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Widow of terrorist victim discusses her ordeal

Risa, left, and Chaim Rotman attend their youngest son’s bris eight years ago.

On the morning of Nov. 18, 2014, life would change forever for Risa Rotman, who would become a widow when her husband, Chaim (Howard Rothman) Rotman, was slain in what became known as the Har Nof Massacre at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem.

Risa Rotman returned to Toronto recently, the city in which she spent much of her childhood, on the fourth anniversary of her husband’s death. She engaged community members at the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto shul and the Clanton Park Synagogue, with her memoir, Terror and Emunah in Har Nof: A year of growth and faith, which was published last year.

“It would never have entered anyone’s mind that something would happen in Har Nof,” Rotman said. “Har Nof is on the far west side of Jerusalem, far away from the Arab neighbourhoods.”

“It must be understood that my husband transcended all of Toronto. His parents are founding members of Beth Torah Congregation and Chaim was active with his family conservatism until he identified as ultra-Orthodox. He was the nice Jewish boy of Toronto and everybody connected to him. That is why the response to us was so phenomenal,” she added.

The cover of Terror and Emunah in Har Nof.

Both Risa and Chaim Rotman graduated from TanenbaumCHAT, but went to the school at separate times. They first met at the Ohr Somayach Outreach Centre. “I had just finished high school and was offered a job at Ohr Somayach, where Chaim was working. It was suggested that we start to date and we did,” said Rotman.

She left for Israel to study in a seminary and the two stayed in touch. Chaim Rotman made aliyah in 1986, after which they got engaged. “That summer, we were married. I was 20 and Chaim was almost 26 years old. We had our first child in October 1987,” she said.

After the attack, Chaim Rotman was in a coma for 11 months. Terror and Emunah describes Rotman’s inner journey and day-to-day life after the incident. “Emunah (faith) means believing it’s all from ha-Shem. Bitachon (trust in God) is how we carry on in our lives,” explained Rotman. “Tikvah (hope) means that ha-Shem can do it all.”

Rotman and her family were the recipients of love from around the world. “I was in denial and when I finally realized this is where we’re at now. I call that the most basic level of faith. This is where I’m meant to be, this is what my life is about, it was an acceptance,” she said.

Rotman also touched on the heart-wrenching months following the attack. “The events that are happening around me are divine and I had to do my job properly. For me, that included a little black humour, dressing nicely for the hospital and trying to give the kids as stable a home as possible,” she said.

Chaim Rotman passed away on Oct. 23, 2015. He was 55 years old. “Shabbos had just come in and it was peaceful,” said his wife. “I looked at him after this long, rough year and thought, ‘he doesn’t have to struggle any more.’ ”