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Face to Face with a Terrorist

by Ester Katz Silvers
February 23, 2020

Imagine yourself inside a small room with one other person you don’t even know and outside that room, from the large hall, you hear gunshot after gunshot. How would you feel?

For Moshe Grossman this scenario is not a horrible nightmare. It was reality for him twelve years ago, on a Thursday evening, the first night of the Hebrew month of Adar, today’s date according to the Hebrew calendar.

A married student, Moshe had been at the Western Wall and knew he had three quarters of an hour to wait for his ride home to Shvut Rachel, a community in the Benjamin region. He decided to spend some time at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva* in Jerusalem. At 8:30 he was using a copy machine and that’s when pandemonium broke out. A terrorist had come into the study hall of the yeshiva and began opening fire. From the sound of the bullets Moshe could tell when the gunman was near or far away. Every few minutes there was a pause in the shooting and Moshe knew the assassin was changing the gun’s magazine.

Moshe Grossman speaking in the same room he hid in during the shooting. He took his family back to where it all happened, on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack.

Recalling the events from that torturous day, Moshe explained, 

“I heard footsteps of three young men, or boys, and realized they were charging the assailant. Then I heard shots and screams and knew the would-be heroes had been hit. My heart just broke.”

For ten to twelve minutes there were approximately six hundred bullets fired. Ten to twelve minutes isn’t a very long time but for Moshe, that night, it seemed like an eternity with all the thoughts swirling in his head. He quickly became acquainted with the second person in the room. Noam was a student in the yeshiva, five or six years younger than Moshe. They tried calling the police but the line was busy. Together they discussed how they could stop the terrorist. 

At the same time, Moshe pictured himself in a grave with his mother and father jumping in after him and his wife, Adi, and their three daughters screaming in grief. It was imagining their pain that kept him from trying to do something reckless.

Moshe’s father was born in New Jersey with only twenty-five percent of his sense of hearing. As a child he learned to read lips and became a bookkeeper. It was when he was nearing the age of forty that he opened up a Bible for the first time and was intrigued. He decided once his elderly mother passed that he would move to Israel and that is what he did, even though he knew it would be difficult.

Moshe’s maternal grandmother had thirteen pregnancies. Most ended in miscarriages or stillborns. A few babies survived for just a couple of months. Moshe’s mother was the only one able to survive and mature but she has spent most of her life in a wheelchair. Moshe’s special parents gave him a special childhood which in turn gave him many strengths. It’s no wonder that this inherited power in his veins, helped him survive that horrible night.

As he and Noam huddled under a table in the room, they prayed and weighed their options. Moshe decided if the gunman would open the door he would attack him with a chair. Feeling despair that they would not get out of the room alive, Moshe finally opened the door himself and saw the assailant face-to-face. Both of them were shocked. Both spoke. Moshe doesn’t remember what the murderer said, only that he spoke Hebrew without an Arabic accent. Moshe asked for mercy and ran back into the room without throwing the chair. For some reason, Moshe is certain it was the Hand of the Almighty protecting him, the terrorist didn’t follow him.

A few seconds, or a lifetime later, Moshe decided to make a run for it. He sped from the room, determined that if he was to be shot it would be in the back, not the face. From the corner of his eye he saw the study hall full of bodies, blood, smoke, and overturned plants. From there he raced down the stairs, outside, and then to the safety of his parent’s apartment just a short walk away from the yeshiva

He was alive! But what about Noam? Had Moshe’s race from the room alerted the murderer to Noam’s existence? Did the assassin suddenly realize there were more rooms where he could find victims?

Moshe, sharing his miraculous and inspiring story with others.

Friday morning Moshe was back at the yeshiva for morning prayer services. It was the beginning of the joyous Hebrew month of Adar.

“When Adar comes joy increases.” (Ta’anit Tractate 29a)

There was no joy, though. Also no crying. Just a sense of shock.  Then there were the funerals. Eight students had been murdered by the Israeli Arab. As Moshe saw their tallit wrapped bodies he could imagine himself among them. 

Like a magnet the yeshiva drew him back on Sunday, Monday, and again on Tuesday. It was on Tuesday, as he told his story over and over, others began telling him they’d heard the same story from someone else. That’s how he knew that Noam had also escaped. Both were alive and uninjured. 

Sadly, in addition to the eight murdered, there were eleven seriously injured students. Moshe spent that first week visiting the wounded and trying to comfort bereaved families. Once the week of mourning ended he made his own Meal of Thanksgiving to show appreciation to G-d for saving his life.

“You have transformed my eulogy into dancing for me, You undid my sackcloth and girded me with happiness.” (Psalms 30:12)

Moshe knew it was time to make some changes in his life. He and his family moved to Mevaseret for two years where he learned in a yeshiva there and earned a teaching certificate. Why teach? Because he loves Bible studies, education, and children. 

Moshe, Adi and their beautiful children in the heart of Israel.

After completing his course work, he and Adi began looking for their permanent home. They found it deep in the heart of Israel, in Kochav HaShachar, a village of several thousand overlooking the Jordan Valley. They were drawn there because of its excellent educational system, affordability and most important, the wonderful people. 

Today they have six girls. Adi runs the medical clinic and Moshe had branched out. Not only does he teach but several years ago he studied to become a counselor. His clients range in age from children to the elderly. They come to him for all sorts of reasons: fear of terrorists, bed-wetting, marital disputes, lack of confidence, and more. 

Determined to spend the rest of his life dedicated to helping others, Moshe sees his patients as people, not simply as bearers of problems. He knows there is far more to them than the complaint that caused them to seek counseling. Learning from his own life experiences, he believes in focusing on their strong points in order to heal their weaknesses.

Moshe admires his parents for dealing with all their adversaries. He’s proud that his father was able to overcome the difficulties of being a new immigrant enough to have four Israeli children and a number of grandchildren.  He admires his mother who didn’t let her illnesses keep her from raising a family. He knows that his nightmare of March 6th, 2008 has made him a stronger and better person. 

 

*A Yeshiva is a Jewish Educational Institution.

(Ester Katz Silvers is also the author of Growing With My Cousin, a gripping novel available at Jewish bookstores everywhere or on MOSAICAPRESS.COM/GROWING-WITH-MY-COUSIN/. From grandparents to grandchildren, this moving story connects the past, present and future.)