‘It is the closest I have ever come to death,” said Rabbi Henry Weiner of Manhattan. “I become emotional just talking about it.”
Rabbi Weiner and his wife, Rickie, were having lunch at the Kaffit Café in Jerusalem last Thursday when a Palestinian walked past with a knapsack slung over his shoulder.
The rabbi, in Jerusalem for a convention of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, said the man attracted his attention because he was wearing a topcoat on a very hot afternoon.
“The next thing I knew, our waiter was pushing this guy out of the restaurant and into the courtyard,” recalled Rabbi Weiner, 68, who retired three years ago after 40 years at Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, N.J. “He pushed him past us” and later wrestled him to the ground and arrested him.
Rickie Weiner said they later learned that the man, who was sweating profusely, had asked their waiter, Shlomi Harel, for a glass of water.
“Shlomi asked him what was in the knapsack and the man said clothes,” Weiner said. “Shlomi suspected they weren’t clothes and he began pushing the guy out.”
Once outside, Harel, 23, a veteran of an elite combat unit, noticed a wire protruding from the knapsack and pulled on it, preventing the detonation of 40 pounds of explosives.
“The wire ran out of the knapsack, down the man’s sleeve and to a detonator he held in his hand,” said Rabbi Weiner. “The police said there would have been a major disaster. … It would have been the end of our lives.”
“It was a miracle,” added his wife, director of Friends of the Library at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. “The only time I realized what might have happened was the next day when we met Shlomi again [at the restaurant]. That was the first time I had tears in my eyes and I had a real need to give him a big hug.”
A Swiss millionaire, Adi Gat, flew to Israel to present Harel with $5,000 in cash for his action, and the Weiners said they and their dinner companions invited Harel to visit the United States as their guests.
“Since he saved our lives, the best thing we could do is to share our lives with him,” said Rabbi Weiner.