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A Hidden Angel

A Hidden Angel

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It is very unlike me to sit down and write something like this, and yet, I feel that I have an obligation to do so. I am a quiet person, who lives a quiet life, and there was nothing so newsworthy or interesting about myself or my family, until unfortunately tragedy struck and turned the ordinary into the extraordinary.

On August 19, 2003, my husband and I were celebrating our 9-year anniversary. With five small children, our youngest at that time just one month old, we did not get out of the house very often. The school year was about to begin the following week, and so we decided to do something special with the children. They very much wanted to go to the Kotel (Western Wall), and we, too, felt it was the best place we could be on our anniversary.

Once there, my kids ran around having the time of their lives. They each had a chance to daven by the wall and say some tehillim (psalms), and yet, they managed to make a playground out of the plaza, as they and other kids their age laughingly chased one another. We took beautiful pictures of our children that night with a brand new camera that we finally splurged to buy. And for my baby, Elchanan, who had been born just a few weeks prior, touching his small hands and body to the stones of the Kotel was a very special experience.

Minutes before we were about to leave we bumped into friends that we hadn't seen in a while. They were a large family but came only with their younger children. We sat and spoke, enjoying our time together, yet when I realized that it was way past bedtime, we decided to wait for the bus.

It was around 9:00 pm as the bus arrived and a huge crowd tried to push their way on. Since the driver had opened both doors, we entered through the middle of the bus, my husband taking my little Shira, 1 ½, with him, and I took Elchanan along with my eldest daughter Meirav, 7, and middle daughter, Orly, 4, to sit with me. Our son Daniel, 6, choose to sit alongside our friends who had boarded with us.

Elchanan was hungry, so I covered him up with a large baby blanket and began nursing. There was barely room to breathe on the bus, let alone move, and so I was not thrilled when Daniel suddenly arrived, pushing and nudging his sisters for a space to stand. He explained that a pregnant woman didn't have a seat so he gave his to her and joined us.

What happened next is simply indescribable. I actually didn't hear anything — supposedly you never do. There was just this thick silence for about half a minute while everyone's senses tried to grasp what had happened. And then the shrieking began. The metal from the bus had fallen on top of me and I couldn't hear much or see anything. But fear, panic and pain penetrated and filled the darkness of the bus skeleton in which we sat. My eardrums had been blasted and I was barely conscious. Everything from that second is a blur. I didn't know where my children were; I didn't know anything. Suddenly I felt like I was being lifted as rescue workers tried to carry me from the wreckage. I felt something fall from my lap and knew it was my baby, yet I didn't hear him cry and feared that he had been killed. I screamed to them, “My baby, my baby…” but they didn't know what I was referring to. The bus was packed with mothers and children, everyone was looking for their baby.

The next five hours was something that no person should ever have to endure. I was brought to the hospital and my physical wounds were treated, but there were too many victims and emergencies for me to receive the answers I so desperately needed — where was my husband, where were my children?

I was all alone. No one knew we had been at the Kotel that night. I had no one to turn to. I came to Israel from Iran and my family is all in the States. I couldn't tell my mother since her health is not well and I didn't think she could handle the news.

So I sat for hours praying for the best and trying to prepare for the worst. Finally I found out that my husband was in the same hospital with me. He had been facing the bomber and was hit with metal, nails and glass in the face and eye. Shira had been on his lap but he didn't know what had happened to her. He did, however, remember hearing her scream. For me that was wonderful news for if she was screaming, she was alive.

Next we found out that our older children, Meirav, Daniel and Orly were also in the same hospital. They had severe damage to their ears, but miraculously escaped major injury. Orly was still unconscious, but that may have been a blessing, since from the moment she awoke she wouldn't stop shrieking.

Yet my newborn and my Shira were missing. Unbeknownst to us, the news stations were asking for any information about the parents of two children who had arrived at a hospital and were unaccounted for. One was a newborn, and the other a little girl. No one knew they were related. No one knew they were my children. Finally, hours later, a woman brought me tiny little shoes by which I was able to identify Shira, and an x-ray indicated that the baby had only one kidney, and sure enough, Elchanan had only been born with one.

Miraculously, my family had survived. It was still another day until we heard about those who were not so fortunate. Included in that group were our dear friends that we met up with that night. Their 11-month-old son, Shmuel, had been murdered. Alongside him, in the very seat that Daniel had been sitting, the pregnant woman, a mother of a 1-year-old and in her 9th month, had also been brutally killed.

The next day my children were moved into the same room with me, with my husband one floor above. Shira and Elchanan remained at the other hospital and it would be a week until I could even see them. We discovered that Shira had been the most severely injured and doctors feared that she had totally lost vision to one of her eyes. She immediately underwent surgery and when she was brought to me, her beautiful little face and head were bandaged, hiding the horrific marks where glass and shrapnel lay embedded in her cheeks. Elchanan, we were told, was not found until at least an hour after the blast. When they began removing the dead, they suddenly heard the cries of an infant. He was lying beneath three bodies.

The story I just told you, you may have already heard. Most people have. We were the very type of story the media tends to focus on. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, we were quite popular. Our room was filled with visitors and flowers and balloons. People offered help and support and the kindness was overwhelming and unbelievable. But like with most things, when the hype calmed down, so did the response and interest.

And that is why I am writing this story. It is not to tell you what you may have heard, but to reveal to you something that you definitely do not know about. I know that Jay Litvin, of blessed memory, was a primary writer for this site. Many of you have read his moving words and were connected to him in various ways. For me, Jay was an angel.

In addition to everything else that he did in his role as husband, father of seven, writer, and medical liaison for Children of Chernobyl, Jay was also one of the directors of Chabad's Terror Victim Project. From the moment that Chabad heard of our plight, they did not leave our side. But Jay did more than just his job; he took it upon himself to worry, care and call, always checking if there was anything else that we needed.

Jay not only provided us with what we lacked, but also with what we wanted, the things that would make life in such hard times that much easier. He made sure the kids received the right kinds of toys and that we were getting babysitting and other childcare help.

When he heard of the situation with Shira, Jay went on a mission to find the best doctors in the country to treat her. Furthermore, he spent hours contacting his connections in the US, seeing if one of the doctors he knew would donate the services for the plastic surgery that Shira will be needing. He called constantly to ask about her care and her progress.

Just a few months ago, Jay spoke about the Chabad's Terror Victim Project at a Chabad seminary in Jerusalem. The girls were so moved that they all wanted to volunteer. To this day, once a week two wonderful girls travel to our home, playing with the younger children so that I can help the older ones with their homework.

I began to wonder around Purim time why I was having a hard time reaching Jay. Little did I know that some of the times he called me he was lying in a hospital bed, fighting for his own life. He never spoke of himself or his pain or what he was going through. He simply stayed focused on helping others and doing whatever he could to make our lives less painful.

When I heard the terrible news of his untimely passing, I was absolutely crushed. I felt so alone, so abandoned. I knew that there were others who would help and who would care, but that no one could replace the love that Jay had given us. I traveled one night to his family's home for the shivah and met his wonderful wife. With tears in her eyes she spoke of how hard it was for him to be in the hospital at the end. Not because of the horrible pain that he had to endure, but because he was unable to answer his email and phone calls and be there for all of us whom he helped so greatly.

I never even knew Jay was a writer, though I have now discovered that his words have touched the hearts and souls of hundreds if not thousands throughout the world. But no matter how powerful his words, they could not compare to his actions. I just feel so blessed to have known him and to have had him as a part of our lives. We are still struggling, and it will be a long road to recovery, but Jay did everything in his power to ease our journey. And when I think of him and of our last conversation, I can still hear the joy in his voice as I told him that Shira's last surgery was a great success. I can hear his "Thank G‑d!" as I explained that we just took off the bandage, and the doctors are now hopeful that Shira's vision will be restored.

This is the Jay Litvin that I knew and that I wanted to share with you. His loss is not just a private loss, but a loss for all of the Jewish people. And in the merit of all that Jay did for everyone around him, I pray that we be blessed to have him with us once again, and to have no more pain and no more suffering, through the revelation of Moshiach, immediately.

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karen janell mesa, az March 13, 2008

...words do not express... Reply

Chana bas Leah vbas Zanvil Houston, Texas July 29, 2007

Prayer for mitzvos and healing and peace Thank you for reminding us of some of the wonderful people among us.
This man's memory is a blessing. May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life, under the shelter of the wings of the Shchinah. And may others be inspired to imitate him. And may all of the wounds suffered by the Cohen family and the others on that bus and on other buses be healed and may their lives all be raised up rather than cast down by these terrible events and may there be heard in the streets of Jerusalem only the singing and dancing of brides and bridegrooms and their happy families and guests and those who love life, rather than the shrieks of those who have been attacked by those who love death. Reply

rabbi Eli Hecht via chabadsb.org May 16, 2007

Such a large lesson in a small story. Reply

Anonymous amstelveen, holland April 24, 2007

We all try to make most out of our lives but money you can´t take to the grave but good deeds stay forever in people memories.
let we all focus on doing good deeds and less on money so the masiach can come sooner Reply

Gerald Ostrofsky Montreal, Qc April 22, 2007

Your story Thank G-D for Chabad and all the wonderfull work they do around the world and for the recovery of your daughter. Reply

Sima Aharona April 19, 2007

Prayer Your story brought tears. Most stories do, but yours comforted me in knowing of the kindness of Jay. I have noticed as I have matured that the core of what makes a Jew, a Jew has not been lost. Sometimes, we cannot see it, and it is the Miracle of G-d that allows us sight.

Thank you for your sight, Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel April 18, 2007

Ora Cohen's article Dear Ora, Thank G-d that though hurt everyone survived and that he provided the people you needed to help you all through such a traumatic and awful time in your lives.

Jay must indeed have been a special person. Praise G-d for people like that! May G-d bless and keep you and may He fill you with every joy. As Psalms states, "Darkness comes for a night but rejoicing comes in the morning". May your life be full of these mornings! G-d bless.
Reply

Inge Reisinger Offenbach, Germany April 18, 2007

A Hidden Angel Dear Mrs. Cohen, I thank you for writing this story. It is, what G-d tells us every day, his treatment goes very deep into our souls and there are always footprints to follow him. All the best for you and your family.
Reply

Anonymous April 15, 2007

I was in the chabad seminary when Mr. Litvin introducted the Terror Victim Project of seminary girls going and helping homes that were affected by terror. The writer writes in this article about their friends that lost their baby Shmuel on the same bus and that is the family that I went to every Thursday to help them out. Mr. Litvin spoke to us with such sincerity and passion that we did not believe he was not well....I still remember his speech clearly. The Terror Project was the brain child of Mr. Litvin and is still running beautifully until today helping hundreds of terror victims and families on a weekly basis.....this is just one of a million ways where we see clearly how Mr. Litvin still lives on. May his family and all of Isreal merit to see him with Moshiach right now! Reply

Melody Masha Pierson Montreal, Canada April 12, 2007

A Hidden Angel It took me a few passes to read this as the reality was so shivering. May Hashem bless you and keep you safe and healthy. May Jay Litvin of blessed memory continue to inspire all of us. I thank you for sharing this with us. From the depths of my heart to your heart and to your family...we are all one. Sometimes, words are not enough. Your words are full of love and life and hope. Moshiach now! Reply

Ruthi Stein morristown, nj October 21, 2004

woah! that was so intense; i have not been back to israel in over 2 years, but am so connected and reading that just made me realize all the more that i need to be in my country, with my people, feeling what they r feeling and going thru. tears just came out of my eyes, and gushing down my cheeks...i appreciate you sharing that with us as i am sure it was quite difficult and emotionally nerve-wracking to do. thank you, Gd bless you with good and peace and love. Reply

Anonymous July 20, 2004

Dear Mrs Cohen,

Your words sent shivers to every part of me. Thank you for sharing such a painful ordeal. It is an insperation. May you only have all the brachos and may we be zoche to moshiach now.

Reply

Anonymous highland park, il/usa July 19, 2004

May Hashem bless you, your children and husband with life, love and strength. I have learned so much from reading the works of Jay Litvin, but your article opened my eyes to his world of action and doing, in addition to his gift of writing. I wish I had the words to express my compassion for what you have been through and continue to endure. I cannot begin to express the sadness, horror and utter anguish I felt as I read your story. I pray for peace, for you and your family, your small and innocent children, the beautiful country of Israel and the world. Despite sadness in my heart, I am, because of you, and your strength in sharing your story, inspired to get out there and do something positive. Reply

Chaya Sudak Edgware, England July 19, 2004

A Thanks In Return I too want to give thanks and recognition, from a different vantage. I spent a year in the Chabad Smeinary, and I too was shocked to hear of Jay Litvin's untimely passing, just a few short months after he introduced us to the Terror Victims' project, I was pained, more so because I never had the chance to thank him. To thank him for the wonderful work that i merited to see first hand. To thank him for giving me the oppurtunity to give back to the country that gave me so much. And to thank him for enriching my life.
Etty, who has 3 year old twins & a one year old loveable son, lost her husband on bus 19, and her apartment a week later. When I visited her, I left with more than I could possibly have given. I learnt strength, I learnt faith, I learnt how to use pain for growth. I learnt never to lose hope, to appreciate the small things in life. And I gained a family in Israel. I also want to thank Menachem Kuttner, who carries Mr Litvin's flame. Until Moshiach, he does what needs doing. Reply

Anonymous Baltimore, Maryland U.S.A. July 18, 2004

Dear Ora,
Thank you for sharing your story. It is very courageous of you and helps others to understand what is truly happening in Israel. I too held
Jay Litvin in high regard, because of his own suffering and courage to
relate to others and inspire others and especially for his wonderful gift for writing. I was not aware of his involvement in Chabad's Children of Chernobyl and Terror victims.
I commend you and Jay and others like you who are so special and are examples of the "great" in our midst.
May Hashem always protect you, your family and Klal Yisroel. Reply

Anonymous Passaic, NJ June 4, 2004

Tekef U'miyad I am wrung out reading just a few paragraphs of this article - I could not bear to read the rest. Mrs. Cohen, may the All-Merciful One bless you and your family - and your extended family, klal yisrael - with all your heart's desires, both spiritually and materially. I believe that, to the degree that we can feel one another's pain this agonizingly -- to that degree we will hasten Moshiach's coming. Given my current emotional state, we simply cannot be that far off. Reply

MENDY MERMELSTEIN BROOKLYN, NY June 2, 2004

HEARTFELT WISHES FOR A FULL RECOVERY... To: Mrs. Ora Oohen
There is a well known chassidic teaching - "acharei mos
kedoshim emor"; after the great tzaddik passes on, we find
(a) what the tzaddik's true, deeper essence was, and
(b) sadly, how great our loss has really turned out to be.
We can only hope & pray to the source of all things past & future that he reveal his glory & grant us understanding for the monumental tests, trials, & tribulations that one goes through in the course of life. May Hashem bless you & all your family with long years of health & happiness; & speed your recovery with great haste.
******Please, please G-d, bring our Moshiach today! !******** Reply

Nisha Mintz ormond Beach, florida May 31, 2004

Hidden Angel Dear Ms Cohen

Thank you for sharing your personal experience with everyone. I am sorry that you went through such a terrible ordeal. It is hard enough when one person suffers but it is terrible when many suffer and scars remain. What I mean is that this tragedy saves lives but not everyone is as lucky, or lives with the memories forever. I learned from your story that one loss touches all. I may be here in florida but our neshma is connected and I feel your loss. Continents don't separate people, people separate people. Once again I pray that life can be filled with peace and safey and Moshiach will come soon. With love and concern, Reply

Shea Werner May 31, 2004

Wow! a very moving article.

Very well said words, we all loved and miss Jay but you really allowed us a glimpse into the man, not just the inspirational writer but a true Chasid.

Hashem should give you and all jews the strength to continue and Moshiach Now! Reply

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