I will never forget that night, five years ago, when my husband and I almost died. It was an event of pure terror coupled with the deepest faith in G‑d. Even now, so many years later, tears come to my eyes when I speak about it.

It was the third day of Chanukah, Kislev 27 (Dec. 9, 2015), and I was running errands in downtown Jerusalem. When I had finished, I called my husband, Shaul, to pick me up and we drove to Tel Aviv to do some shopping. While we were there, our oldest daughter, Livnat, called to invite us to her home in Avnei Hefetz about an hour away. Livnat is a widow with five children; her husband, Natanel, was killed in a terrorist attack 16 years ago. Shaul and I felt that it was an opportune time to visit her, so we set out, first stopping in Yehud to visit my sister Tziporah. While we were there, we received a phone call from our other daughter, Hili, informing us that she had just given birth. It was her eighth child and her first boy in 11 years. Not only that, the baby was born on Hili’s 40th birthday. Shaul and I were overjoyed and decided to visit her later that evening, on our return to Jerusalem.

As we left my sister’s house, I asked her to walk us out to the car. The Talmud says that escorting guests on the road provides them with spiritual and physical protection, even after they have left one’s home. I’m careful to do this for my own guests, and I encourage our hosts to do the same for us when we are traveling. Tziporah accompanied us out and blessed us for a safe arrival at our destination. I remember that she looked very concerned at the time and that I didn’t know why. I don’t think she knew why, either.

We arrived in Avnei Hefetz before nightfall. Livnat was there with all her children. We lit the menorah, sang, danced, and had a wonderful meal. At about 7:00 pm, Shaul suggested that we start making our way back to Jerusalem, to arrive in time to visit Hili at the Shaare Zedek Hospital.

Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem.
Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem.

Here, too, I asked Livnat to accompany us a few steps toward the car.

As we drove slowly on the dark, narrow road from the town to the main highway, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to G‑d for all that He had given us. “Look how many blessings we have in our lives!” I remarked to Shaul. “Our children, our grandchildren, the newest addition … there’s so much to thank G‑d for!”

A few moments later, something hard struck the car with force.

“Is someone throwing stones at us?” I asked Shaul.

“No! It isn’t stones, it’s gunfire!”

An instant later, Shaul let up on the gas, and the car drifted across the road and stopped in a shallow ditch beside the opposite lane. With shock, I saw that the entire right side of Shaul’s face was covered with blood. He had been hit in the head! The next moment a sharp pain ran through my left hand. “My G‑d, he’s right, these are bullets!” Suddenly, a barrage of gunfire shook our car. An Arab terrorist was shooting at us with a Kalashnikov rifle from about ten yards away. Flashes of light pierced the darkness, and the noise was deafening! All the car windows shattered from the shots.

I felt like I was going to die. My whole life passed before my eyes, like in the stories. Although my sleeve was wet with blood, I felt no pain. My mind was crystal clear, and I felt no urge to scream or cry. I envisioned myself and Shaul already dead, and our children weeping for us at our funeral. It was like watching a movie.

On and on, the bullets pounded the car—36 in all. I didn’t even think of ducking down; I just sat there waiting to die. “How many more shots will it take to kill us both?” I wondered.

Suddenly, thoughts of our daughter Hili and her newborn baby rose in my mind. If we die now, she’ll have to sit shiva for seven days, until the very day of her son’s brit milah.

“Please, G‑d,” I cried out silently. “It isn’t right! We have to be at my grandson’s brit! Hili has waited so long for this. Please don’t cause her pain and sadness on such a joyous event!”

My heart flooded with prayer and faith. For years, I had been working on seeing the good side of every situation, and that enabled me to call up those thoughts, even at that difficult moment.

“G‑d, please,” I whispered, “You are good to all, and everything You do is for the best. Please, let me see the good even in this situation!” I repeated a prayer of thanksgiving several times, as well as some psalms I knew by heart. I imagined my deceased mother-in-law storming the heavens, not willing to let her son be taken.

I glanced over at Shaul. He was losing consciousness. “My finger—I think I’ve lost it,” he muttered groggily. His left hand, still clutching the steering wheel, was covered with blood.

“Shaul! Don’t give up! Pass me your phone, I’ll call emergency!” I splashed some water on him from a water bottle, but his eyes were closing anyway.

There was a lull in the gunfire. All of a sudden, I saw a red sports car stop in the right lane across from us. The door opened, and a man stepped out and walked in our direction. Until today, I clearly recall his appearance: middle-aged, elegantly dressed in an orange cardigan sweater and light-colored slacks.

“Thank G‑d,” I thought, “help has finally come.”

Approaching my side of the car, he addressed me through the shattered window.

“What’s happened to you?” he asked. I recognized his accent immediately.

“Oh, no,” I thought to myself. “Not another Arab! That’s all we need!” But then my next thought was, “G‑d, I trust in You. Whatever You send us is for the best!”

“We’ve been shot!” I cried. “Call an ambulance! Please!”

But he didn’t call—he didn’t even take out his cell phone. I was shocked!

“O G‑d, only You can save us now,” I cried out silently. “Only You know what is best.”

My husband was on the verge of passing out. Again I shouted, “Wake up! Talk to me! Don’t give in!”

“Pardon me,” the Arab interrupted. “What’s your husband’s name?”

I blinked in surprise. “Shaul.”

The man walked around the front of the car to the other side and looked in at my husband.

“Shaul, Shaul!” His voice rang out loudly in the night—it resounds in my ears until today. “Don’t worry. Everything will be OK! You will be fine!”

A moment later, a Jewish driver from Avnei Hefetz pulled up to the car. He called the army and an ambulance. In the meantime, the man in the orange sweater disappeared.

Twenty long minutes after that, two ambulances arrived. I was taken to the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, while my husband was taken to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. He suffered organ failure upon arrival and underwent 15 hours of surgery to save his life. While still in the ambulance, I contacted someone in Avnei Hefetz, who called an emergency prayer meeting. Another gathering was also held in our community in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The bullet-ridden car that the Nirs were driving on that fateful Chanukah night.
The bullet-ridden car that the Nirs were driving on that fateful Chanukah night.

My husband unfortunately lost a finger from his left hand in the shooting and three other fingers were damaged. His right leg was also seriously wounded. Yet the bullets missed his knee and ankle by an inch. We saw this as a miracle, for the damage could have been far more severe.

Later on, the doctor who had operated on my husband told me this, “I was in the army and I know what a Kalashnikov bullet looks like. But I’ve never seen anything like this. Your husband took a bullet to the head. It fractured his skull, yet for some reason, didn’t penetrate. His brain was absolutely uninjured. All I had to do was clean and stitch up the wound. A true miracle!”

My husband was sedated for an entire week. No one knew then what his condition would be—the doctors predicted that he would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. At best, it would take him six years to stand on his feet. But I never lost hope, and after he came back to himself we practiced guided imagery together. I told him to envision himself dancing with a sefer Torah on Simchat Torah, and walking up the stairs to his yeshiva. “You’re coming home on your own two feet,” I told him. My husband was in the hospital for five months, mostly due to the damage to his leg. In the end, though, another miracle came to be—half a year after the shooting, he was able to stand during the High Holiday prayers, dance on Simchat Torah, and climb the stairs to our apartment by himself.

As for me, when I arrived at the medical center, the staff took my handbag, since they noticed a bullet hole through the outside. In it, they found a ten-shekel piece that had been struck by a shell. “Look!” they showed me, excitedly. “This coin saved your life. It stopped a bullet!” I kept that coin and like to think of it as my Chanukah gelt.

Soon after that, when asked to remove my jewelry for a CAT scan, I realized that my precious gold bracelet was missing. I started screaming, “Someone stole my bracelet! Call the police!” My sister, who is a nurse, was with me. “Why are you getting so upset over a bracelet?” she reproached me. “Keep things in perspective—you’ve been hit in the hand by a bullet. You’re going to need serious surgery!”

But she was wrong. A bullet had hit me, but it had struck the bracelet and broke it in two, while my hand remained mostly unharmed. Only the tendon of my thumb was slightly damaged and over time it healed. As for the scar that remains, I consider it a “souvenir” of the event. Whenever I look at it, I recall the verse, “It should be a sign upon your hand.” Another bullet hit my foot but left only a scratch. Yet another miracle!

I remember the doctor who bandaged my hand saying to me, “I see you’ve had a hard day, today,” to which I responded, “Actually not. It was quite a good day!” I was so full of gratitude to G‑d.

Shaul and Rachel Nir
Shaul and Rachel Nir

The most inexplicable thing of all, however, was the man in the red car. You see, according to the army report, there were actually two terrorists. The first shot at us from the road with the Kalashnikov, while the second approached us from the left side with a pistol, apparently to “finish us off” at close range. Just yards away from the driver’s side, the army found a number of spent cartridges. This explains my husband’s leg wounds, which clearly came from a different direction than the initial shots.

When that mysterious man walked around our car and spoke to my husband, he stood right in the line of fire. The gunmen must have seen that he was an Arab and stopped shooting. So it was he who saved Shaul from certain death.

The army wanted to speak with him and I gave them all the details—his appearance, his clothing, his car—but despite an extensive search, they never uncovered his identity.

Elijah the Prophet is known as the malach habrit—the angel of the covenant. Until today, I feel that it was he who saved us, in the merit of my grandson’s brit milah, which I had prayed so intensely to attend.