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‘We all thought it was a war’’

Victim of terror, on bus with Alisa Flatow, recalls ordeal

Abigail Klein LeichmanLocal
Published: 06 May 2011
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The Knapp family: From left, in the foreground, are Amalya, 7, Sophie, 2, Eli, 6, Rami, 4; in back are Stephen, Dalya, 7 months, and Chavie. courtesy knapp family

Teaneck resident Chavie Knapp will be among four victims of terror to light a candle May 9 at an event marking Israel’s back-to-back Memorial and Independence days at New York City’s B.B. King Blues Club & Grill.

The annual gathering, with more than 100 sponsors and partner organizations, normally draws more than 1,500 people. This year’s event will feature addresses by Christine C. Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council, and Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni.

The candlelighting ceremony is described by sponsoring organization Dor Chadash as a traditional tribute to those who lost their lives defending Israel.

It was just around this time of year that Knapp was sitting on a bus behind Alisa Flatow of West Orange — the bus that was targeted by an Arab suicide bomber, costing 20-year-old Flatow her life on April 9, 1995.

“I was in Israel for a year of study between college and law school,” recalls Knapp. That January she met Flatow, a Frisch School graduate who was attending a different institution.

“Another friend and I were planning to go to a spa in Gush Katif [the formerly Jewish section of the Gaza Strip] before Pesach, and Alisa had plans to go to Egypt but they fell through. So she asked to come along with us.”

The trio were not supposed to be on the doomed bus from Ashkelon to Gush Katif, but they just missed their bus in Jerusalem and so took a later connection. The bus they ended up on was filled with soldiers heading home for holiday leave — a prime target for terrorists.

Knapp recalls that Alisa and the third friend sat behind the driver, while she sat behind them next to a uniformed soldier. She had purposely chosen to let the other two women sit together so that they could get better acquainted. “I vividly remember all these decisions,” the mother of five says now.

“It was supposed to be an hour’s ride, and at some point we all fell asleep. All of a sudden I awoke to a noise and saw pieces whizzing by of what I realized later was shrapnel. I had fallen asleep with my knees curled up, which saved me. I saw Alisa get hit in the head [with shrapnel] and it seemed to zap the life right out of her. She didn’t even bleed.”

Knapp described a scene of pandemonium. “We all thought it was a war, because people were shooting and we had never heard of a suicide bombing before. We crawled off the bus and somebody put four of us with minor injuries to the side to tend to the others. Alisa was lying on the ground, and helicopters evacuated her with the most badly injured.”

Later, the two friends had to identify Alisa because their ID papers had been in their bags in the lower section of the bus.

Years later, the soldier who sat next to Knapp tracked her down. “He told me that he felt I saved his life because a bunch of his friends had come on the bus and kept calling him to come to the back with them, but he didn’t want to disturb me to get out of the seat. All of his friends in the back got killed, and he was completely traumatized.”

Knapp was invited to light a candle by Lakewood native Sarri Singer, who moved to Israel following the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and worked with several relief organizations for terror victims. Ironically, on June 11, 2003, she was wounded in a Jerusalem bus bombing. In 2006, she co-founded One Heart (http://www.oneheartglobal.org), which provides psychological care and plastic surgery for victims of terror worldwide.

The ceremony is said to be the largest event of its kind outside of Israel and “allows us to unite the diverse Jewish communities in New York and to honor and celebrate Israel together as one inclusive, supportive community,” said Aya Shechter, executive director of Dor Chadash (www.dorchadashusa.org), which provides Israel-focused programming for young Israeli and American Jewish professionals.

Knapp and her husband, Stephen, attended last year. “You feel this togetherness you don’t feel on a regular basis, with so many different types of Jews in one building together. It’s a really powerful experience,” she says.

After the tribute to Israel’s fallen, the evening will turn into a party with a live band for Israel’s Independence Day. General admission tickets are $36 online and $50 at the door. VIP tickets are $80 online and $100 at the door.

 
 
 
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