Howie Rothman, a Canadian-Israeli citizen described as “one of the nicest, kindest people you could ever hope to meet,” is fighting for his life after sustaining injuries in the terror attack on a Jerusalem shul that left five people dead and many more injured.
“He is in a medically induced coma after three surgeries – one on his head, one for his eye and one for his arm,” said Rothman’s sister, Shelley Rothman-Benhaim, who spoke to The CJN from her home in the Montreal suburb of Côte St-Luc.
But when doctors tried to rouse him from his coma over the Nov. 23-24 weekend, Rothman became distressed and his doctors decided to keep him sedated, his brother, Steve Rothman, told The CJN from Toronto.
He said that as of the morning of Nov. 25, there had been no change in his brother’s condition, which was stable, but critical, and he could remain in intensive care for months.
On Nov. 18, two Palestinian men, carrying a gun and wielding a meat cleaver, stormed the Kehilat Bnei Torah shul in the haredi neighbourhood of Har Nof in Jerusalem. Rothman, a 54-year-old Toronto-native who made aliyah 30 years ago, sustained life-threatening injuries after being struck repeatedly with a meat cleaver.
Rothman’s mother, Mollie, who lives in Toronto, said she’s been receiving updates from another son, Jeff Rothman, who also made aliyah to Israel many years ago.
“My son, Jeff, he called me in the morning, and he said there was a slight improvement. [Howie] is under sedation in an induced coma, and he’s not talking or whatever, but I was just glad that there was a slight improvement to his heart rate,” she said.
“He had a four-hour surgery. They got him with a meat cleaver in his head, his neck, and his arm. My son would have tried to help everybody there, no matter if he put himself in danger. That’s what he is. He is the most amazing, kindest person that I know.”
Rothman, who graduated from the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto in 1979, studied computer science at York University and now holds a government job in Israel working with computers.
His mother said that Rothman, one of five children, prayed regularly and studied at the site of the attack.
She spoke to Rothman’s wife, Risa, who spent the night after the attack at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem where he’s being treated. “I told my daughter-in-law that I’m praying for him and she told me that a mother’s prayer is more important than anybody’s,” she said, fighting back tears.
“For my daughter-in-law, Risa, it’s a nightmare. They know everybody. She would know the wives of the ones that were murdered… My son, Jeff, said the top Sephardi rabbi came in all his robes, came to give him a mishe’berach [a prayer for the sick], and the top ministers in Israel are coming by the hospital. [One of Rothman’s sons] who just got married on Aug. 28, my son Jeff said he’s really matured and he’s taking charge and it’s amazing. They’re all such nice kids. Each one is amazing.”
Rothman has 10 living children who range in age from four to 22, but nine years ago, his oldest died tragically in an accident when he was 17.
“Two [of his children] are married and one just had a baby about a month and a half ago. Another son just got engaged and was supposed to get married in a couple months, but I don’t know how that is going to work out now,” she said.
Mollie Rothman said she’s been spending a lot of time with her family who live in Toronto and has also been getting a lot of support from friends and members of the community. “I’ve been receiving so many calls – people I haven’t heard from or seen in many, many years.”
Speaking about her son, she told an anecdote that speaks to Rothman’s character.
“When I’m [in Israel], he’ll take me to the Kotel, and there are people looking for handouts, and Howie would take small change in his shirt pocket and he doesn’t miss one hand out. Someone said, ‘You know, they have more money than you.’ And Howie would say, ‘If even one from 10 needs it, I’ll give to all 10.’ That’s how he is. He’s a giver,” she said.
“He is one of the nicest, kindest people you could ever hope to meet. Always with a smile on his face,” said his sister, Rothman-Benhaim, who added that she and her family worked to set up a fund to help support her brother and his family while he recovers. UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has established the Howie Rothman and Family Victim of Terror Assistance Fund to help with his medical bills, basic household expenses and the needs of his children. It had raised $29,000 as of Monday morning.
Jewish community groups are organizing solidarity events. This past weekend, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs held a “Solidarity Shabbat” event that encouraged the community to go to shul, where rabbis were expected to focus their sermons on the issue.
On Nov. 23, the Jewish Defence League held a memorial vigil outside Palestine House in Mississauga “to honour the memory of the five civilian victims that were mercilessly slaughtered.” The JDL claims Palestine House supports Hamas and terror attacks against Israel.
And on Nov. 25, Consul General DJ Schneeweiss and various religious leaders were scheduled to attend a vigil for Rothman at the Canada Christian College in Toronto.