Parents of terror victim honor daughters memory

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JERUSALEM — When Alisa Flatow was killed in a terrorist attack in April in Gaza, not all her dreams died with her.

A vivacious 20-year-old from New Jersey and student at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., Flatow had hoped to work in the Jewish community after graduation.

Her plans were cut short by an April 9 suicide bombing of a bus in the Gaza Strip that claimed her life and the lives of seven Israeli soldiers.

"As Jews, it is our responsibility to help Jews less fortunate than we are," she once wrote.

Immediately after her death, her parents, Stephen and Rosalyn Flatow, put their daughter's words into practice by donating her organs to Israelis.

Her heart was successfully transplanted into a 56-year-old man who had been waiting more than a year for one. Her pancreas and one kidney were transplanted into a 42-year-old woman with kidney failure who was reported to have been waiting 20 years for the organs.

Flatow's lungs, liver and other kidney were transplanted to other patients. Her corneas were donated to the eye bank in Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.

Because Israelis rarely donate organs, the Flatows' actions received vast media attention here and helped raise public awareness about the scarcity of organ donors in Israel.

On Monday, the Flatows again honored Alisa's memory by creating a scholarship fund at Nishmat, the Jerusalem-based women's seminary she had been attending at the time of her death.

Another scholarship fund, intended for American high school graduates wishing to study Jewish topics in Israel, has already been established.

In Israel, for the first time since their daughter's death, the Flatows acknowledged that "being here is bittersweet."

In an interview before the unveiling of a memorial plaque at Nishmat, Stephen Flatow said, "We love the country, and it's good to see Israel under any circumstances.

"We identify with the many Israeli parents who have lost children. We're here because we're Jews and this is our home. We couldn't stay away from our home."

He added: "The country is going through some changes right now. We're not happy with everything we see, and just hope that Israelis are walking toward their betterment, their improvement, to live in peace with their neighbors."

Rosalyn Flatow said her two younger daughters, 15 and 18, have both been to Israel since their sister's death.

"They wanted to be here now," she said, "but this is their first week of school, and that has to be their priority. They missed too much school this past year."

After the unveiling of the plaque, a small memorial ceremony was held, which was attended by Israeli officials, U.S. Consul General James Gray, Nishmat students and the recipient of one of Flatow's kidneys.

At the ceremony, her friends recalled an ebullient, confident young woman with a passion for Israel.

Noting how Alisa missed her family and friends back home, her friend Kate Ireland said, "Even being so far away from her family, the humor and warmth of Alisa's relationships were obvious to me."

Perhaps the most emotional moment at the ceremony came when the Flatows met Aryeh Mendelsohn, the 44-year-old recipient of one of Alisa's kidneys.

Mendelsohn, thin but evidently in good health, related how the kidney had saved his life.

"In 1989, my kidney failure became more acute," he said. "I had a kidney transplant, but it failed after 11 days. I was told I had no other chance of finding a kidney in Israel.

"In 1993, I went to Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. They examined me, put me on their list, and then I returned to Israel to wait."

After being on home dialysis for many years, Mendelsohn said his life has been transformed by the transplant.

"I'm feeling well, although it was a complicated transplant. I spent 2-1/2 months in the hospital due to complications, but I returned to work last month," he said.

He told the Flatows, "I want you to know how much I appreciate what you've done. It was a brave decision."

Appearing to be on the verge of tears, Stephen Flatow stressed that death at the hands of terrorists "isn't limited to the State of Israel."

Referring to terrorism in the United States, he said, "They can find you on the Brooklyn Bridge, at the World Trade Center, in Oklahoma City."

But, he added, "terrorism will never defeat us."