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Farewell to LAX Victims Mixed With Grief, Rage

Services: One who died at ticket counter is buried, the other is sent to Israel for burial as El Al resumes flights.

July 08, 2002|MASSIE RITSCH, LAURA LOH and GEOFFREY MOHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

They gathered to say goodbye: raging, sobbing, and vowing to go on.

First, the mourners for two victims shot dead last week by an Egyptian immigrant at the El Al Israel Airline ticket counter at LAX said final farewells in the San Fernando Valley.

Then, families and friends fought to keep their goodbyes casual as their loved ones lined up for the airline's first scheduled flight to Tel Aviv since the tragedy, a flight that would carry the body of one of the victims home for burial.

At an early morning service, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn told mourners that Yaakov Aminov, the 46-year-old Valley Village resident gunned down as he dropped off a friend at LAX, had a "heart of courage" and love.

"Unfortunately a heart full of hate, bent on terror, took that heart of love from us," Hahn said to a crowd of more than 1,000 spilling out of Yad Avraham, the small Orthodox synagogue Aminov helped found in North Hollywood.

Hahn's slightly hedged choice of words was interrupted: "Call it terrorism!" one mourner yelled.

Aminov's pregnant widow, Anat, and their five children listened as eulogizers described Yaakov, also known as Jacob, as a gentle selfless man devoted to the study of Jewish teachings.

Aminov was dropping off a friend for the Tel Aviv flight when he was shot, along with El Al ticket agent Victoria Hen, 25. Two others were wounded by the gunman, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, a 41-year-old Egyptian immigrant who lived in Irvine. Hadayet was killed by a security guard.

U.S. authorities have hesitated to label the attack a terrorist event, and on Sunday, conflicting reports emerged over whether Hadayet had a financial dispute with the airline.

"It was no coincidence that this occurred on the Fourth of July, the very day when America reconfirms the ideals it holds so dear," Consul General Yuval Rotem told mourners.

Hadayet's rampage was an "insane act by an insane concept called martyrdom," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

A short while later, the scene was repeated in Mission Hills, where hundreds of people packed the chapel of Eden Memorial Park, where Victoria Hen was buried in a simple wooden casket.

"I have conducted many funerals, but the most difficult are the ones where I eulogize children in front of parents," Rabbi Samuel Ohana told a crowd that spilled onto the steps, and stood beneath a blanching sun.

"She was a victim of a brand of evil, an evil that believes any Jew or any Israeli can be murdered," Ohana said.

Mourners shook their heads in both disbelief and rage as they filed to Hen's graveside, and some carried signs. One said Hen's killing was a terrorist act.

Mike Snali, who said Hen had come to his West Hills home to play with his two young children, criticized the U.S. government for not labeling the shooting a terrorist act.

"They don't want to admit that it can happen again in the United States after Sept. 11," Snali said.

Rabbi Hier, who spoke at both services, walked away from Hen's grave with a simple admonishment:

"An individual act of terror is still an act of terror," he said.

By this time, Anat Aminov was en route to Tel Aviv on an El Al flight that carried her husband's remains. The 36-year-old widow, who is two months pregnant, had earlier arrived at the airport slumped in a wheel-chair surrounded by a knot of family and friends, and wept silently. She was to bury her husband today in his hometown of Kiryat Ono, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

"It's a tragedy, a sad tragedy," said Mark Ezerzer, brother-in-law of the victim. "We lost one of the best."

With airport police officers keeping watch from a balcony, and several others clustered nearby, passengers and family members were anxious. Many held blue-and-white carnations, the colors of Israel's flag, handed out by counter workers as a gesture of mourning for Aminov and Hen, who was working the same ticket counter when mayhem erupted 72 hours earlier.

"After what happened, it's good security," Ezerzer said. "It can happen anytime. I hope they can prevent it from happening again."

There was little doubt among the passengers awaiting the flight that Hadayet was motivated by terror when he began shooting at passengers.

"A man comes to the El Al counter with two guns and a knife and begins shooting?" Ezerzer questioned. "I can't imagine any other explanation."

Many who checked in for the flight refused to talk about the shooting. But those who did said they were adept at managing their fear of terror and were confident in El Al, whose security is renowned in the industry.

"I'm kind of used to this--what can you do?" said Omer Hauser, 22, of Holon, Israel, who had been on vacation in Southern California. "Here, it's a big-time event," he said. "This happens all the time in Israel."

Hauser looked askance at the additional security in the terminal, including 10 officers and a dog. "It doesn't matter how many officers they have here," he said. "I can't believe they know what to look for."

Yehuda Kohen, a 59-year-old businessman from Encino, waited to say goodbye to his wife and son before boarding the flight.

"It's the safest airline," Kohen said.

Then he embraced his wife, who choked back tears, and hugged his son, who put on a brave face. Casual parting words somehow resonated longer as he faded into the crowd at the security gate.

"I'll see you soon," he said.

"Have a safe flight," Shoshana Kohen replied.

"Bye, Abba," said his son.

*

Two bank accounts have been opened for contributions to assist Aminov's family: one at Bank Leumi at 16530 Ventura Blvd., Encino, CA 91436; the other at National Bank of California, 14724 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91403. Contributions can also be sent to Yad Avraham synagogue, 12426 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91607.

Donations in memory of Victoria Hen can be made to the Vicky Hen Memorial Fund, 23277 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA 91364.

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