Families of murdered children learn that the pain keeps coming, sneaking up like the killer did in the first place. In 1994, three weeks before Passover, Ari Halberstam, 16, was riding in a van over the Brooklyn Bridge when Rashid Baz, in a nearby car, shot a bullet into Halberstamís brain. Now his mother, Devorah Halberstam, is living, as the holiday prayer surrealistically puts it, ìin those days in this time.î She hangs up her cell phone in tears after another son, 15, calls from a departing plane at Kennedy Airport.ì
Excuse me,î she says, trying to collect herself. ìAll these years later, my kids leave the house I go crazy, no matter how many years it is.îAri was her oldest and soon he will also be her youngest; he is forever 16 even as his youngest brother will turn 16 on his next birthday. Devorah nurses Ariís memory, particularly when she feels that some in the media have no memory at all.
On March 5, exactly 12 years to the day Ari died, The New York Times began a three-part series on Imam Reda Shata and the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge. She remembered that at the murder trial, witnesses testified that Baz attended a raging anti-Semitic sermon at that very same place. Jews were ìracist and fascist, as bad as the Nazisî said a speaker there (not Shata), shortly before Baz got into his car with a Glock semiautomatic pistol and a Cobray machine gun, hunting for Jews.But the article, by Andrea Elliot, never mentioned Baz nor his victim. The article, if anything, depicted the mosque as more moderate than not. Elliot did report that the imam praised Hamas and a suicide bomber, even as he ìforged friendships with rabbis in New York.îDevorah Halberstam says she called Elliot and asked if the reporter ever heard of Ari Halberstam. According to Halberstam, Elliot answered, ìWho?î She never heard of the murder either, adds Halberstam.ì
When I told her the story,î says Halberstam, ìshe just said, ëThatís a long time ago.í I said, ëExcuse me?í First of all, itís hardly a long time ago; second, to say that to a mother is disgusting; and third, terror like that is very pertinent to this day and age, after 9-ll.î
The Jewish Week tried contacting both Elliot and her editors, who have yet to respond.Itís not only the Times that frustrated Halberstam. New York 1, the cable news station, does a daily feature on this day in history and, she claims, never included her sonís death, ìone of the most outrageous murders in New York history; it wasnít just the murder of Ari ó Rashid Baz never met Ari ó it was an attack against all Jewish people.î
Devorahís family remembers what others donít: the way Ariís teenaged face was soft, beard ungrown; his childhood pleasure from Knock-Hockey and chess; how the Lubavitcher rebbe himself taught Ari the Alef-Bet when Ari was 3; how Ari used to stay up to the early hours talking about a world so holy it could only testify to other mystical worlds in realms beyond this one.
Baz is now serving a life sentence, but Halberstam is aware of how many terrorists are not. She says, ìLook how Sami Al-Arian got off,î referring to the Florida professor, linked to Islamic Jihad, who was acquitted in December of several terrorist conspiracy charges, with a hung jury on other charges. ìThey had so much on him but they lost that case ó you could almost bust. By now, [the terrorists] are way ahead of all of us.î
The Shabbat before Passover, Shabbat HaGadol, Stephen Flatow marked the 11th yahrtzeit of his daughter Alisaís death in Gaza by a bus bombing engineered by Islamic Jihad. Her death and the haunting beauty of her lost life, was a centerpiece of the governmentís case.Flatow says the mediaís trial coverage ìwas terrible. The big papers in New York, Washington and Los Angeles picked up one or two AP stories, but there was no real flavor for what was happening, as by the Tampa Tribune or the St. Petersburg Times. To me, it was a seminal case involving people directly accused of conspiring to commit terror. One day I was down [in Tampa, at the trial], so the Star-Ledger had something, but on the other side of the fold was an article on Rachel Corrie,î the young woman who was accidentally killed in Gaza by an Israel bulldozer that she was trying to prevent from unearthing a terrorist tunnel. Since her death, Corrie has become a highly celebrated ìmartyrî by the radical left, and the subject of theatrical productions in London and a New York production that has been postponed.Comparing his daughter to Corrie ìwas a horrible message to send,î says Flatow.
The case of Al-Arian, whose ongoing petitions, tax and immigration litigation and jockeying for a second trial is being reported on several times a month in the Tampa Tribune, is still getting no coverage outside Florida. During the Gaza disengagement, Flatow kept looking for news about the fate of the Kfar Darom memorial, at the site of the bombing, with a plaque containing the names of the eight victims, including Alisaís. ìNo one knows what happened to it,î Flatow says, ìmaybe itís in some warehouse. Every Sunday I expect a knock on my door from some Israeli carrying Alisaís name, cut off from that plaque.
Flatow says, ìI really begin the yahrtzeit on Shabbos Zachor,î the Shabbat of Memory, just prior to Purim, when the Torah reading says of Amalek, the Israelitesí nemesis, ìRemember what they did to you on the road from Egypt.îThen, says Flatow, ìI think of that road through Gaza, and who Amalek went after: the weak, the tired ó Alisa was asleep on that bus.î He remembered that the first successful lawsuit regarding the bombing came in 1998 on Taanis Esther, the day before Purim. When he heard in that morningís Torah reading the words, ìvíalisah baboker,î [ìcome up in the morning,î] it sounded like ìAlisa in the morningî to a fatherís ears.Like Ariís mother, Alisaís father hears and sees what others donít. The news cycles move on to the newly buried, but a childís death is always newer than some reporters suppose. n