This month commemorates the 20th anniversary of one of the most devastating terror attacks to strike Jerusalem in its modern history when a suicide bomber detonated at the Sbarro Pizzeria in the city’s downtown commercial zone.
The bombing left 15 people dead including five members of the Schijveschuurder family; the parents and three children. To mark the anniversary, surviving members of the family, including two siblings who were seriously injured in the attack, came to Shaare Zedek Medical Center this past week to dedicate a maternal delivery room in memory of their murdered love ones.
Meir Schijveschuurder who experienced the attack as a 17 year old, described the choice to dedicate a delivery room as reflecting the “circle of life.” Both Meir and his sister Chaya, then 8, were brought seriously injured to Bikur Cholim Hospital which in 2012 became part of Shaare Zedek.
Among those who attended the emotional ceremony were medical personnel who triaged and treated the siblings. For them, it was the first time reuniting with the family after they were released from the hospital and they described it as a highly emotional moment.
Chana Smadja, who was then working in the emergency room nurse at Bikur Cholim and is today a senior nurse in Shaare Zedek’s infection control unit, says that day stood out in everyone’s memory amidst the numerous terror attacks that struck the city during that period. With the hospital located less than 200 meters from the scene of the blast, the staff heard and felt the explosion.
While Bikur Cholim was the smallest of the major Jerusalem hospitals, the proximity to the attack made it the center for initial triage and treatment of the most seriously injured. “There was a smell in the air of the explosive materials and the patients arrived on stretchers directly from the site because it was too close to even put them in ambulances. The initial moments were chaotic and it took some time before we were able to realize the extent of the catastrophe and that we were treating multiple siblings whose parents had been killed,” Ms. Smadja recalls.
Chagai HaCohen, a veteran surgical nurse who was similarly then at Bikur Cholim and today at Shaare Zedek and has treated victims from dozens of mass casualty incidents, says it was “one of the toughest days of my professional life.” Chagai recalls those moments where they struggled to identify the victims and all too painfully began to understand the scope of the family tragedy. “To be here today and to see the siblings strong and healthy and know they have families of their own is truly witnessing a circle being closed. An event that caused so much devastation and loss is now being marked in this way that will bring new lives into the world.”
The decision to donate the delivery room in one of the world’s most active hospitals, which recorded over 22,000 births in 2020, came in part when Chaya Schijveschuurder was blessed to deliver her first child in the hospital last year. Meir’s wife Nechama also works as a midwife in the hospital’s Wilf Woman and Infant Center. Meir explained, “Over the years we have always wanted to express our gratitude to the medical teams and we deeply appreciate the chance to be able to memorialize our family with this special delivery room that so symbolizes life.”
Prof. Jonathan Halevy, President of Shaare Zedek thanked the family saying, “This is a room which is defined by the spirit of birth and building the future of Jerusalem and Israel in a way that ensures that even out of the most devastating events like this attack we can offer the promise of hope and life.”
PHOTO: Siblings Chaya and Meir Schijveschuurder meet with medical personnel who treated them in the wake of Sbarro terror attack 20 years ago. (CREDIT: Jared Bernstein)