Arnold Roth was in London this week to discuss his charity Keren Malki, named after his daughter who was killed in a Jerusalem suicide attack. By Caron Kemp
Shortly after 2pm on 9 August 2001, Frimet Roth frantically called her husband, Arnold. There had been a terror bombing near their Jerusalem home. Several of their seven children were unaccounted for.
Almost 12 hours later their lives changed forever when 15-year-old Malki, the couple’s oldest daughter, was confirmed as among the 15 innocent victims whose lives were lost.
Arnold had already left for work when Malki woke that morning and prepared to visit the house of a friend travelling overseas, to decorate it for her arrival home. She said goodbye to her dozing mother and, along with best friend Michal, set off on that fateful day. At lunchtime the girls decided to head to the Sbarro pizza restaurant before a meeting with their beloved youth group Ezra, in which they were both respected leaders.
But Malki’s life was tragically and indiscriminately cut short when a young Arab man walked into the bustling restaurant in downtown Jerusalem and detonated the explosives concealed in a guitar case slung across his back.
Arnold recalls: “A distraught neighbour came upstairs to tell us Michal had been identified among the dead, according to the news. Right then, any illusions we had about Malki’s fate vanished.”
Yet still unable to locate their daughter, the family – committed to an Orthodox way of life – sat at home reciting chapters from the book of Psalms. Intermittently they would leave messages on Malki’s mobile phone.
“We still have the recordings we made on her voicemail,” Arnold admits. “We’ll probably never listen to them. At that point, we didn’t know we were saying goodbye.”
Hours later, in the middle of the night, two of Malki’s older brothers, accompanied by a social worker, travelled to the government forensic laboratory in Jaffa. There they discovered the grim reality. Malki was buried alongside Michal the next afternoon on a hill near the entrance to Jerusalem.
But while sitting shiva, Arnold felt passionately that he had to fight against the idea that his daughter’s death would amount to little more than a number.
“She was a very special individual,” he explains.
“There was something happy and engaging about her and she had such profound compassion that we felt compelled to emulate that.”
When the Roths came to Israel from Australia in 1988, Malki was just two. With three older brothers, the family continued to grow and Malki was joined by three sisters.
But a year after the youngest girl, Haya, was born, a health crisis left her blind and profoundly disabled.
“Malki was just 10 but she was very sensitive to what she could contribute,” Arnold explains. “Throughout the time Haya was in hospital, she would often accompany my wife, sleeping beside them on the floor. At home, she would carry Haya into her own bed, providing her sister with warm and loving human contact.
“Because of Haya’s disabilities, there wasn’t much that Malki was able to get back from the interaction in the conventional sense but she was in love with the idea of being helpful. There was something enchanting about the goodness that exuded from her.”
And in the summer of 2000 when Malki was just 14, she inspired her family further.
“She found a young woman whose husband left her following the diagnosis that their five-year old son had a terminal illness,” Arnold recalls. “Malki became a self-appointed mother’s helper. She would feed little Ro’i, clean him, make him laugh. To look after a young child dying before your eyes is awful for anyone. Malki knew the score, but glowed from the joy of her relationship with him. And she did it without even the most theoretical notion that there was something in it for her.”
And so despite being overcome with grief, the family ploughed their energy into finding a way to honour her memory.
Thus Keren Malki was born. (Keren is the Hebrew word for ‘foundation’.) It empowers families to choose home care by long term lending of essential equipment, by granting funds to subsidise the cost of therapeutic non-medical care and by bringing therapists into the homes of special-needs children living in Israel’s northern and southern peripheries. This is open to all of Israel’s inhabitants.
“When we made the decision to raise Haya at home, we knew it wouldn’t be easy but we felt strongly that it was the best place for her and likewise, while Malki was acutely aware of the challenges she radiated the notion that there was so much good we could do,” Arnold says.
“The charity is driven by the core belief that no place is better for a child with special needs than that child’s own home.”
A professional manager and lawyer, Arnold is also now a frequent commentator on terrorism. Later this month, he will speak at a European Commission commemoration to mark 10 years since the 2004 Madrid train bombings.
Before this, he will visit the UK to address a variety of audiences where he will share his inspirational story.
“The death of a daughter in an act of bestial, cold-blooded murder changes your life,” he explains. “But let’s be clear, the victims were not caught in crossfire. That’s how it is with terror. The innocents are the targets.”
Ahlam Tamimi, the television newsreader who accompanied the human bomb, Izz-a-din al-Masri that day and planned the massacre, became one of more than 1,000 prisoners released in 2011 in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. On this, the Roths’ emotions remain raw.
“Sweeping away the broken glass and suggesting that life must go on is a terrible mistake,” Arnold concedes. “Tamimi’s release is like saying we have got over it. It runs starkly counter to fundamental issues of justice. Terrorism is a particular kind of ongoing torture for the families affected. Our lives are blessed with so many positive things. But deep fractures remain.
“Like most terror victims we want peace more than anything. On its own, the work of Keren Malki won’t bring peace. But in reminding people about one child’s beautiful life and the way it ended, we hope positive things can happen.”
• For more details visit the Malki Foundation website