: 'Where is my daughter?  What condition is she in?  Is she alive?'

"I took his hand. I wanted him to know that I am with him. I told him, 'Don't worry, she breathes.'

"They take him and a doctor comes. I hear him speak with a nurse, with instructions about my husband – 'Take him to the operating room.'

"The nurse answered, 'But, doctor, we have so many and they need…'Then I started to scream. 'My husband before. First. Before everybody. I lost my daughter."

Three young men come into the Hadani home to find Joseph Hadani. They have just been to the hospital, where they visited Yost Hochman.

Yosi Hochman and Joseph Hadani and the three young men in the small room of the apartment all are members of the Egged (bus cooperative) football team.

Hadani, his neck bent forward, rubs the stitches on his head meditatively while the three tell him about Hochman.

Hochman's wife and two children were killed in the attack. Hochman was wounded and lost a leg.

The three young men say that doctors at the Rambam hospital believe they can save Hochman's other leg.

"If he can learn to use it with a false one on the other side, he'll be all right," one of the young men says.

Hadani looks up at his three friends and says quietly, "Thank God."

"All I kept telling myself was, 'She still breathes,' and I waited outside the operating room in the hallway," said Mrs. Hadani.

"There was a man there, it was an Arab man. But a good Arab, you know?  His wife was inside having a Caesarean and he was waiting for his child to be born.

"We smoked his cigarettes and all of a sudden I wanted to talk.

"I ask him, 'Are you a Jew?'

"He tells me 'No, but I'm a human being...'

"He said, 'Don't be worried, there'll be good news. They will save her.'

"I knew it was only words, but I was glad to talk to him. I needed to talk."

"Then, the nurse opens the door and told the man his wife was all right. I cried, 'What about my daughter?'

"The nurse comes to me and holds my arm and says, 'She won't live. We did what we could.'

"I didn't say anything. I couldn't. I went to find my husband. They had him with shots in bed, but he spoke through the medicine. "What happened, what happened to her?'

"I held his hand and I told him, 'She's being treated. It's all right. Don't worry."

Now Ayelet tells her story. At 10, she has poise and she knows it. Her bright green eyes shine, her cheeks are pink with the excitement of the telling. The adults urge her on with pride.

Hers is the one triumph in the Hadani household. She escaped from the bus before the terrorists took it over.

Someone yelled to get down on the floor – many did and became hostages.

"But I didn't," she said. "I saw the back door was open and I ran"

She hid in the bushes on a nearby hill, found a friend, Danni, also 10, and led him back to the road to flag down a police car. She led the police to where some of the wounded were waiting for help.

She and the wounded were driven to a hospital in Hadera, where she was examined and pronounced fit.

"There were so many people," she said. "They took one man right from the door into the operating room. An old couple came and wanted to take care of me...

"Five minutes later, they released us and they took me to a restaurant. I told them I was a diabetic and they asked me if I knew when I had to eat. I decided to have some sugar so I wouldn't go into insulin shock.

"Mamma always told me to be brave. To be strong. Grandpa is very religious. He always told me to trust in God."

Then she showed a Donald Duck picture she had colored very neatly that day. And she told about the letters her 4th-grade classmates sent her Monday. One said she was like Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. Another boy wrote: "I want you to live for 500 years."

"That night, Ayelet slept with me. I just told her (that) daddy and Na'ami were having treatment, that everything was all right," Mrs. Hadani said.

"Yesterday, the next morning, when we woke up, I gave her breakfast and then, in the kitchen, I took her hand and I said, 'If you promise to be strong, I'll tell you.'

"I told her, 'You may have to be sister to an invalid.'  I wanted to tell her little by little. Nobody else should tell her. We understood each other. She might have heard it on the radio.

"Then she promised to be strong. I hugged her and we cried.

"I told her, 'Don't wait for her, little Ayelet. She won't come any more. But don't cry. I need you to help me. I need you to be strong.'

"Then we listened together to the radio. They were announcing the dead. The first name we heard was Na'ami. I was just happy that I told Ayelet before."

Now Joseph and Levana Hadani have left the small room to take care of their guests. It is part of the shiva that they should do so, that they should be among the living.

Joseph's sister, Malka Meroz, remains in the small room. She leans back and sighs wearily.

"After the Sadat visit, we felt a little bit relaxed," she said. "We felt maybe the peace was coming to us. Now, it's a dream. It was too good a dream."

"Now the parents are every day guarding the kindergarten," said her husband, Michael.

"Something must happen," said Mrs. Meroz, leaning forward again.

"Something must happen – to them. Something dramatic, something to shock them, the Palestinians. Perhaps we must pay (back) in the same way. I don't think some Arab mother must cry, but something must happen. It is not heroism to kill children. The world must do something about it."

"Maybe the answer must be in the same way," said Itzhak Hadani. "I don't understand this killing of children in the middle of the day. But I don't know if I hate them. This will not bring me back my niece. I don't know if revenge is the answer."

Then from the corner, Moshe Kaski, 69, Levana Hadani's father, held out a hand and got silence in the room.

"I will say this and you will make a translation," he said.

"This is the Bible: We, the Jewish people, have to suffer all our lives and to sacrifice sometimes our lives, but those conditions bring us to be hard. And those who want to destroy us will themselves be destroyed."

And then he too rose to go out to the guests in the living room, and the telling of the story was over.