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Hope for Life

May 9, 2009 | by Wendy Tikva Cohen

Last summer, one family miraculously survived a direct hit to their home.

The Mor family was one of the first families to take a direct hit to their home on July 13, 2006, the 17th of Tammuz, as the fast day was ending. All the family was there; all miraculously survived.

Tzion Mor, 39, a quiet, introspective man, is a scribe of mezuzahs, tefillin, and Torah scrolls and an artist. Originally from Petach Tikva, he is of Iraqi and Greek ancestry. His wife Revital, almost 35, beautiful inside and out, a lively mother of five precious children, is of Persian and Spanish ancestry and grew up in the same neighborhood as Tzion. She is an accomplished self-taught painter. Their children, Bat-Tzion (seven), Michal (six), Avraham Natan (five), Odel Chana (two), and Lia (one), will carry physical scars for the rest of their life. We pray the emotional damage will heal soon.

Later, Avraham Natan would tell his father, "Abba, you have no scars on you. You must be Superman!" Indeed, Tzion Mor's account of the events that evening, the evening their life would change, is one of a superhero.

"I had just left my family laughing and joking in the kitchen, to look for three stars on the balcony marking the end of the fast. Revital had finished cooking, and four of our children were in the kitchen standing near the refrigerator with her. I had only one foot on the balcony at the far end of the house, facing the hills of Meron and the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, when it happened. I heard a loud whooshing sound and then boom! -- an enormous explosion, an unbelievably strong ‘force,' as Revital describes it.

My eyes and throat were burning, but I had to go in and help my family.

"I ran toward the kitchen. The smoke was black and thick. It choked me so that I almost fell down and nearly passed out. It hits you in your throat, the smoke, like a burning knife. I waited a very short time, then entered what used to be the entry to the house and the kitchen. My eyes and throat were burning, but I had to go in and help my family.

"Through the dark, black smoke I began pulling out my children one by one from underneath the broken glass and fallen walls. The Katyusha had landed just a few centimeters from the doorway of the house. Revital was sitting less than a meter from where it landed. It blew a hole in a huge arch shape where the doorways and walls used to be. The two doors and part of the walls were gone, blown to pieces. I had to carefully lift each one of my children and almost jump across this huge hole.

"I remember thinking, Where to put Bat-Tzion? whom I picked up first, and then, when I went to get the others, Where to put them all safely? As I quickly leaped over the cratered hole with Bat-Tzion in my arms, I decided to place her against the far wall of the house adjoining us. Bat-Tzion's beautiful, sweet face was bleeding, and so were her back and other areas.

Then I took Avraham Natan, also bleeding. The doctors say the metal shrapnel must stay in him for now. It's too dangerous to remove it. (Later he would have surgery on his abdomen).

"Then I picked up Michal, bleeding badly from her head, stomach, many places. Then Odel Chana. She was also bleeding, hurt in her head and in other places on her body."

"Each child was standing there with eyes wide open, with a look one would never forget. They were silent, dazed."

A nearby neighbor was standing on his rooftop and saw the Katyusha land. He ran with his teenage son to see if anyone was hurt.

The neighbor relates: "Two other neighbors, my son, and I came running and found four of the children outside their pulverized home covered in black soot. They had unforgettable bloody red pockmarks all over their little heads and bodies, bleeding from the steel bits and ball bearings that had been packed inside the Katyusha.

"The children were completely silent. They were in total, frozen, silent shock, just staring at one another, covered in blood and dust. The only sound was the gushing water from the water pipe that the missile had burst.

"We took the children down to the road. We stopped the first car and dashed them over to the hospital. We weren't even aware of the whereabouts of the parents. The children couldn't tell us anything, not even their names. Soon after we arrived at the hospital, the parents and another child came in, the mother seriously hurt."

One of the neighbors a month later was seen removing bits and pieces of shrapnel from a nearby tree, pieces like those inside the children. They were small, jagged, rusty metal.

While the neighbors were helping the children outside, Tzion was back inside the shattered house.

"I went back for Revital and told her, ‘Come on, please get up.' But she told me, ‘Tzion, I cannot get up. My leg, my leg!'

"Revital was amazing after the rocket hit. When I first entered the smoke-filled kitchen, she was still sitting on the chair, her hands stretched up to the heavens praying," said Tzion.

"I had to pray," Revital said. "When Tzion came into the kitchen, I was saying Psalms. ‘I will lift my eyes to the mountains. From where will my help come?...'

"I was aware of the explosion. I knew exactly what had happened, but at first, I wasn't sure if I was still in this world. I heard my children crying, ‘Ima, Ima,' before they went into shock, but I didn't know if I was hearing them from this world or the Next. Then I realized that I was still alive, and immediately I knew that God didn't want me to give up. I fought not to pass out. I knew I was hanging between life and death.

"What is Israel? A part of the Almighty. He wants Israel to live. I had to do what I could to show Him that I wanted to live. I made my effort. I reached out to him. But it was God who lifted up my arms. It was God who was saying the Psalms, not me. He was right there with me, closer than ever before.

"I knew I had to stay awake. I wanted to pass out, but I knew I had to reach God with my prayers!"

Later they would discover that Revital had a crushed knee, a broken tibia, her fibula partially severed at the ankle, and many deep lacerations.

A neighbor came in when Tzion was trying to help Revital. He gently lifted the bottom of Revital's skirt and saw in horror the severity of the injury.

"I did not think I would keep my leg," Revital remembers.

Tzion continues, "Someone went to get bandages to secure her ankle before they could move her. Later, another next door neighbor -- he and his family were miraculously saved from injuries by the horrible force of this Katyusha that blew their windows in on them -- came rushing over. Three neighbors and I carried Revital out. Maybe someone else helped. I do not exactly remember."

Earlier Tzion had frantically searched for his baby, who was alone in the salon when it happened.

Suddenly, through the smoke, we saw something squirming and crawling toward us on the floor. It was Lia.

"After the four bigger children were outside, I began looking for signs of my baby, Lia. I could see very little because of the thick smoke and debris that was still everywhere. Then, suddenly, through the smoke, Revital and I saw something squirming and crawling toward us on the floor from the salon near the kitchen. I quickly realized it was Lia, scooped her up, and removed her from our mangled home.

"With Revital's leg now secured with bandages, we went down the hill through mud and debris to wait for the ambulance. At the local hospital, my children were put into different beds in the ER. They were crying, ‘Ima! Abba!' I was running back and forth from bed to bed."

Revital remembers seeing Bat-Tzion's back in the ER. She was in the bed next to her. It was bleeding. "I remember thinking, They know what evil is now. I could see in Bat-Tzion's eyes that she understood what had happened, what parents don't ever want their children to know."

Tzion remembers that Revital was in shock. "The doctors saw Michali's head and stomach injuries and said she needed to go quickly to Rambam Hospital in Haifa. I had to go with her in the helicopter. I had no choice.

"When we landed at Rambam Hospital, there were flashes of camera lights everywhere. I felt like I was some kind of movie star, only this was my daughter, badly injured! I put my hands up to cover my eyes from the bright lights. Just as they were separating us, I spoke to Michal. Then they quickly took Michal into surgery. She was in there for over five and a half hours for her head and her stomach. I could not believe this was happening. After the surgery they put her in a medically induced coma. The doctors said they would wake her up in a few days. That was late Thursday night. Before Shabbos she awoke. The doctors could not believe it. My Michal is strong, very strong!

"Revital's mother came to the Tzefat hospital, and my twin brother came from Tel Aviv to Rambam Hospital in Haifa. All I can say is "Thank God!" The Almighty made me leave the kitchen at that exact moment. Just half a minute after I left the kitchen the missile hit. Go had to remove me from there so I would be able to get my family out of that awful mess and be able to help my family now. We are all glad to be alive, loving and laughing, only two months later.

"My family, my mother, father, brother, sister, Revital's family, our friends and neighbors, everyone has been great. It is hard, running around all the time, taking everyone to the doctors for CT scans and waiting for their results, taking caring of their wounds, having Revital's cast changed (oh, that was so painful for her). It was hard going back and forth to Hadassah Hospital, over half an hour from Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, our wonderful host, where we were for nearly two months.

"Now my life is consumed with starting up a whole new house and taking Revital to the hospital, dealing with things not finished in the house and praying three times a day. Baruch Hashem, baruch Hashem! The children are a lot better. Revital will be in a cast for two more months (a total of four and a half months).

"How do I feel now? I can only say, 'Baruch Hashem!' "

Excerpted from the just-published book, "Faith under Fire: 33 Days of Missiles and Miracles – Eyewitness accounts and personal stories of Israel's Northern War," compiled and edited by Chana Besser.

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