Flatows comforted by legacy of late daughter — faith

Nearly two months after Alisa Flatow died in a terrorist bombing in Gaza, her family is being sustained by their faith in humanity and by the Jewish faith she gave her family.

Non-observant when Alisa was born, the family made a radical turn toward Orthodoxy when she decided she wanted to attend a yeshiva as a child.

According to her father, Stephen, the youngster knew what she wanted from the start and told her parents which yeshiva she wanted to attend.

Now, after her death, the family's faith remains strong, and they believe Alisa's death had a higher purpose: Not only did the donation of her organs allow some Israelis to live, it may have inspired others to consider organ donations.

"During the shiva, I was going through Alisa's photo album and came across an obituary [of] one of her professors," said Stephen Flatow. The professor was quoted as saying he "hoped his organs were usable. And I wondered if she realized what she put in there."

For Rosalyn and Stephen Flatow, and their four children, Gail, Ilana, Francine and Eric, Judaism is especially important now.

"If I didn't believe there was something at work here…to get the message across that this wasn't just something that happened, it had a higher purpose," Flatow said. "Hundreds are now getting transplants, and that's my child's contribution to society."

In an effort to create meaning out of tragedy, the family established a memorial fund through the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest, N.J. The Flatows want the money, already close to $40,000, to fund American students hoping to study at a yeshiva in Israel.

"In six months, this will all be forgotten," said Flatow of the Gaza attack. "Our idea is to make a memorial fund to provide a substantial scholarship assistance to kids.

"I know what kind of impact study in Israel can make on a kid. It's so important to get our kids over there and get that connection. It's their religious homeland. Hopefully, the fund will become that kind of vehicle."

The Flatows continue to remain in the public eye. Last week they were invited to Gracie Mansion in New York City for a reception in honor of the Salute to Israel Parade, and have been visited by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, as well as other Israelis.

Throughout, the Flatows have resisted politicization of their case and say the contacts have been primarily humanitarian and emotional.

A silver apple with the Jerusalem skyline sits on the Flatows' coffee table, a gift from Rabin. Flatow also met with former Israeli premier Yitzhak Shamir and spoke on behalf of settlers in the territories at a reception in Livingston, N.J., in memory of Alisa. He says that his appearance was not a political statement, but rather a statement in support of the settlers who "as Jews, are entitled to our support."

The evening was sponsored by the American Friends of the Israeli Community Development Foundation to raise funds for the settlers.

Stephen Flatow says he will back no one in upcoming Israeli elections.

Today, the Flatows have found comfort in the friends and family that keep their West Orange, N.J. home stocked with food, and who keep them company on difficult nights and Shabbat afternoons, a time the family traditionally spent together.

"People are going out of their way to say something kind," Flatow said. "People are coming out of the woodwork who have lost children."

Because there are few groups in the United States for survivors of terror, the Flatows have found support from groups of parents who have lost children as well as from Israelis.

One such group is Victims of Arab Terror, headed by Meir Indor, who visited with the Flatows.

Indor said that it was important for Americans to know the human story of terrorism.

"Alisa has been publicized a lot," he said. "But what about all those killed in bombs every week? It is important that these people not be anonymous."

Meanwhile, Indor warned the Flatows that they may find it difficult when the visits stop and life returns to some kind of routine. "It will be an unhealed wound," he said. "It is very important for people to keep coming."

For Flatow, the act of terror was far from random.

"Alisa was killed because she was a Jew," he said. "But what comes through about Alisa was that she wasn't letting her religion hamper her from living a productive life as an observant Jew."

That she was killed for being a Jew hit home for both Israeli and American Jews, creating a bridge between the two communities.

Letters and calls from Israelis continue to pour into the Flatows from strangers. One Israeli brought a small plant from Gush Katif, the Gaza resort where Alisa was headed for vacation when she was killed; other Israelis have invited the Flatows to visit with them.

Although Israelis often say American Jews do not understand what it's like to live with terrorism, Flatow said not one letter from Israel implied, "Now you know how we live."

"All the letters offered sympathy," he said. "It was from one Jew to another."

For the Flatows, getting their lives back in order is the next step.

"We go to work, but there is sadness," he said. "In Charles Dickens [A Christmas Carol], I keep remembering the scene where Tiny Tim is dead, and the father says he walks just a bit slower…I know how he felt."

While it's not as bad as the first two weeks, the Flatows still have a rough time.

"The hardest thing is you don't know when your emotions are going to catch up to you," said Flatow, a lawyer. "There is a sadness. It could be a conversation, something else comes to mind. At work, I had my first closing in a month and I was nervous and didn't know what to say. I thanked people for being patient."

The Flatows are not in therapy, although they have spoken with a professional who assured them that their feelings were normal.

Sitting in their living room, Roz Flatow sobbed when talking about her daughter. She works part time and tries to stay busy.

"Talking is my therapy and not talking is hers," said her husband.

At the same time, the family will continue to remember Alisa, her sense of humor, her sharp mind.

"When she was 4 years old, she told us she wanted to go to yeshiva," said Flatow. "She taught us from the very beginning about cooking for Shabbos and was constantly teaching us and the other kids…She knew which direction she was going in."

The Flatows have another daughter now in Israel, Gail, now the oldest. But they say they are not especially worried about her. They gave her rules such as not taking taxis at night or accepting rides with strangers.

But at the same time, they wonder why Jews can't travel with safety in Tel Aviv, Bet Lid or anywhere in Israel. That Arab terrorism continues is a source of surprise for the Flatows.

"I'm befuddled. Here in the United States a family is torn apart by a murder. But 7,000 miles away there's a mother who dances in the street and wishes she had other children to kill themselves and take out more Jews. I find that perverse. Something is twisted," he said.

"Rabin told us that there are Arab mothers who are yelling at sheiks who are brainwashing their kids. Rabin said the problem is you can't catch somebody before they strap dynamite on themselves."