Terror survivor Shimon Levy used faith and his beketshe to avert another casualty
Photos: Elchanan Kotler; Flash 90
I think I heard someone in the bushes screaming for help.”
“Shimon, you’re imagining things. I’m going home.”
Shimon listened again. The cries were growing fainter, but he knew he wasn’t imagining those noises. Something inside pushed him on toward the direction of the path that wended its way through the park. A force seemed to propel him, and he began to run in that direction — and then he saw it: a yeshivah bochur lying in a pool of blood, the knife still protruding from his back.
On Shabbos Bereishis, like every other Shabbos afternoon, 20-year-old Shimon Levy, his young wife, and baby daughter, took a post-seudah walk through their neighborhood of Givat Hamivtar to the new park between Ammunition Hill and the light rail station. They strolled along, enjoying the post-Succos Jerusalem air and the tranquil Shabbos atmosphere that has settled in these parts in recent years. Suddenly, a young Arab ran past them in a frenzy, screaming something that sounded like “Allah hu akbar.” That made the Levys a little nervous, but Shimon just assumed the fellow wasn’t all there. After all, he thought, city parks have all sorts of weirdos on Shabbos afternoon.
But his wife felt something was off, seeing the Arab running like that. She didn’t feel safe continuing toward the park and told Shimon she was going home. And that’s when he heard the very faint yet desperate cry for help. He knew he had to follow the sounds, even as his wife nervously turned around and fled.
Two weeks later, Shimon Levy takes me back to the scene where yeshivah bochur Eliyahu Dahan (Eliyahu ben Margalit, for a refuah sheleimah) was nearly killed. He points to the path he somehow knew he had to follow, and replays the scene that’s still constantly flashing through his mind.
“I was sure I heard weak cries, and I felt like they were a call for help. As strange as it sounds, no one around me — neither my wife nor her friend who was there — heard the voices. My wife and her friend turned around to go home — the whole thing was a little spooky — but I decided to go into the park to check.”
Shimon followed the trail into the park, and after a few minutes, there on the ground, Shimon saw him: a young man — a yeshivah bochur based on his appearance — sprawled on the grass in a spreading pool of blood. “He couldn’t scream anymore. He was barely conscious. All he could do was whisper, ‘Save me!’”
There was a knife, without the handle, lodged in the young man’s lower back, and he was bleeding profusely. Later, it was confirmed that the terrorist tried to extract the knife and stab him again, but the blade broke off in his hand.
There was no one else around, and even as Shimon shouted for help, his voice couldn’t carry to the street below. Keeping his wits about him, he remembered the rule he’d learned in a first-aid course: He didn’t remove the knife, but instead took off his beketshe and wrapped it firmly around the blade to prevent additional blood loss, which, it turned out, saved Eliyahu’s life.
“Before I got there,” Shimon relates, “he was still trying to get up. The attack happened so fast that it took him a few minutes to realize he’d been stabbed. He couldn’t figure out why he was sprawled on the ground and why his lower body wasn’t obeying him. He was still partially conscious when I arrived, and by then he realized he’d been stabbed and that the knife was still lodged inside him. He tried to stretch his hand to pull out the knife, but I didn’t let him move.”
Shimon held that position for the next ten minutes — one hand on his now-bloody beketshe and the other on Eliyahu — not letting him move and also trying not to let him fall unconscious, as Eliyahu kept whispering, “Am I going to die?” while Shimon repeated words of encouragement, in between hollering for help to an empty echo, as the path they were on was quite far away from the street and isolated.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, Shimon noticed a Border Police jeep passing on the road. But how would he both draw their attention and not leave the critically injured young man?
“I grabbed a rock and threw it toward the road with all my strength, and it landed right in front of the jeep, which stopped with a screech. When the policemen jumped out, I shouted, ‘There’s a terrorist on the loose! There’s a victim lying here dying!’ And then, baruch Hashem, they took control.”
Meanwhile, the search was on for the stabber. The terrorist made his way to the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah about a mile away, where he was eventually spotted by an alert police officer who noticed him in a sports field hiding among children holding Saturday soccer practice, and brandishing what it turns out was the handle and broken blade of the knife used in the terror attack. The officer jumped over the fence and neutralized him.
Eliyahu was whisked away to Shaare Zedek Medical Center where he underwent a complex life-saving surgery. And Shimon?
“I walked home, stunned, carrying the blood-soaked beketshe in my arms.”
Did he discard it?
“Of course not. I have it in a safe place. This beketshe is the connection between me and Eliyahu, may he have a refuah sheleimah. Our kesher is a blood kesher. It’s a symbol of Eliyahu’s neis, and it’s my symbol as well, for all the nissim that have accompanied me — all the intersecting chapters of death and salvation, terror and emunah.”
Because Shimon Levy has been enveloped in nissim from the time he was a baby. It’s the refrain of his life.
Engulfed in Flames
Friday, March 1, 17 Adar, 2002. Oren Levy, a young married man and father of six-month-old Shimon, was a kiruv activist, counselor for at-risk youth, and an avreich at the Machaneh Yisrael yeshivah in Beis Yisrael in Meah Shearim. The primarily baal teshuvah yeshivah also operated a guesthouse, hosting families who wanted to experience a genuine Shabbos in the heart of the chareidi neighborhood, and Reb Oren was in charge of organizing these weekends. He was on hand to give each guest family the keys to their room, was in charge of the abundant meals, and even took them on tours of the neighborhood.
That Shabbos was a packed, double affair, as two separate families — the Chazans and the Habajis — would be celebrating bar mitzvahs for their children. Both families were becoming more observant, and they wanted their relatives to be introduced to the blessings of Yiddishkeit they’d discovered.
The guests arrived one after the other, some not observant, some more traditional, but they came with a willingness to respect their relatives and participate in their celebration. For some, it was the first Shabbos they would be observing fully.
Reb Oren understood first-hand the substantial challenge this Shabbos posed: He himself had traveled the path, from serving in the IDF’s elite naval unit to joining a yeshivah and finding his way back to a life of Torah and mitzvos.
The Shabbos was indeed uplifting. For Kabbalas Shabbos, Oren walked with the families to the Kosel, and after the seudah, they went to a tish, visited Rav Kadouri, and got a brachah from the Slonimer Rebbe.
But the uplifting atmosphere turned into a nightmare just as Shabbos ended. A little after 7 p.m., as the streets around the yeshivah were crowded with people coming out of shul after Maariv, a terrorist detonated a 20-kilogram bomb right next to a group of women with their baby carriages and little kids in tow, waiting for their husbands to emerge. The terrorist blew himself up just as the family and bar mitzvah guests at Machaneh Yisrael were packing up to leave. Ten people — eight of them relatives of the celebrants, including infants and siblings — were killed, and over 50 were injured, many severely.
Over 20 years have passed since that devastating Motzaei Shabbos, but for Oren Levy, nothing has faded. Images of blood and fire still flood his mind; the smells, the screaming, the horrific sights, the little children who were playing just moments before on the sidewalk, the bar mitzvah boys whose day of joy became one of grief, the dead, the wounded, the shattered families…
But like so many others who came out alive, Oren experienced his own miracle.
“The explosion happened a second after one of the guests gave me the key to his room, as we were standing outside the building. I bent down to mark a check on my list, and that’s when everything blew to pieces. I felt the shrapnel flying over my head,” he told Mishpacha in a previous interview. “The terrorist was standing very close to me, so it was really unfathomable that I was spared. My wife was injured by the shrapnel, and our baby son was thrown from her arms and flew 50 meters away, rolling under a smoking car and disappearing.”
During those horrifying moments, amid the chaos, the excruciating pain, and the wailing shrieks, Oren somehow herded a group of children from the sidewalk into the building so that they should see as little as possible, and to get them away from the danger zone.
“I was operating on autopilot,” he recalled. “I didn’t really understand what I was doing, but I sensed that this was the right thing to do.” A few minutes later, his legs buckled, and he felt searing pain that prevented him from taking even one more step. He was taken to the hospital, but he was frantic with worry, not knowing what had happened to his wife and son.
Shimon shares what was perhaps one of the biggest revealed miracles of the night:
“Zaka commander Reb Bentzy Oiring, who lived right across the street, was on the scene in minutes, and when he heard my mother screaming, ‘My baby!’ some force pulled him to that smoking car at the end of the street. Ignoring shouts of ‘the car is burning!’ he crawled on his stomach, reached under the axle, and pulled the baby out. A second later, the car was engulfed in flames. That baby was me.”
There were a few babies who were blown out of their mothers’ arms, and two of them were killed. At first, no one knew whom the infants belonged to, and it took many hours until Oren learned that his wife and baby were actually alive.”
The photo of Bentzy Oiring clutching the baby, whose parents’ whereabouts were still unknown, was broadcast all over the world and became the iconic photo of the gruesome attack.
Oiring became an honorary member of the Levy family, and Shimon became known as “Bentzy’s baby.” Both his bar mitzvah and his wedding a little over a year ago were widely covered, and although his parents had eight more children, “the memory of the attack was always in the house, always hovering in the background,” Shimon says.
Backstory of the Song
Today, Shimon Levy, the child miraculously pulled out of the carnage, has created quite a following in Jerusalem and beyond as a kumzitzer and composer with an uncanny ability to open hearts. He discovered early on that he had a passion for music; he would sing at every opportunity, and since his bar mitzvah seven years ago, he has composed over 500 songs. Of course, most of them never got past his own guitar, but the backstory of his latest hit, “Ein Davar Ra,” which he sings together with Yaakov Shwekey, is actually another thread in the interwoven miracles and emunah that have laced his and his family’s lives.
And it began on that very Shabbos in March 2002.
Reb Oren Levy still flashes back to the beginning of that Shabbos, to a conversation that would change his life. “About 15 minutes before candle lighting, one of the families that was supposed to stay with us arrived. They knew they were coming to a religious neighborhood, but this was a bit too much for them. They felt like they’d been kidnapped and dropped in Meah Shearim — so many shuls, so many chassidim and shtreimels! Not exactly what they’d had in mind. This is not where Shimon Ilan wanted to spend Shabbos. He decided to turn around and leave.”
Oren was watching this unfold. He glanced at his watch and saw that the Shabbos siren would sound in just a few minutes (in Jerusalem, candle-lighting is 40 minutes before shkiah, so he had an extra bit of time to act). Shimon Ilan had already gotten into the driver’s seat of his car, and without too much deliberation, Oren opened the door of the passenger seat and sat down too. “I’m going with you,” he announced.
“But I’m going home,” Shimon explained.
“I understand,” Oren replied, as he clicked his seatbelt. “Listen, do you know what kind of wonderful, uplifting Shabbos we have planned for you? Your sister-in-law worked so hard for this Shabbos. What’s the matter? Won’t you respect her and dedicate 24 hours to your Creator, whether or not you’ve decided if you really believe in Him?” Shimon had just about reached the Bar Ilan intersection, when he raised his arms in resignation. He turned around, drove back to the yeshivah, and cut the engine. “Alright, you convinced me,” he told Reb Oren as they got out of the car and went inside.
“When I realized that this Yid was going to desecrate Shabbos, and perhaps even lose the opportunity of his life to see what a pure and holy Shabbos looks like, I was very distraught,” Oren explained years later. “I davened to Hashem to put the right words into my mouth that would make it possible for this Jew, his wife, and his children to experience a Shabbos for the first time.”
That Motzaei Shabbos, among the blood and screams and sirens, Shimon Ilan lost two children — baby Oriyah and 11-year-old Lidor.
Three days after the attack, Oren made a painful decision: He would go and be menachem Shimon, the man he convinced to stay, who was now sitting shivah for two of his children.
“I was on my way, the sounds of that night still ringing in my ears, sounds I still can’t get out of my head,” Reb Oren related. “I was thinking about what I could possibly say to this person who probably felt that I destroyed his life. I remember davening to Hashem to give me the wisdom and the words. I also steeled myself for a possible harsh welcome, and told myself I would accept it all with love, even if he threw me out.”
With trembling knees and a broken heart, Oren arrived at the shivah house. For the first few minutes, the bereaved parents didn’t notice him — they were being comforted by Rav Benayahu Shmueli, head of the Kabbalah yeshivah Nahar Shalom. Shimon sat next to his wife on the floor, hugging his murdered son’s pillow, murmuring in anguish, “This is all I have left from him…” His heartrending sobs sliced through the room, and then he turned to Rav Shmueli and cried, “Why did this have to happen to me? We kept Shabbos, and we tried, so why did G-d do this to us?”
“I stood in the corner of the room,” Reb Oren remembers, “and wished the floor would swallow me up. But it didn’t, so I could hear Rav Shmueli explain to him that if chalilah it is decreed upon a person on Rosh Hashanah to depart from This World, then Hashem will make it happen. Moreover, the Rav emphasized that it was a tremendous zechut for the children that before departing This World, they merited to keep Shabbos.”
As soon as Rav Shmueli finished speaking, someone leaned over and whispered to Shimon, “There’s someone here from Jerusalem, from the place where you stayed, who came to be menachem.” Reb Oren stepped forward, and his gaze met the swollen eyes of the bereaved father.
“I was trembling from head to toe,” said Oren. “Finally, I whispered, ‘I have nothing to say to you.’ And then the unbelievable happened. Shimon stood up, hugged me and kissed me, and made me sit down right across from him. ‘Sit,’ he said. There was absolute silence in the room. Everyone looked at me, expecting me to say something, but I just repeated the words I’d said before: ‘I have nothing to say.’ ‘You don’t have to say anything,’ he answered. ‘I’m beginning to understand.’
“As our conversation continued, Shimon became my teacher. Three days after losing his two children, he accessed his core of emunah,” Oren said. “We spoke about the fact that everything comes from our Father in Heaven, that amid the pain and the grief it’s impossible to ignore the fact that we experienced miracles — that both of us remained alive, although we were inches from death. Ten people standing next to us were murdered, and we survived.
“He told me how his son had insisted on sitting in the car because he didn’t want to play with the children on the sidewalk. And yet, one of the pieces of shrapnel hit him and killed him. And that his wife was with their baby on the fourth floor of the building, when a piece of flying metal hit the baby’s head, and she died on the spot. The two children were separated by a building and a street, but their fate was one and the same. We, in contrast, were right next to the terrorist, and we emerged with a few scratches. It’s as if Hashem picks each person out with a tweezer and seals his fate.”
Eleven months later, Shimon Ilan and his wife had a baby boy, and a year after that, another girl. In fact, the baby boy’s bris was on the very day of a hachnassas sefer Torah in memory of Oriyah and Lidor.
Since then, Oren Levy and Shimon Ilan have not only stayed in touch, they’ve become like brothers.
And Shimon Levy, with his musical sensitivity and open heart, wanted to share their story. He decided to write a song about the special friendship between his father and Shimon Ilan, who both father and son consider their rebbe in emunah. Of course, it wouldn’t be a song about Ilan per se, but rather everything this special Yid stood for. And one day when he was looking through the sefer Pele Yoetz, the words jumped out at him: “V’zeh klal gadol ba’olam shenachshov vena’amin b’emunah sheleimah she’ein davar ra yored min haShamayim. Hakol letovah — There is a general rule in life that we believe with perfect faith that nothing bad comes from Heaven. It is all good.”
But just writing a nice song isn’t going to make it go viral. It actually happened through Shimon Ilan himself. He has a friend named Tamir Tzur, an Israeli music producer and arranger, and Tamir, unbeknownst to Shimon Levy, sent the song to Yaakov Shwekey. Shwekey fell in love with it and just knew he had to meet the composer and record it — and it was good timing, because he would be in Israel a few weeks later.
“I get a phone call from Tamir,” Shimon Levy relates, “and he tells me to come over, that he has someone he wants me to meet. I come into his house, and there is Yaakov Shwekey, sitting there holding the Pele Yoetz! I was in shock. Suddenly I hear my song over the speakers, with Shwekey singing it. I couldn’t believe it.”
The two of them then recorded a kumzitz-style duet, filmed in the kever of Shimon Hatzaddik (where Reb Oren Levy now spends a good part of his day giving shiurim on emunah to searching souls), which has become the song of the season.
And so, with Yaakov Shwekey’s help, young Shimon Levy has been unwittingly catapulted into the thick of the industry. “Yeah, it was quite a surprise,” he says, “but when there’s an Abba Gadol, nothing is really out of reach.”
You’ll Yet Sing
And that’s the message he’s been giving over to Eliyahu Dahan, his “brother in blood,” in his now-regular visits to the tenth floor at Shaare Zedek Hospital.
The first time Shimon came to visit, Eliyahu was overcome with emotion. He may have seen Shimon’s face as that of an angel, but Shimon was actually seeing him for the first time. “Honestly,” Shimon says, “the first time I saw his face was here in the hospital. There, in the park, his face was covered in blood. I didn’t see a face at all.”
“You saved my life. Without you, I wouldn’t be here,” Eliyahu tells Shimon. “I felt my life seeping out of me, but you kept telling me, ‘You’re going to live.’ ”
Dahan, 23, is out of danger, but his spinal wounds are complex, and his prognosis is compromised. Yet that doesn’t stop either of them from believing in a better outcome. The day we’re there, Shimon sets up his mic and brings along a few fellow musicians. And together, holding onto each other in hope and faith, he and Eliyahu sing, “En davar ra yored min hashmayim…”
Because they both know that no matter how bleak it looks, with Hashem in charge, it will always be good.
Rachel Ginsberg contributed to this report.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 936)
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