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OneFamily helps terror victims cope with loss

OneFamily Fund Canada recently hosted an evening titled A Taste for Life featuring young women whose lives were changed by terrorism. Seen here, from left, are OneFund founder Michal Belzberg, Shayna Applebaum, Yaffa Rothman, Mayaan Etzion, Orit Mark, Renana Meir and Michal Sitton. JONNI SUPER PHOTOGRAPHY

Terrorism knows no boundaries, as the people of Manchester, England, learned to their dismay on May 22. Twenty-two were killed and dozens more wounded while leaving a pop concert, in an attack that targeted mostly children and their parents.

Israelis, of course, are familiar with the phenomenon, having lived in the crosshairs of fanatical killers for decades now. Often the victims are young people – as targets of the terrorists, but also as grieving family members left to carry on after the death of a loved one. In Israel, OneFamily has been helping the victims of terrorism cope with their situations, whether through counselling, financial assistance, help in schooling, family care or providing them with moral support, so victims know they are not alone. It’s something the Brits may one day be forced to adopt, as well.

Last week, five young women from Israel took a vacation to Toronto through a OneFamily Fund Canada program to find respite from the stresses of daily life, which has been made that much harder because they have all lost a family member to terrorism.


Orit Mark, 17, lost her father, Rabbi Michael Mark, in an attack on their car only 11 months ago. Her mother, Noa, was shot through the eye and survived, though she still hasn’t recovered and will have to travel to Baltimore this summer for further surgery to treat her injury.

Orit Mark, whose older sister, Shira, was a shinshin (young emissary) in Toronto about six years ago, said that “everything is so hard and different,” since the loss of her father. “If you’re happy, it goes to the other side. If you get married, your father won’t be there. My sister had a baby and our father was not there.”

Even though her mother survived, she is not the same. Her wounds prevent her from resuming full family life, though she tries when she can “to take care of us,” Mark said. “But she can’t do everything.”

Mark is grateful to the role played by OneFamily, which has eased the stress on her and her nine brothers and sisters.

“A lot of people want to support you, help you and they care about your life,” she said.

She’s particularly grateful – and astounded – that this support carries over to Canada.

“When I hear that people from Canada do all these things, the trip [to Canada], the camp, it was a shock. Why do they care for us?” she asked.

Travelling with four other victims of terrorism was particularly satisfying, she said. They understand what each is going through and the vacation allows you to “relax and enjoy,” she said.

Shayna Applebaum, 28, lost her father, David, and sister, Nava, in a suicide bombing on the Hillel Cafe in Jerusalem.

The attack took place 14 years ago, the night before Nava was to be wed. She had gone out for a treat and her father, who headed the emergency department at Shaare Zedek Medical Centre, went with her.

Back home, the family heard the explosion nearby, but weren’t surprised when David didn’t return. He usually headed straight to the hospital to attend to the wounded following terrorist attacks, Applebaum said.

This time, of course, was different. He and Nava were among the victims of the Hamas bombing.

Nava, only 20 at the time, “was a lot of fun,” Shayna recalled. “She had just finished her second year of national service,” helping children afflicted with cancer. “We always sang at home – always. We hung out. She cared for us a lot.”

Although Nava and her father have been gone for 14 years, “we feel it every day,” she said.

Still, life goes on. Applebaum sees her sister’s fiancé occasionally. He has since married and has children of his own.

Shayna was married, too, and has three children. The oldest, David, is named after her father. He was born in Shaare Zedek eight years to the day after the fatal bombing. Applebaum’s daughter, now two, was named Nava, after her late sister.

Applebaum has been a supporter of OneFamily since she was 12, when her friend, Michal Belzberg, started the organization.

Belzberg was also 12 at the time and was getting ready to celebrate her bat mitzvah when the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem was bombed. Fifteen people were killed in the attack. As in Manchester, parents and children bore the brunt of the bombing.

“We had to do something for the victims,” Belzberg said, recalling the incident.

She asked her parents to cancel her bat mitzvah and to donate money to the victims. From that gesture, OneFamily was born.

Over the years, OneFamily has provided legal, financial and emotional support to victims of terrorism.

“We help people get on their feet,” she said. To date, 12,000 people, a fraction of all those in Israel affected by terrorist attacks, have benefited from OneFamily’s programs.

“There are so many more. Everyone in Israel knows someone murdered, injured or affected by terrorism,” Belzberg said.

OneFamily has had a presence in Canada for 13 years. It raises more than $1 million a year for terror victims.

There are people whose lives could change enormously if Canadians “adopted” them and helped them with the difficulties of life after a loved one was killed, Belzberg said.