Saturday, July 13, 2013

Widows of Burgas victims mark 1st anniversary of tragedy

Year after Burgas terror attack, survivors Natalie, Gilat, who lost their husbands in bombing, tell Ynet of difficulties to overcome trauma, will to move on
Noam (Dabul) Dvir

Coworkers and friends Gilat, 29, and Natalie, 27, both lost their husbands in the fatal bombing on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort town of Burgas in July 2012. A year later, the two friends struggle with their losses as they raise children who will never get to meet their fathers.

This week, Gilat and Natalie mark the first anniversary of their husbands' deaths. Their bodies healed, but the pain persists. The trauma still haunts them, but with it the will to move on.

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Amir and Natalie Menashe left their baby boy Rom at home in the summer of 2012 to take a vacation with their friends, Itzik and Gilat Kolengi, who had also left a baby, Noya, at home. The vacation ended with the tragic death of Itzik and Amir, as well as of three other Israelis and the Bulgarian bus driver. Some 30 people were injured in the blast.
גילת ונויה קולנגי (מימין) יחד עם נטלי מנשה ובנה רום (צילום: ירון ברנר)
Natalie, Rom, Gilat, Noya (Photo: Yaron Brener)

Ever since the terror attack, Gilat and Natalie have grown closer than ever. They told Ynet that their bond is based on their shared experiences both in the past and in the present.
"It's not like anything else," Natalie told Ynet, noting that being a widow "with a child is not like being single or divorced."
She noted that grief was often made harder when forced to "deal with everyone around us – with what people think about us, say about us, the way people judge us."
"They judge a lot," Gilat added, "for the way we dress and put on makeup. They think that if I smile and go out to have coffee with a friend then I must be fine, 'nothing happened to her; she's moved on with her life.' But that's not true. The wound in my heart will never heal.
"I feel people looking at me everywhere… saying 'you see her, her husband was killed in a terror attack; she's all alone with a kid. You can always feel them talking," she added.

'Still waiting for him to walk through the door'

Noya, Gilat's daughter is almost a-year-and-a-half old, and Rom, Natalie's son is two-years-old. "They have the same character," Natalie says of her son and his father. He has that kindness that Amir had. If he sees that I'm sad he gives me a hug.
Noya says "daddy" when she sees a picture of Itzik, Gilat says, adding that she misses Itzik the most when she spends time with their daughter.
הפיגוע. העקבות הובילו לחיזבאללה  (צילום: רויטרס)
Scene of attack (Photo: Reuters)

Gilat was rescued from the burning bus with burns, and was in need of medical care. "The burn healed," she said, "but the biggest wound is in my heart."
According to her, her husband Itzik saved her, as he sent her back on the bus and away from the luggage compartment, essentially keeping her away from the source of the blast. When she opened her eyes she was already in an Israeli hospital.
"I knew I was back in Israel and that I had been in a terror attack, but I had no idea what was going on," she said. "I had a feeling Itzik wasn’t alive because I couldn’t see him. The first question I asked when I opened my eyes was if Itzik were dead… I was actually told he was in the hospital in serious condition, and only an hour later I was told he was no longer alive."
"I went up the steps (to the bus), and there was suddenly a huge blast," Natalie recounts. "I couldn’t breathe and started running away from the smoke. I realized I was alone, I turned back and I saw the bus go up in flames. I saw Gilat and then I realized it was a terror attack.
"I was sure Amir was behind me, I didn’t want to think that anything was wrong, but I had a bad feeling. Only in the hospital it sunk in. I got to the ward and saw the whole family crying. A social worker came up to me and told me that Amir was dead.
"I couldn’t believe it at that moment. I still can't. I feel like I'm living someone else's life – that I'm looking at someone else living this life. Like it isn’t me. I'm still waiting for him to walk through the door," Natalie said.

"Maybe because I didn’t see the body, maybe because I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. It doesn’t make sense to me that Amir would go without saying goodbye."

She noted that the loneliness was a hard burden to bear. "Getting up alone in the morning, going to sleep alone… the basic stuff."
She candidly added that she wanted someone to fill the void. 

Rom deserves a male figure," she noted. "He needs a father and I need a partner. I deserve to be happy. I did nothing wrong. I didn’t choose this, Amir didn't choose this and Rom didn’t choose this. We were forced into these circumstances. I'm sure Amir would want us to be happy."

Gilat shares the sentiment, stating "I miss Itzik when I come home to an empty house at night. It's hard for me to say that, but I wish myself that I find someone. It'll be hard, but for my sake and the kid's sake, I hope it'll happen soon."

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