The Terror Attack and My (Re)Birth as told by Mariam Berzon

The Terror Attack and My (Re)Birth as told by Mariam Berzon

My husband, Rabbi Joshua Weisberg, has been teaching at Nishmat for 19 years. So many memories! But if I had to choose, the sweetest memory of the last 2 decades was probably Nishmat student Mariam Berzon’s unforgettable engagement to her husband, Baruch, when we were on the bus back from a Nishmat trip to Kibbutz Sdei Eliyahu.

And the most painful Nishmat memory? Of course, it was the night we and the entire Jewish world were rocked by the horrific news that the son and daughter-in-law of Nishmat’s founder, Rabbanit Chana Henkin, had been brutally murdered in front of their 4 young children.

Last week, I ran into Mariam Berzon for the first time in many years, and we discussed her engagement as well as the Henkin tragedy almost three years ago. Here is the incredible personal story she shared with me:

“Before I tell you about my birth and the terror attack, I want to tell you about how Baruch and I got engaged. Because it’s actually connected…

“I grew up in Memphis, and had come to Nishmat to study Torah for the year in Rabbi Weisberg’s program. I had been dating my husband, Baruch, for almost a year after meeting him in Memphis where he participated in a program called Torah Mitziyon. Baruch’s parents are American [Mariam’s father-in-law is Rabbi Azarya Berzon, the founder of MMY, Yeshivat Mevaseret Tzion, and currently Rosh Kollel of the Emek Learning Center] but he grew up in Israel and served in the IDF.

“Before that Nishmat trip to the North, Baruch arranged with Rabbanit Henkin, Nishmat’s dean, a very creative way to propose to me…

“It was March 2002, in the middle of the Intifada, when there were terror attacks taking place often several times a month. So, at the Mevaseret bus stop on Highway 1 on the bus back to Nishmat, Rabbanit Henkin announced that a soldier would be getting on the bus to give us safety guidelines regarding the tense security situation.

“I was sitting in the back of the bus with my friends, and a soldier got on. I couldn’t see his face. He spoke English, but with a heavy Israeli accent. I remember half-thinking the accent was so heavy, it almost sounded fake…

“And then the soldier told us that in order to stay safe, ‘You should travel in groups. You should never walk alone! Like me, I am always with my partner. She’s actually on this bus, her name is Mariam.

“Mariam, will you marry me?

“I was so shocked, I couldn’t believe it!

“We got married a few months later that summer. But times were really rough in Israel. 5 of the Intifada’s hundreds of victims were the brother and sister-in-law of neighbors and close friends of Baruch’s parents. Their names were Mordechai and Tsira Schijveschuurder, they were murdered along with three of their children in the Sbarro suicide bombing.

“I was engaged to the love of my life, but the pain and loss I felt were overwhelming. I asked Baruch how Israelis cope with the pain. After witnessing a terror attack that has wiped out a family, how do you go on with your regular life?

“I remember Baruch explained to me that this is the struggle of life in Israel. But the pain we suffer as a nation ends up bringing us together, makes Israelis feel like family. At the same time, he told me, maybe because of this same struggle, in Israel we are able to feel joy more intensely. An Israeli wedding is different from an American wedding. The losses we face make us appreciate life more.

“The chuppah we used at our wedding was actually made by the Schijveschuurder’s brother-in-law. Standing under that chuppah, marrying my love, I felt the truth of what Baruch had explained to me.

“3 years ago, I experienced the truth of his words once again.

“I was in the delivery room, giving birth to our 4th child. I was getting close to the delivery when I noticed people speaking about something quietly. I knew something was wrong.

“At first Baruch wouldn’t tell me what had happened, but I insisted, and Baruch told me that a terrible tragedy had taken place. Rabbanit Henkin’s son, Rabbi Eitam, and daughter-in-law, Naama, had been shot to death by Arab terrorists. I hadn’t known Eitam or Naama, but I feel so much respect for and gratitude to Rabbanit Henkin.

“I was in an extremely emotional state. I was so shocked, the pain was overwhelming. And I felt with such clarity that at that moment I would rebirth the soul of this mother who had been killed, Naama Henkin, HY”D.

“After the birth there was no question what we would name our newborn daughter.

“Today our beloved Lielle Naama is almost 3 years old.

“And every time I say her name I remember what it means to live in Israel, where loss and life hold hands. No. Embrace, day by day. Moment by moment.”


  1. Hadassah

    No words!

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