Dr. Zieva Dauber KonvisserThe writer is a Fellow of the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University. Her research focuses on the human impact of traumatic events, such as terrorism, genocide, war, and wrongful conviction. She served on the National Commission on American Jewish Women and is currently on the international board of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma and the advisory board of Strength to Strength. Her book Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing is an inspiring look at how 48 survivors of terrorism move forward from terrorism to hope and optimism and from grief to meaning and healing.
Humor has helped people through some of the darkest times imaginable. As psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning about surviving Nazi concentration camps: “Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”
It was Sukkot 2001, and Feige Fishman Glasomitsky, an Orthodox Jew and a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, decided to celebrate what should have been a joyous holiday by attending a hassidic music concert in the city of Hevron, located in the Judea/Samaria region – and the burial place of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
Feige tells her story of surviving and using humor to rise above the traumatic events in her life: “I went to hear music, and by the way, to give regards to our forefathers, whom I hadn’t visited in years. As it turned out I required their prompt intervention.”
She managed to hear only a few chords from the orchestra before feeling the blast from Palestinian Arab gunfire “like a baseball, or coconut, fired from a cannon.” Feige was seriously injured and a nineteen-year-old woman was lightly wounded in the shooting incident. “Fortunately it was not so dramatic – I got shot, I got better. Unfortunately other people have got worse stories than mine. Now I can see that it was very much something to be thankful for. Everything eventually went back to normal, except in my mind, which sees life a bit differently now.”
Feige was a thirty-eight-year-old, twice-divorced mother of five who had made aliya to Israel from the United States in 1979. She has had several prior traumas and feels the hardships have made her stronger. “Getting shot in a terrorist attack was the tip of the iceberg. I’ve gone through worse things – two divorces, a terrorist attack, five kids, and coming to Israel.”
For Feige, the attack lasted “the length of eternity, divided into many split seconds, each of which is etched into my being forever. In the first split second, a voice from deep within me said, in English, ‘You’re going to live.’ In the next split second, I thought, ‘Gosh, I ought to let someone know about this,’ and besides, it’s customary in such situations to fall on the floor, which I accomplished promptly; but when I tried to scream ‘Niftzati!’ (I’m wounded!), it came out like a groan.
In the next split seconds, I heard what sounded like popcorn popping and I thought, ‘What a shlemazel (luckless person) – you’re even missing the firework display.’ Then, I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker that we’re being fired upon and that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is returning fire.”
Next thing she knew, “I’m surrounded by people with pitying looks on their faces and I wonder, ‘Why are they looking at me like that and does all that blood over there belong to me, and I hope they get someone professional over here to take care of this, and I wish those people with the television cameras would go away because I don’t think my sheitel (wig) is on straight.’
"I was greatly relieved to see the men in the orange vests, and pleased when they wrapped me up thoroughly, so that my insides would stop falling out.”
As they rushed her to Hadassah Hospital thirty kilometers north in Jerusalem, she explained to them that “everything is fine, it’s just a bit difficult to breathe, so they should please drive slower if they can. They didn’t even answer me. They just looked at each other and drove faster. They called base: ‘We’re bringing in a casualty, moderate to serious.’ I thought, ‘Who can they mean? The only one in here is me!’ I asked them to call my sister-in-law, who was in my house with my two youngest daughters.
The thought bothered me that maybe no one knew that I was wounded. Little did I know that everyone knew, and immediately.”
The doctor told her: “Lady, you had a miracle. The bullet went in here, on your right side and stuck here” – just under the skin of her left breast".
I like my scars. They remind me again that you aren’t just here for nothing. But I was fortunate that I didn’t see anything. I didn’t hear anything. I just felt this bullet in my side. And so it’s hard to be traumatized because I didn’t really see anything….Getting shot didn’t shake my faith in God. Just the opposite, I learned to appreciate even more God’s divine providence over each person.”
Feige uses humor as a way to deflect attention away from her real fears and anxiety. A therapist helped her understand that her feeling of general anxiety is because “I am feeling inadequate. For the same price that it cost to think you are inadequate, you can also decide that you are adequate. It immediately drops a heck of a lot of the energy that you were wasting trying to cover up your supposed inadequacy. And it is nice to realize you are okay and you can use all that extra energy in making progress.”
As she told her story, Feige discovered, much to her surprise and wonderment, that she is a survivor, not a victim. “That’s the first time I have ever called myself a survivor and it rings with the same ring as a Holocaust survivor. Wow, it feels like Superman! It’s nicer to say you are a survivor than a victim. I always call myself a terror victim. I didn’t feel like a victim. Survivor is a good word – it gives a good psychological feeling.”
In the summer of 2006 Feige and her bashert (destined) Asher Glasomitsky, a Russian immigrant and scribe of Torah scrolls and other religious writings, found each other. They married in September – the third marriage for each of them.
They both like the image they have given themselves of “being an old, rather than a young, couple because it has the advantage of wisdom that develops with age.” They joke about “where we’ve been all these years” without finding each other.
They both have learned an important lesson from their hardships – not just from the pigua, terror attack, but from all their life experiences – about how to find happiness and meaning in their lives.
On Sukkot of 2008, on the seventh anniversary of the attack, “the whole family – Asher’s children and mine – went to a concert in Hevron – the same band playing at the same place. I was required to recite the blessing one makes upon returning to the spot where she was saved from danger: ‘Blessed are You…Who made a miracle for me in this place.’. Before I knew it, I was introduced and my story recalled on stage. My blessing was broadcast to everyone attending the concert, on the radio, and over the internet! Asher saw that I was very emotional, and he’s glad that God saved me for him. The Hebrew word asher means happy and we are still very happy together. He’s a great guy and we are doing it together – repairing the trauma of being a trauma family. Happy ending!”
Excerpted from Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing, by Zieva Dauber Konvisser, PhD, Gefen, 2014.
Zieva Dauber Konvisser, PhD, is a Fellow of the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University. Her book Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing is a look at how 48 survivors of terrorism move forward from terrorism to hope and optimism and from grief to meaning and healing.