On Motza’ei Shabbos Parshas T’rumah (March 4), the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills filled with members of the community and members and the Young Israel to show support for the chevrah kadisha of the Young Israel of KGH. Dr. Jeff Weintraub welcomed everyone to the Jack Rapp/George and Rita Rushfield dinner. He noted that Jack Rapp, Rabbi Rushfield, and Rebbetzin Rushfield were a driving force in the operation of the chevrah kadisha of the Young Israel of KGH under the guidance of the Rabbi Emeritus, Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld. The chevrah kadisha of the Young Israel supplies chairs, siddurim, and sifrei Torah, and arranges leining at the house of mourning. The Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills is one of the few shuls with its own chevrah kadisha.
Next, Mr. David Reich, President of the Young Israel of KGH, spoke. He pointed out that the chevrah is all about helping a family in need.
Following this, Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, rav of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, expressed his personal gratitude to the chevrah kadisha, which helped his family during the recent passing of his mother Rebbetzin Ruth Schonfeld. Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld addressed the crowd via telephone; due to the extreme cold he was not able to attend in person. Rabbi Schonfeld said that he wished to take this opportunity to thank the chevrah kadisha, which treats everyone with dignity, love, and friendship. He thanked everyone for joining together to support this great mitzvah. He also expressed his personal hakaras ha’tov to them and the hope that we should get together for simchos and good things.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld then pointed out that the people working for the chevrah kadisha do hard physical labor and it is a labor of love.
After this, the guest speaker, Mr. Stephen Flatow, spoke from the heart as he shared the story of his daughter Alisa Flatow, Hy”d, who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 1995.
Mr. Flatow began by speaking about his own childhood and where he grew up and how it was a sheltered, safe place. He then shared the remarkable story of his daughter who, at age four, told her parents she was going to the Hebrew day school with her friend Becky, not public school. This unusual daughter, Alisa, was the impetus that led her family to becoming observant. Mr. Flatow shared that her attending this school changed their family. He then told how Alisa developed a love for Eretz Yisrael at a young age, mainly due to the education at the Jewish school she attended. At age 11 she made her first trip to Israel. The trip that really changed her life was the March of the Living trip that she took when she was in her last year of high school. After that trip, she volunteered at a Russian school and in the fall, when she went to Brandeis, she became the kosher meal coordinator in the kosher dining room. When she was 20 years old, she made her sixth trip to Israel. She worked for this for three years. In December 1994, she was thriving in Nishmat.
Mr. Flatow then shared what happened in April 1995. He spoke to his daughter on Motza’ei Shabbos, April 8, not knowing it would be the last time he would be able to speak to her.
She was going on vacation to Gush Katif with some friends. This was during the beginning of the Oslo Process. Mr. Flatow had taught his children three important rules: no hitchhiking, go with one or two friends, and have a recognizable destination. So that night he asked Alisa, “How are you getting to Gush Katif? Who are you traveling with? What’s so special at Gush Katif?”
She was excited about the separate swimming by the Mediterranean. She had a special beach chair all ready to bring.
Mr. Flatow said, “Have a good time.”
The next morning, on his way to shul, he heard there was a bus bombing in Gaza. He noted, “I didn’t hear the explosion or cries of pain. I knew Alisa was involved. Only Hashem could protect her.
The mothers of her traveling companions called. They were worried because they didn’t know where Alisa was.
Mr. Flatow called the State Department in Washington, DC. The American Embassy in Israel located Alisa in a hospital in Beersheba in the ICU.
Mr. Flatow flew to Israel. He said it was hard to recite T’hilim. He recalled seeing camels and a woman in a donkey cart when he arrived there.
He shared how his daughter was not responsive at all. Seven soldiers were killed in that attack and 40 people were wounded. The doctor took him into an office and told him that his daughter was dead. They asked him if he would be willing to donate her organs. “How could we not share Alisa with people who shared so much with her?”
Mr. Flatow then spoke about how, in Parshas Lech L’cha, Avraham Avinu just got up to rescue Lot even before he knew who the captive was. This is how we learn to proceed and to succeed. We must stop asking why and understand that it is up to us to become better people. We have to face relentless evil head-on. We have to do something in response. We must stand up to a brutal regime sponsoring murder around the world.
Mr. Flatow sued Iran. They financed terrorists who killed his daughter. “It is up to us to stand up for ourselves and Jews in Israel,” he said. “If we don’t do it, who will?”
He shared how when Alisa was young she broke her foot in a bike accident. On the way to the hospital she asked, “Daddy, why did this happen to me?”
He responded, “Things happen that we don’t understand.”
Mr. Flatow confided that sometimes he hears Alisa’s voice asking this question.
“This much I know,” he stated. “She was in the land she loved with people she loved, studying the religion she loved.”
Mr. Flatow and his wife have 16 grandchildren. Four are named after Alisa. He concluded, “Life goes on in spite of what these people do.”
By Susie Garber