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Shattered but strong after Tel Aviv terror attack

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Johannesburg resident Kim Fine and her family went from enjoying a carefree evening out in the Namal (port) area of Tel Aviv last Thursday evening (7 April), to hiding from terrorists in a ladies’ dressing room in a clothing shop for two hours.

She and her husband, Peter, live in Johannesburg and were in Israel to visit their 18 and 24-year-old children for Pesach when they happened to find themselves too close to the terrorist attack.

“We heard a siren, and people just started running and rushing in all directions. Apparently the shooter from Dizengoff went there. We happened to be standing outside a ladies’ clothing shop and the owner opened the shop and about 10 to 15 of us rushed inside. We spent almost two hours in the dark standing in the ladies change rooms. I said tehillim.

“After almost two hours, things looked quiet, and we left to get a taxi but none were available. Tel Aviv had shut down. We managed to hail one, and he drove at high speed to get out of Tel Aviv. We’re staying in Ra’anana. The highway was insane. What struck me was how Israelis came together. It was so shocking how one person could cause such chaos. Baruch Hashem we got home safely.”

Ma’ayan Hack often frequents the bar where the attack happened because she lives close by. “I go there all the time. I live in another quiet road off Dizengoff [Israelis Street]. That night, I was out with a friend, and we saw the police search my apartment block [for the terrorist] on TV. The terrorist ran onto my street.”

Hack’s parents are South African, and brought their children up in Canada before making aliya as a family to Israel.

She says that from now on, she’ll have a daily reminder of how this attack came to close to home – literally. She walks her dog on a quiet street near her apartment. On that street, she now sees the back windscreen of a parked car is shattered. A bullet hole is clearly visible where the terrorist shot at Israelis who had been enjoying a night out just minutes before.

Hack recalls, “On Thursday we were at a bar close to Rabin Square, about a five-minute walk away from where the attack happened. Thursday night at 21:00 is exactly when the weekend starts, and people were out in their numbers.”

When patrons around her started getting calls about the terrorist, three women had panic attacks. Hack and others stayed and calmed them down, which she says helped her to stay calm. She and her friend then walked to her boyfriend’s sister’s nearby apartment where they stayed until 02:00.

It was there that she saw her own home on TV as police and the army searched for the terrorist. Eventually she headed home, escorted by police and the army, as the terrorist was still at large.

“It was a hectic night,” she says. “Many other people were being escorted home in the early hours of the morning.” Walking her dog the next day, she saw the car with the shattered window and a bullet hole in the gate of an apartment block.

South African paralympic swimmer Shireen Sapiro now lives in Tel Aviv with her fiancé. “We were all at the Telfed building in Tel Aviv having a braai. All of a sudden, we got notifications that there had been another terror attack down the road. I felt a wave of anxiety. The mood immediately shifted – even though we weren’t in it, it was a stone’s throw away.

“Yesterday, my fiancé and I went to the site and lit candles to pay our respects,” she says. “It was awful and surreal. It’s a place I go to on a weekly basis, and to think that in seconds, everything can change from calm to carnage. But I will continue living life as best I can.”

Lior Witz made aliya from Cape Town and now lives in Tel Aviv. “I live pretty close, and literally all of my friends were stranded until the early hours of the morning. The general feeling is total heartbreak and complete devastation. I was at my cousin’s cooking for Shabbos, and we had taken a bus to the grocery store. It took us over an hour in what should have taken 10 minutes to get home because the city was gridlocked.

“My friends had to walk through the broken glass in the streets as they were going to a next-door bar for a birthday, and were in the centre of it,” she says. “Another cousin was actually next door to it and is a doctor, so went to help at the scene. We have all visited the site to pay our respects. It’s been very difficult, feeling terrified walking in the streets that give us so much joy and independence, and to feel robbed of that. I go to that bar a lot with friends. It could have been us.”

Samuel Hyde was sitting at a nearby bar with another friend from South Africa. “I was about a kilometre and a half away. We heard the shooting. I had a friend who was at Dizengoff mall and was locked in there for four hours. Another friend was two restaurants away. Everyone knew someone that was there, because it’s Dizengoff, and its Thursday night. But within two minutes [of the shooting], it was a ghost town. It was like what the streets looked like during hard lockdown. Everyone felt the same trauma and shock.”

Hack says she won’t let the attack affect her. “When we first moved to Israel from Canada in 2005, it was very hard. I felt like I didn’t fit in. Today, it’s my home. I would never live anywhere else. I will raise my children here one day. When things like this happen, obviously it’s scary, but Israel is one big family. That’s what gives us the strength to carry on. People I haven’t spoken to in years called to check on me because they know I live on that street.

“We could easily let this affect us, but on Friday, Tel Aviv was back to being busy, showing the world that we’re not scared. It’s my neighbourhood, and I love it here. This is my home, and I won’t let anyone ruin that for me.”

Community Security Organisation (CSO) head of operations in Gauteng, Jevon Greenblatt, says he doesn’t think this attack represents a change in the status quo, but “there’s no doubt that one attack inspires another”.

He notes that Hamas doesn’t want war with Israel at the moment, even though it glorifies these horrific acts and claims that some of the lone wolf attackers are its members.

“We are on a heightened alert due to the situation in Israel as there’s always a chance that radicalised individuals around the world will be inspired to emulate these acts, but it’s also important to note that increasing our security levels around the chaggim is the norm,” he says. “We urge everyone to be vigilant. Please report any suspicious activity or incidents affecting the community to the CSO on 0861 800 018. This is out of an abundance of caution and not based on any known threats to our community.”

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