shadow of a boy in a hat running on the Western Wall in Jerusalem

Implications of Palestinian terrorist attack
15 years ago still resonate

It was to be the kind of precious moment a father craves with a daughter about to be married: a respite together, however fleeting, the night before the big day.

Dr. David Appelbaum, a U.S.-bred Israeli innovator in emergency medicine, and his daughter, Nava, relaxed at Cafe Hillel, in the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem, 15 years ago as family members back home nearby finalized wedding plans.

The unthinkable happened at 11:20 p.m. Sept. 9, 2003 — a Tuesday night.

Nava Appelbaum
Nava Appelbaum

David, 51, and Nava, 20, died along with five others, and at least 50 more were wounded, in a suicidal terrorist attack. A Hamas operative blew himself up while trying to overpower a security guard and enter the coffee shop.

In a stunning twist of fate, Dr. Appelbaum had just returned from lecturing at a New York University Downtown Hospital-sponsored 9-11 commemorative forum on the dynamic of hospitals receiving mass casualties.

The visit to Cafe Hillel was in anticipation of the marriage of the eldest daughter of Debra and David Appelbaum to Hanan Sand, 19. The would-be newlyweds had met three years before in a religious youth group.

It’s important to highlight
how Israelis cherish life and compassionately treat
Palestinians seeking help.

David was described as attentive and energetic — “unusually caring;” Nava was remembered as sweet and studious — “an angel in life,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. They never stood under the chuppah because of a Palestinian culture of hate toward Israel and Jews ingrained so deeply in society it will take generations to change in any sort of substantive way. Father and daughter were buried alongside one another at Givat Shaul, a hilltop cemetery at Jerusalem’s west edge.

Today, as more and more Palestinian Arabs seek treatment in Israeli hospitals because of the superior quality of the medical care, it’s important to highlight how Israelis cherish life and compassionately treat Palestinians seeking help while Palestinian terrorist leaders teach impressionable loyalists there’s ultimate glory in seeking “martyrdom for Allah” by murdering Jews.

A Special Man

David Appelbaum
David Appelbaum

A devout Torah scholar, Dr. Appelbaum, the father of six, dedicated his life to medicine and Judaism — his personal avenue to sanctifying God’s name.

In Jerusalem, Appelbaum headed emergency services at Shaare Zedek Medical Center and taught Jewish medical ethics at a girls’ seminary. He was affiliated with Magen David Adom, Israel’s national ambulance, blood services and disaster relief service, and often was among the first responders to terrorist attacks. He attended to all victims, no matter their background, with humility.

Nava emulated her father’s devotion to others. As part of her national service after high school, she volunteered with kids battling cancer.

Dr. Appelbaum had Chicago and Cleveland roots, but also a Jewish Detroit link. He studied under Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik at Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Ill., along with then-roommate and future rabbi Moshe Dombey, who attended elementary school at our Yeshiva Beth Yehudah. It was David who introduced Moshe to his future wife, Miriam Simon.

Debra and David Appelbaum made aliyah in 1981. David later helped revolutionize emergency care in Israel. He also founded and directed the Terem network of emergency clinics in Israel.

The good doctor’s legacy has saved countless lives — including those of many Palestinians. More Palestinians than their leaders care to admit seek healthcare in Israel. The Jewish state offers many sophisticated tests and treatments not available in Palestinian hospitals. The Palestinian Authority pays much of the associated cost. Israel-administered programs enable eligible Palestinian kids, notably those with heart conditions, to receive free medical care.

Searching For Peace

The young terrorist who attacked Cafe Hillel, Ramez Abu Salim, first tried to enter a nearby pizza parlor, but was rebuffed. He studied at Birzeit University near Ramallah in the West Bank. You can only imagine how he was indoctrinated under Hamas. The U.S.-, Israel- and European Union-recognized Sunni Islamist terrorist organization rules the Gaza Strip and commands a sympathizer base inside the supposedly politically moderate West Bank presided over by Sunni Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

In his thought-provoking new book, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, Jerusalem-based author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, who supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, recounts how Palestinian terrorists launched their second intifada (uprising) against Israel in 2000.

Halevi specifically cites the Cafe Hillel incident, which occurred near his office.

He writes that at the house of mourning, “the grieving wife and mother assumed the role of comforter, reassuring all who came to her with faith and determination. It was then I knew that nothing would ever uproot the Jewish people from this land again.”

Halevi is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. With Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke University in Durham, N.C., he co-directs the Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative.

In his analysis of the difficult choices confronting Israelis and Palestinians in the war-ravaged Middle East, Halevi lasers in on the second intifada. It marked the time, he writes, when Israelis who felt Israel was “the occupier” gradually “lost faith in the peaceful intentions of the Palestinian leadership.”

“And not just because of the terrorism,” Halevi writes. “We lost faith because the worst wave of terrorism in our history came after Israel had made what we considered a credible offer — two offers, actually — to end the occupation.”

But Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected the offer … with no counter. Later, U.S. President Bill Clinton blamed Arafat for the collapse of the peace process — “a shattering moment for many Israelis who believed in the possibility of resolving the conflict,” Halevi writes.

Dr. David Appelbaum embraced equal parts spirituality and humanity. He understood the possibilities that could spring from Jews living peacefully amid Arabs, who, in one coexistence example, come to Israeli hospitals not just as patients, but also as physicians, nurses and lab technicians.

The good doctor, pious and holy with tzadik-like qualities, chose to return to the ancestral Jewish homeland. He unwittingly gave his life in pursuit of helping secure common ground for lasting peace and prosperity for Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

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