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Toronto native in coma after synagogue attack

By Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun

TORONTO - 

On a quiet morning in one of the world’s holiest cities, in a sacred house of worship, evil came calling with a gun, a meat cleaver and an axe.

Shouting Allah Akbar, God is Great, the two terrorists stormed into a west Jerusalem synagogue where a group of men had gathered for morning prayers. When their barbaric attack was done, four rabbis lay dead on the blood-soaked floor, their prayer shawls still wrapped around their still shoulders, the leather ribbons of the Tefillin still wound around their lifeless arms. The learned, religious men had been either shot or hacked to death, their red-stained prayer books strewn by their sides.

Later that night, a police officer shot in the head during the ensuing gun battle succumbed to his injuries, as well.

Among those rushed to hospital was Chaim “Howie” Rothman, a Toronto native who moved to the holy land more than 30 years before. “He’s in a (medically induced) coma and we believe he lost an eye,” said his brother-in-law, Raymond Benhaim, in Montreal.

“It’s serious,” added worried friend Toby Trompeter, Rothman’s former high school classmate who writes for the Jewish Tribune. “We’re just praying very hard.”

The 53-year-old father of 10 underwent four hours of surgery to treat wounds to his neck and head after being struck with a meat cleaver, she said. He also suffered defensive injuries to his hands. Prayers for his recovery were scheduled at two Toronto synagogues Tuesday night.

Rothman grew up here and attended the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto before moving to Israel, where he worked for the state comptroller and lived in the quiet, ultra orthodox neighbourhood of Har Nof. “He’s a really, really sweet guy and father to a lot of kids,” said Trompeter, who also lived in Har Nof for a time. “He’s very good-natured, giving, smart, very self-effacing, with a real sense of humour.”

The terrorists, killed at the scene by police, were cousins from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Jabel Mukaber. One of them reportedly worked in a convenience store near the synagogue and knew the area well.

This latest horrific attack raises further fears of a holy war in the city of peace.

In the last few weeks, Israeli Arabs have killed six of their Jewish neighbours, including a three-month-old baby, in a spate of knife and car-ramming attacks incited by false Palestinian claims that Israel was planning on desecrating and destroying the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, the holy site of the destroyed Jewish Temple and traditionally off limits for Jewish prayer.

Palestinian authority president Mahmoud Abbas had been markedly silent about recent attacks but did condemn Tuesday’s synagogue massacre. But Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, called for further violence and their supporters took to the streets to hand out candies and celebrate the cold-blooded murders.

What is most alarming is that these aren’t assailants who have slipped into the country — they are fellow residents of Israel.

“They looked like just regular people you see walk up and down the street,” said Dr. Joyce Morel.

An emergency physician who moved to Israel from Toronto two years ago, Morel was one of the first responders on the harrowing scene.

“It was horrible. What can I say?” sighed the former emergency doc at Brampton’s William Osler Health System. “It’s inhumane. People are asking why. There’s no reason, there’s no logical reason to come into a house of worship and murder people at prayer.”

As a volunteer medic with United Hatzalah of Israel, she got the call on her radio just as she was about to begin her own morning prayers: there was a shooting at a synagogue near her house, with a number of serious injuries.

“I put on the lights and sirens on my car,” she recalled in a phone interview from Jerusalem.

When she arrived, the doctor found a worshipper had escaped outside to the sidewalk, blood gushing from his head. He told her his back hurt.

In fact, his upper back had been ripped apart by a meat cleaver. “There was huge wound,” recalled Morel, 56. “It was a six-inch cut. His back was open right through to his ribs.”

She treated the gaping wound as best she could before armed police arrived and told them they had to get out of the way. “There’s still shooting going on,” they yelled at her.

Her patient is now stable and she’s hoping to visit him soon. But the policeman she helped intubate died hours later in hospital.

This was the second time in two weeks that she was called to a terrorist attack. On Nov. 5, an Arab resident of East Jerusalem slammed his car into two groups of pedestrians near the light rail track in Jerusalem, killing one and injuring 14 others. “It’s two too many,” Morel said.

But as difficult as it is to deal with such senseless bloodshed, she prefers being in Israel than hearing about such attacks from afar. “It’s much easier to take when you can do something to help,” she explained. “It’s a real privilege and honour to actually do something for your fellow Jew.”

Hours after treating terror victims on a blood-splattered sidewalk, the orthodox woman was still at work at a women’s health clinic treating her regular patients.

“It’s life affirming. We all have to regroup and get on with life. It was hard to concentrate,” Morel admitted. “But that’s life in Israel. I wouldn’t trade it in a million years.”

Read Mandel Wednesday through Saturday.

 

 


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