On April 9, at 12:07 p.m. Israeli time, a suicide bomber plowed his car into a public bus near the Israeli settlement of Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip. Seven Israeli soldiers, all under the age of 21, and an American student from New Jersey, Alisa Flatow, were killed. Alisa was my best friend for more than two years; she was my girlfriend for the last year. Besides changing my life forever, her murder has spurred me to speak out on this issue.
I first met Alisa Flatow in September '92 at a freshman orientation event during our first week of school at Brandeis. It was a karaoke party and we were both a bit excited and nervous since we did not know many people. After fumbling through a couple of songs, we became instant friends. We would spend many of our waking hours together for the next few years. Two weeks from her death, April 24, was to be our 1 year anniversary. Needless to say her death hit me very hard. Alisa meant the world to me- when she was murdered, I felt as if my heart had been torn in two.
As her father Stephen Flatow has repeatedly said these past few weeks, "Alisa loved the Jewish people, the Torah, and the land of Israel." In the many letters that I received since she arrived in Israel on January 10, this basic description proved true.
In the first letter I received from her, the day after her arrival, she wrote: "Even as I write this now there are tears in my eyes. And its the strangest thing because I'm so happy to be here while at the same time so upset. I guess I'm realizing how much a part of my life you really are."
Alisa was afraid of not knowing what the semester was going to be like. However, as the days progressed she became more comfortable in her new surroundings, even though her thoughts were miles away. "Things here are good," she wrote on Jan. 15, " I haven't cried in days...I'm happy. I love flashing my bus pass on the bus and I'm starting to learn what goes where...I miss you and think about you all the time. Miss me, think of me and write to me. All my love."
Since learning about Israel was important to her, Alisa took time out from her busy school schedule to find new experiences. "I saw the most unbelievable, incredible, amazing thing tonight," she wrote on Jan. 26. " I went to the initiation for the paratroopers at the Kotel [Western Wall] -it was unreal...hearing speeches about the fallen soldiers and the hard times in front of them-they are such kids..."
"It was such a good feeling to be part of something like this. I was just so taken by the whole ceremony. Things are starting to set in and I realize how lucky I am. For the last two years I carried sociology books and now I carry a Bible, Talmud, etc. To be able to sit and learn all day and then go to a program like this at night at the Kotel is really an incredible experience." She realized the incredible opportunity she had to see new things and to tour the country, and she took full advantage of her chance.
Since she viewed Israel as her second home, it did not take Alisa long to adjust to Israeli life and begin to establish a 'routine'. "Things here are good. In case I haven't said it , coming here is probably the best thing for me-I'm so relaxed. I go to school, the gym, come home, make macaroni, relax, learn, read, write-whatever! I mean of course its so hard not being with you, but I really believe that in the long run, its all for the best." [letter February 5, 1995]
However, besides her daily schedule, Alisa would also find time to do the special, little things that she enjoyed. "...I went to the Kotel and did one of my favorite things; I just sat and watched the people," she wrote on Feb. 13. "I love doing that - seeing the contrast between people who come for a purpose, or as tourists with no clue, and everything in between."
"Yesterday was [the Jewish holiday of] Purim," she wrote on March 15. "Bayit Vegan [a Jerusalem neighborhood] was so cute with all the little kids in costume. Tons of brides, police officers and power rangers...I had a great time."
In terms of school, Alisa had always been a diligent student and was eager to learn new and interesting material - the key word being 'interesting'. "I sat through Navi (prophet) class bored out of my mind," she wrote on February 14. "All we did was read and translate. I went to the teacher after class, and before I could even open my mouth, she told me that the class was too easy for me. She suggested that I move up to the next level."
A month later, however, she wrote: "I've really learned a lot here. I have a ton of notes on Purim and I'm sure I'll have more for Passover. I want to share it all with you -if you'll listen to me...I love you and can't wait to speak to you."
Alisa was always looking ahead and planning for the future. She did not want to waste any time starting her life, and she felt that it would be best if she could settle on a career while she was abroad. "I'm so excited-I found a radio station with good American music," she wrote on Feb. 18. "I got another number of an occupational therapist to call. I hope that it works out. If I can't volunteer, I will see if I can at least observe somewhere. I'm getting nervous that I don't know if it's what I want to do and if not, then what? Oh well-my life!"
One of Alisa's most endearing qualities was her fun attitude, and her ability to find humor in almost every situation: "This is funny -I'm on my way out of my building this morning and I see a father/son mail delivery team. The father is having big problems finding the mailboxes. I'm standing waiting for our mail when he hands me a pile of letters and says, 'Here, put these in the right place.' Excuse me, do I look like I work for the post office? I almost asked him for a cut of his pay check, but I decided the 50 agurot (17 cents) wouldn't do me any good." [letter March 20, 1995]
Today is Israel's national day of remembrance or Yom Hazikaron. All those who have perished so that the country could survive are mourned, remembered, and honored as heroes. Alisa is now a part of this day forever.
As we remember the tragedy inflicted upon her by members of Islamic Jihad - a terrorist group committed to the violent destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic theocracy throughout the Middle East - we must keep in mind one basic fact; one that has been driven closer to home as a result of the recent terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City.
This could have been your daughter, your girlfriend, your sister or your friend. She was not an extremist, a settler, a soldier or any other stereotypical term often seen and heard in the press. Alisa had the same fears, desires, worries and interests as any 20 year old American woman.
It is easy to talk about the "enemies of peace", as Clinton , Rabin and Peres often do, and how we must not capitulate to their demands. However, since the Oslo accord was signed over 18 months ago, 174 Israelis and Americans have been killed in attacks launched by Arab terrorists. That is more than in any comparable period since the end of Israel's War of Independence in 1949.
How many more casualties of peace must there be before things change? How many Alisa Flatows must be murdered before we realize that a real peace should not, must not, and would not have such a high price tag?
In one of her many letters, Alisa wrote: "Miss me, think of me, and write to me." To ensure that there are no more casualties of peace, we must always think of Alisa and be true to her memory. In addition, we must ask ourselves one final question. A question that Alisa has seemingly answered for us. Is it worth negotiating with a vicious killer and entrusting him with the fate of Israel's security in Gaza and the West Bank, if Israelis are being slaughtered in record numbers?
The true answer to this question can be seen in a joint interview scheduled to air today on Israeli television. Through a video hook-up, Prime Minister/ Defense Minister Rabin apologizes to Stephen Flatow for not being able to protect his daughter, and prevent her murder. On this solemn day, there surely exists no clearer answer than this.
Five days after her death, and two days before my birthday, I received a card in the mail. Alisa had mailed it before she left on what turned out to be her final trip so that I would receive it before my birthday.
In it, she wrote: "As far as I'm concerned, you're the greatest, Sorry I can't be there to share your 21st birthday with you but if I have any say in the matter, I'll be around for many future birthdays. Happy Birthday sweetie, and many more. All my love."
Alisa, I love you and miss you - and I'll always remember you.
(This article appeared in 1995 on Yom HaZikaron(Day of Remembrance) in the Boston Herald and the Jewish Advocate(New England), in the New York Post on May 10, and in the New Jersey Star Ledger on May 14.)
' Remembering Alisa'
The editorial titled "Remembering Alisa" (April 14) is correct when it states that Alisa would not want anyone, especialy students, to distance themselves from Israel. Because we believe so strongly in the need for Jewish youth to study in Israel, we have established the Alisa Flatow Memorial fund for the purpose of providing scholarships on a need and scholarship basis to young men and women to study at yeshivas in Israel.
Contributions may be mailed to:
Alisa Flatow Memorial Fund
Jewish Community Foundation
Federation of MetroWest
901 Route 10 East
Whippany, N.J. 07981
The fund wil send a card to the address that you designate saying that "x amount of dollars was donated to the Alisa Flatow Memorial Fund in memory/honor of x"
TransWeb Memorial Page for Alisa
Go to the Of Blessed Memory Personal Memorials Page