In New York, 9/11 families, Israeli terror victims bond

NEW YORK — Under an outdoor canopy peppered by nighttime rain at a kosher steakhouse, Danny Turgman strokes his left arm when the conversation turns intimate, appearing achingly self-conscious.

Turgman can't feel any sensation in his arm.

It has been more than a year since a suicide bomber shattered Turgman's body in an attack at Jerusalem's Moment Café.

And though the thin, wide-eyed 28-year-old largely has healed, save for a scarred neck and a flattened arm — fastened to his body with hefty straps that crisscross his back — he is enveloped in emotional wounds.

Gazing at his broken arm, which he cradles with his healthy one, Turgman holds back tears as he asks in halting English: Who will date him in his current condition?

Struggling to cut his hamburger or to open his fanny pack with his teeth, Turgman is only just beginning to adjust to life post-Moment.

Too frightened to frequent his favorite cafes, his days consist of work, home and hospital. He even had to be persuaded to travel to New York, where he feared being caught in another attack.

Turgman has spent a week here with more than 20 other young victims of Palestinian terrorism and bereaved family members of victims. They were brought by One Family, a group that seeks to highlight the human cost of terrorism.

The group is meeting politicians in New York and Washington, soothing themselves with visits to tourist attractions and by sharing their experiences.

On Monday night, they joined former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and family members of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Have hope and be optimistic!" Giuliani told the group at a packed press conference at the B'nai Zion house in New York City.

Concluding a speech that underscored the need to fight international terrorism, Giuliani said, "People that live in freedom will always prevail over people who live in oppression."

The group then burst into song, first singing "God bless America" and then a Hebrew hymn — "Hinei Mah Tov U'mah Na'im" — linking their arms and swaying.

James Riches links his sinewy arm with the wounded one of an Israeli whose burned skin is held together by a bandage. Riches' sturdy, square frame belies his own fragile emotional state.

The Brooklyn-born fireman lost his oldest son, of the same name and profession, on Sept. 11.

The "same people that killed my son maimed and killed most of these people," Riches said, describing a bond he feels for Israeli terror victims.

The instant Riches learned of the World Trade Center attack, he said he knew his son, stationed downtown, would be called for duty.

With no way to reach him, he went to the site to look for him. It took six months plowing through muck and debris until he found his son's remains.

He "wanted me there looking for him," said Riches, who buried his son's remains at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Attached to the underside of Riches' formal white fireman's cap is a tiny photo of his son, with a caption reading, "In loving memory of James C. Riches, Sept. 11, 2001."

Riches admits that he feels rage at times.

"I'd like to go kill a few myself," he said, referring to the terrorists behind his son's murder. Instead, he said, he tries to channel his energy toward good, "not for evil, like these other idiots."

Yariv Shabo, 18, also tries to draw lessons from the death of his mother and three brothers, killed when Palestinian snipers shot them in their home in the West Bank Israeli town of Itamar, then set the house ablaze.

Shabo was with friends on his street when he heard the shooting and took cover at a neighbor's house.

In an instant, his family shrank from nine members to five, says Shabo, who covers his head with a large, colorful knit kipah.

In broken English, he explains his loss — "no mother food, no little brother to play with."

One brother — who survived the shooting but lost a leg to a bullet — is afraid to sleep alone. Shabo and his father stay with him at night.

Shabo, who has moved to Kedumim, another West Bank Israeli town, says, "You have to keep going."

Otherwise the Arabs will win, explains Shabo, a gentle spirit who will leave yeshiva to join the Israeli army in March.

The attack has only heightened Shabo's attachment to Israel.

"We're supposed to hold on very hard," he says, demonstrating with a fist what he can't fully express in words.

The experience also has heightened his sense of Jewish peoplehood.

"All of the Jews are one big family," he says. "I meet Jews. I see the love they give us, everything. They want to hug us. They want to help as they can."

Within the group of Israeli terror victims, there is no secular-religious divide, Shabo says, giving a high-five to Turgman — who does not wear a yarmulke — and saying that the two have become good friends.

Ultimately, Shabo believes there is a divine reason for his survival: Maybe, he says, it is "to help Am Yisrael,'' the People of Israel.