Regrettably, Rebecca Fuhrman knows firsthand what it’s like to suffer at the hands of a Palestinian terrorist.
The Pittsburgh native, who now lives in Israel, was only 24 on March 23, 2011, when a Palestinian exploded a bomb at a bus stop at the Binyanei Hauma Convention Center in Jerusalem, ripping through the back of the bus Fuhrman was riding home from work.
“It was not like a movie,” she said. “There was no warning music. My memory is a blur: there was glass imploding, people running. I was looking for my friends, and not seeing them, then seeing them crouched down on the floor saying the ‘Shema’ because they thought their lives were over.
“You know it’s a terror attack,” she continued. “I knew I needed to get my friends away from there. I grabbed them by the hands. It feels like it’s hours, but it is just seconds.”
Fuhrman was lucky. She escaped the explosion with only an eye injury —shrapnel in the cornea — and severe trauma. For many others that day, the consequences were far more dire.
Since then, Fuhrman, the daughter of Sue and Michael Fuhrman of Squirrel Hill, has dedicated her life to easing the pain of the victims and survivors of Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel. She now works as the communications manager at OneFamily Fund in Jerusalem, an organization that provides material and rehabilitative support to Israel’s victims of terror.
On Thursday, March 21 — almost two years to the day since the attack —Fuhrman was again at Binyanei Hauma, but this time to hear President Barack Obama speak on terror, and to meet the president as well.
Fuhrman was invited to the speech through OneFamily Fund because she had developed a relationship with Osher Twitto, a now 13-year-old boy from southern Israel who was personally invited by the president to attend.
Twitto was only 8 when Hamas fired a Kassam rocket that exploded next to him and his brother Rami. Both boys — from a low-income family in Sderot — were critically injured. They remained hospitalized for a year. Osher’s left leg had to be amputated; his right leg was finally saved after eight operations.
In 2008, four months after Osher was injured, Obama came to Israel as part of his campaign for president. Osher was transported out of the hospital to meet Obama and shake his hand. Obama told Osher at that time that if he were elected president, they would meet again “in the White House,” according to Fuhrman.
“That stuck with Osher,” Fuhrman said, “Obama saying that was like reaching out a life vest to him. It got Osher through everything. He kept saying, ‘I’m going to meet the president.’”
Fuhrman traveled with Osher to Florida in December 2012, to visit a youth group that wanted to celebrate the bar mitzva of a terror victim. Fuhrman tried at that time to arrange a reunion meeting with Obama at the White House, but the timing did not work out for the president.
But when Obama planned his trip to Israel last month, his staff reached out to Fuhrman to bring Osher and his family to the speech.
While Obama, in his remarks, acknowledged the impact of terror on the lives of Israelis, he also referred to the Palestinians’ plight as a result of the “occupation,” according to Rachel Moore, spokesperson for OneFamily Fund, who was present at the speech.
“I think that Obama made it clear through his speech and his invitation of the OneFamily delegation that he is conscious of Israeli terror victims, and that he considers their having to live with terror to be completely unacceptable,” Moore wrote in an email to the Chronicle. “At the same time, he didn’t categorically denounce terror in an unequivocal way. He spoke more about the injustice of what he terms ‘occupation’ than he did of the injustice of terror. I think he called them both unacceptable (i.e., occupation and terrorism) but in doing so created a moral equivalence I take issue with.”
Following the speech, Fuhrman was invited to meet Obama along with Osher and his mother, Iris.
“It was supposed to be a reunion, and it was a reunion,” Fuhrman said. “Osher’s mother gave the president a big hug, and they both said how great Osher looked. It was a beautiful meeting between old friends. There are not enough words to describe how excited both people were to see each other. It was absolutely unbelievable.”
The Obama speech did help highlight the struggle that victims of terror face throughout their lives, according to Moore.
“OneFamily was very proud to have had the opportunity to shed some light on terror victims in Israel — including U.S. citizens like Rebecca and the thousands of others — as a result of Obama’s visit,” Moore said. “The message that their trauma and loss remain a part of their lives so many years later is often one that is sadly forgotten.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)