| Magazine Feature |

Second Chances for Life

A Car Ramming. A Gun Jamming. Rewind to an Erev Pesach Miracle

Photos Elchanan Kotler, Flash90, Motti Simon

Millions of people around the world saw the horrific early-morning Erev Pesach security footage: A white car plows into a group of bochurim on a streetcorner and sends them flying through the air and landing with a thud meters away, while two terrorists emerge from the vehicle and aim a submachine gun toward their prey… until the weapon jams and they flee into one of the nearby buildings, where they’re eventually hunted down by an Israeli SWAT team.

Now, ahead of Pesach Sheini, the “day of second chances,” Mendy, Yehuda, and Yoeli Fisch, three Breslov chassidic brothers who were standing on the corner of Techeles Mordechai Street and somehow survived the ramming, are making a personal accounting of their merits and sharing the immense gratitude in the Heavenly Hashgachah and compassion that placed them squarely in the center of a pre-Pesach miracle.

It was around 7:50 a.m., and the early risers had already davened and were making their way to the large dumpster that the municipality placed across from the Nachalas Akiva shul on Rechov Techeles Mordechai (which shares the ground-level entrance of the Ganei Geula residential complex) to burn the neighborhood chometz. Others were hurrying off to Shacharis or to siyumim to exempt firstborns from fasting.

Nachalas Akiva, with its many nooks and rooms, actually serves as the neighborhood shtiblach in addition to its main shul, drawing crowds at all hours of the day. On Erev Pesach, most people are in a hurry to finish davening, and at this early hour, the shtiblach inside were full.

At ten minutes to eight, though, it was still pretty early for the crowds to converge to burn the chometz — which was fortunate, because the terrorists looking for a large gathering didn’t find one so early. Had they waited another hour, the street would have been packed.

Mendy, Yehuda, and Yoeli Fisch (who’d been up the entire night cleaning their sister’s apartment and had just finished davening), and their friends Moishy and Yossi Hirschenbaum were standing outside the shul when, seemingly out of nowhere, a white car came careening down the quiet street. As the terrorists inside noticed a few yeshivah bochurim standing on the corner talking, the driver floored the gas and the car darted straight toward them.

The intensity of the impact was huge: Three of the bochurim — Mendy Fisch and the two Hirschenbaum boys — were hurled into the air, each one flying in a different direction. Mendy and his friend Yossi — badly bruised and bleeding but still conscious — noticed something even more frightening as they tried to get their bearings on the concrete: After crashing into a parked car, the terrorists emerged and ran into the street, one of them with a knife and the other with a machine gun, aiming straight at them. Meanwhile, Yehuda ran to Mendy and by some miracle, was able to help him stagger up, the two of them making a run for the shul. Yossi Hirschenbaum also miraculously pulled himself up and ran, while Moishy, who was thrown the farthest, lay unconscious where he landed in a nearby parking lot.

But the gun, a home-fashioned makeshift Carlo rifle, had malfunctioned. The terrorists could have ditched the weapon at the outset and run toward their victims with the knife, but instead wasted precious seconds trying to get the gun to un-jam. After a few futile tries, they dropped it and made their own escape run between the neighborhood buildings, eventually finding a short-lived refuge in the shopping center on the next block.

When Mendy, traumatized and covered in blood, ran into the shul, no one knew if the terrorists were still chasing the boys — they had no idea at that point that the gun had jammed. People ducked under tables, lay prone on the floor, or ran into the adjoining parking lot of Ganei Geula. Mendy knocked on the nearest door and was taken from there to the hospital. Meanwhile, emergency medical personnel tended to an unconscious Moishy and zoomed him off as well.

And in a startling conclusion to what could have been a horrific tragedy, all three boys were released that afternoon, in time to sing praises for their personal salvation.

Security forces examine the crashed car while a manhunt for the terrorists continues through the streets of a quiet neighborhood in shock

Just Go Forward

Nearly four weeks after being spared from death in an open miracle, the three Fisch brothers — Mendy (20), Yehuda (18), and Yoeli (17) — want it publicized, and what better time than Pesach Sheini (14 Iyar), a time when we all get to “redo” anything we missed out on a month ago.

And what better place to meet than at the Leizerovits Furniture store, where the two terrorists fled after their attack failed and where they were apprehended by security forces about two hours later.

Our makeshift host is the proprietor, Nachman Leizerovits, who never dreamed of that type of advertisement for his business. Reb Nachman is excited to welcome us, and has even put out mashkeh for a l’chayim in honor of the miracle of his store and his guests.

Mendy is thoughtful as he shares the beginning of the morning’s drama. “We were after a sleepless night,” he says. “We spent the night running around the city, helping to clean batei medrash that had asked for help, and we helped out at our sister’s house. When morning came, we went to Nachalas Akiva, just down the street from our home, where we davened vasikin with the first minyan. Right after davening, we met our friends, Yossi and Moishy Hirshenbaum, brothers who live nearby. We were standing on the corner and talking for a few minutes.”

And then it happened. If you saw the ramming attack on the security footage, you’d understand how improbable it is that we’re all sitting together, with just a few bruises as a souvenir.

“I was thrown a few meters away,” Mendy says. “Yossi Hirschenbaum flew on top of the car, somehow landed behind it, and sustained what could have been a much more serious blow. He had been thrown violently and I was sure that he was seriously injured. But he had just a few cuts, and we were both able to get up and run.”

Moishy was unconscious, but he had no internal injuries or broken bones.

Mendy’s younger brothers, Yehuda and Yoeli, were spared. Yoeli, who just a minute earlier had been standing in the spot where the car hit, had turned around to greet another friend. (In the video, there are only four of them, because Yoeli had just then moved away.) The car pushed Yehuda to the nearby wall, but didn’t hit him.

Yehuda says it took a minute to realize it was a terrorist attack and not a freak accident. “One of the terrorists was wearing a white shirt, so it all looked pretty natural,” he says. And then they saw the terrorists emerge with a knife and a submachine gun.

“In real time,” Mendy flashes back to those moments, “I didn’t realize that they hadn’t shot. I saw them pulling out the weapon and aiming it at us. I just assumed they’d fired — I didn’t understand how I wasn’t hit.”

Passersby were also sure that the outcome was tragic. “One of the friends who stood nearby ran to Nachalas Akiva and began to shriek, ‘Mendy’s dead! Mendy’s dead!’ ” says Yehuda. When Mendy came staggering into the shul covered in blood, they might have thought they were seeing an apparition

Once in the hospital, the magnitude of the miracle became clear. “The doctors who treated me were amazed,” Mendy says. “They couldn’t believe I was alive. Later, the hospital spokesman came over and wanted to show me the security camera footage, which had already gone viral. ‘If you see it,’ he said to me, ‘you won’t believe that you are standing here on your own two feet.’ ”

Looking down the barrel of a gun and having the strength to get up and run, says Mendy, was like his personal Yetzias Mitzrayim. He quotes Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who discusses the Splitting of the Sea in terms of every human struggle. As Am Yisrael stood on the edge of the sea with the Egyptians right behind them and the sea in front of them, the Midrash describes the situation according to the verse in Shir Hashirim: “My dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crevices of the cliff, show Me your appearance, let Me hear your voice.” Am Yisrael was like a dove fleeing from a hawk who is chasing after it and trying to hide in the crevices of the rocks — but between the rocks lurks a snake. This was what the situation of the nation looked like when they stood at the sea. Hashem said to them, “Show Me your appearance, let Me hear your voice,” show Me whom you turn to in a time of desperation. Hashem then commanded Moshe that the Jews should “go ahead.” In other words, don’t pay attention to the problems behind them or the difficulties in front — just move forward. “I guess that’s what I did,” he says.

Nachman Leizerovits, who received free advertising he never wished for, shares a l’chayim with Mendy (left), Yoeli and Yehuda Fisch

When the two terrorists realized their weapon wasn’t firing no matter how many times they banged it on the concrete, they abandoned the scene and fled. Under the cover of the ruckus and the initial shock, they darted between buildings and slipped into the shopping mall on 16 Petach Tikva Street. They looked for a place to hide, and found it in the Leizerovits furniture store.

Reb Nachman is still shocked when he thinks about it. “I have no idea why they chose my store,” Reb Nachman says. “I guess they were able to break the door and get in, and figured it was a good hiding place.”

One hid in the bathroom in the corner of the large showroom, and the second took cover behind a curtain that covered the window.

“At one point,” Reb Nachman says, “they broke the window and tried to escape through it, but fortunately, they weren’t able to. That’s what prevented them from continuing their escape, and kept them stuck here until the security services arrived.”

That stubborn window faces the dormitory of Yeshivas Ohr Elchanan, which is in the same building complex.

“The night before,” Reb Nachman shares, “a certain Yid called me distraught — he didn’t have a decent table and chairs in his house and was having a large Seder, so I told him not to worry. I’d send him a dining room set for Yom Tov. I contacted a delivery person and made up that he should come to the store first thing in the morning to collect the furniture. Fortunately for the driver, he wasn’t able to enter the street, because they were still looking for the terrorists and had blocked off the street.

“The security forces were combing the entire area but had no idea where they were,” he continues. “It just happened that one of the residents of the neighborhood noticed two Arabs going into the building, and she reported it to the police. At first, they were doubtful — they told her that the area had been rendered clear. Only after she insisted did the police decide to check the store itself, and discovered them in their hiding places.”

Mendy says it was only after they got home shortly before Yom Tov that they were able to assimilate the magnitude of what happened to them.

“After such miracles, there are no words to describe what our Seder looked like,” he says. “The sense of gratitude was overwhelming, just like it says in Likutei Halachos [written by Rebbe Nosson, Rebbe Nachman’s prime disciple]: ‘Through the intensity of the miracles and wonders that Hashem did for us in those days and in our times, through this we continue this path of gratitude and thanks, constantly engaging and thanking and praising Hashem for all the miracles and wonders that He has performed for our ancestors and with us, from the time the world was created until now, for the klal and for the individuals, and to always remember all the wondrous things that Hashem grants us at all times.’ ”

A post-Pesach celebration in the alley behind Ganei Geula

A Neighborhood Celebrates

The brothers have had almost a month to think about their personal miracles, and while they don’t portend any grasp of Divine orchestrations, they mention that they spent the better part of the days leading up to the attack helping needy families.

“We did it as part of the Rachem Na organization, which was established by our uncle after he lost his daughter in a car accident. We went to homes to deliver food packages; we helped people finish up their cleaning. The night before the attack, we were in our sister’s house, because she needed our help.”

Maybe it was because the miracle happened Erev Pesach when communal sensitivity is high, or maybe it’s because these bochurim are known and beloved around the neighborhood, but whatever the reason, all the residents felt like it was their own yeshuah.

Right after Yom Tov, on Isru Chag, the neighborhood askanim organized a huge, joyous event in thanks. Big-name musicians came free of charge to rejoice with the crowd, and thousands of residents danced for hours, thanking Hashem for the miracle that had occurred right in front of their houses.

“We didn’t believe so many people would come,” Mendy says, “but it showed us to what extent the tzibbur felt they too were part of the miracle. The neighborhood is largely American and European, and a terrorist attack is the last thing people here would expect. But someone told me, ‘If chalilah the outcome of the attack would have been a levayah, it would have been attended by masses. If so, when we come to thank Hashem for the miracle, it also has to be with a big crowd.’ ”

“You’ve received a new lease on life,” Reb Nachman tells his guests. “This understanding will accompany you every single day. Whenever you’ll experience a simchah, at your weddings, may it be b’karov b’ezras Hashem, and in general, may you always feel the great chesed that Hashem did for you. And that’s a wonderful gift that we all need to learn how to accept, process, and value. Because sometimes, during the grind of everyday life, we tend to take these small chasadim for granted.”

With that, Reb Nachman pours a bit of whiskey into glasses, and the four of them — the ones who have witnessed the Yad Hashem so clearly — raise their glasses high and wish each other a word that has taken on a new significance: “L’chayim!”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1012)

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