November 4, 2015

Jerusalem Notebook: Shattered Hopes and Dreams on Bus No. 78

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by Useful Group

In its early days, the current Arab uprising in Israel brought almost daily violence to the streets of Jerusalem.

Now, the action has largely moved to other parts of the country – at least for the time being. Nonetheless, we Jerusalemites are still paying close attention to our surroundings and taking careful note of the random characters that walk behind us on the sidewalks.

And, like most of my friends and neighbors, I am especially conscious of bus stops. How many people are gathered around them? How accessible they are to “vehicular” attacks? And what kind of expressions do I see on the faces of those who are standing nearby?

A few days ago, in this present calm but cautious atmosphere, I was delighted to have coffee with my friend Liz Kopp. Her husband Chuck pastors the Narkis Street Congregation, a non-denominational church near the center of town. In fact, Liz and Chuck have been deeply involved in the city’s spiritual and material concerns for more than 40 years.

For me, the opportunity to catch up with Liz was long overdue. We met at Aroma Café in the German Colony, and we started our conversation by updating each other about our families and friends.

But then the subject changed. I was stunned by what I learned from Liz. And she wasn’t just reporting what she had read or heard on the radio.

Her story began with a widely recounted terrorist attack. I could hardly believe what she told me.

On Oct. 14, Haaretz reported,

11:05 A.M. Two Israelis were killed after two suspected terrorists entered bus 78 in Jerusalem’s Armon HaNatziv neighborhood. At least 16 other Israelis were wounded in the attack, which saw one assailant open fire within the bus while the other attacked passengers with a knife; at least one person is in critical condition. One of the attackers is dead, while the other is in serious condition.

It so happened that Liz and Chuck Kopp and their family were well acquainted with not just one, but two of the injured victims who were, coincidentally, riding on Bus No. 78 at exactly the same time.

One survived; the other has since died.

For almost as long as she’s been in Jerusalem, Liz has been part of a group of a dozen-plus women – all Jewish except for Liz herself – that she affectionately calls her “Koffee Klatch.” One of the women, an alarmed Karen Lakin, phoned Liz on Oct. 13.

That morning, her ex-husband Richard Lakin, 76, had been rushed to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in critical condition.

Liz knew that her son Jesse was already at Hadassah hospital for an unrelated medical reason. She told him to go to the emergency room and check on Richard. The next morning, Jesse Kopp posted on Facebook:

Yesterday, a friend of mine was stabbed in his liver, and was shot in the head on a bus. Doctors are currently fighting for his life. He is a man of peace and promotes coexistence. My heart goes out to him and his family who I was with during the first few hours at the ICU. I would like to ask everyone I know for more love, no matter where you are in the world. Love as hard as you can. Peace.

The Kopps knew Lakin, a Jew, to be a valiant advocate of peace between Jews and Arabs in Israel. He taught English to Arab and Israeli children. His Facebook page features the well-known “CoExist” banner as its cover photo. And his rabbi recalled that Richard Lakin never missed a peace rally.

The New York Times described the morning’s events.

After a routine doctor’s appointment on Oct. 13, Mr. Lakin called his ex-wife (and still best friend), Karen, to say he was taking the No. 78 bus rather than walking home because he thought it would be safer amid the spate of stabbings on Jerusalem streets.

When news broke that a No. 78 had been attacked, she and her son started frantically dialing Mr. Lakin’s number.

“Eventually, one of the nurses in the operating room answered his phone,” recalled [their son Micah Avni], 46, who works in finance and had walked out of a meeting in his Tel Aviv office to drive to Jerusalem. “She said, ‘Come to Hadassah Ein Kerem as soon as possible.’ ”

Hadassah and Jerusalem’s other hospitals are rare oases of the Arab-Jewish coexistence Mr. Lakin promoted.

A Palestinian nurse in the emergency room recognized him as he was wheeled in: Her two sons had taken his classes.

The surgical team that struggled to stitch together his injured organs included Dr. Abed Khalaileh, an Arab from East Jerusalem, like the attackers on the bus.

Despite valiant medical efforts, Lakin died two weeks after the bus attack. His son Micah is participating in a lawsuit against Facebook, the social media outlet he holds responsible for numerous posts and videos that did far more than incite terrorists to attack Israelis with knives.

Those graphic posts actually instructed would-be assassins about how best to cause maximum injury – for example, by stabbing deeply and then forcefully shoving the knife downward, injuring the victim as severely as possible.

Liz Kopp explained to me that Richard Lakin was stabbed repeatedly in the head, face and abdomen; his intestines and several internal organs were severed, as per the instructions on Facebook. He was also stabbed in the head and slashed in the face. And shot in the temple.

One of Bus No. 78’s terrorists was shot dead. The other was also rushed to Hadassah Hospital, where he shared the same intensive care unit as Lakin.

Lakin’s son said, “I had the auspicious pleasure of holding my father’s hand and looking that man straight in the eye as he woke up … and it sounds like he’s doing OK – as opposed to my father.”

Unfortunately, Lakin wasn’t the only victim who ended up at Hadassah. Among the other injured Bus No. 78 passengers was a Danish Christian woman, Marike Veldman.

“I knew Marike as one of the many Dutch Christians serving in so many different ways in Israel, and who occasionally attended the Narkis Street Congregation,” Liz told me. “From a distance, I admired this attractive tall, regal and single Dutch woman who was known for the many Arab children she had taken in to live with her.”

Indeed, for some 30 years, Marike Veldman, 78, had taken in unwanted Arab children who were abandoned in Jerusalem’s Old City. As Ynet news reported,

Veldman remembers the attack. “I entered the bus 78 in Armon Hanatziv [and] I saw two Arab men sitting in the very beginning of the bus. I thought to myself, ‘What were they doing on a bus at this hour? They should be at work. They looked suspicious,’” she said.

“They were laughing, exchanging maybe a joke or something, and then all of a sudden they got up and started screaming ‘Allahu Akbar,’ and then one of them started stabbing me and he stabbed me several times.

“I yelled, ‘Jesus help me!’” she recounted.

Ms. Veldman went on to say that the man pulled away from her after she cried out those words, and he appeared to be frightened; he retreated from her immediately and headed further back in the bus, stabbing several others. He didn’t touch Marike Veldman again.

But to this day, she cannot erase from her memory the look of hate that was in the eyes of her assailant. She has struggled to regain her sense of security ever since. One of the stab wounds punctured her lung. Although it was a dangerous injury, she is gradually healing, both inside and out.

Majda Shakawi, 28, grew up in Marike Veldman’s foster home. Today, she lives in Virginia. Asked about the attack on her foster mother, she said, “When it happened, I was in shock. There is a lot of anger, shame and guilt. I am thankful that she is alive and I am trying to accept the forgiveness that she feels. I believe that everyone was born in the image of God. That’s what my faith taught me. It’s a shame to my religion when someone goes and does something like this. It’s cowardly. I thought that even before this happened to my mom, but now it’s personal.”

The intertwined stories of the attacks on Bus No. 78 are profoundly troubling. Such vicious assaults on two elderly and charitable members of the Jerusalem community are unbearable and indefensible.

Those knives and bullets did more than carve and slash the flesh of two innocent people. They also cut to the quick the benevolent vision shared by Richard Lakin and Marike Veldman – a vulnerable and perhaps even improbable dream of peace – which each of them persistently expressed in both word and deed.

For most of us, all this is simply unforgivable.

And yet…

In reflecting on this tragic scenario, Liz Kopp told me, “One would be tempted to give up hope if it weren’t for people like Marike, who is choosing to forgive.

“And, amazingly, each member of the Lakin family is doing the same, even in the face of such brutality and murder. Although Richard was taken from them by hatred and evil, the family knows that he wouldn’t want them to respond with hatred and evil in return.

“Difficult as it is, they agree that only in forgiveness can this kind and loving man’s legacy be upheld.”