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Family's 3 Generations Taken From Kibbutz

In a nearby communal settlement, the deaths of a grandmother, her son, his wife and their two children in a Haifa suicide attack hit hard.

October 06, 2003|Henry Chu | Times Staff Writer

KIBBUTZ YAGUR, Israel — Violent death has struck this tight-knit community many times over the decades, men and women lost in wars and other hostilities.

But none of that prepared resident Hillel Leviatan for the tragedy now before him: members of three generations of a single family cut down by a suicide bomber.

The Zer-Avivs were his neighbors -- Bruria, the doting grandmother; her son, Bezalel; his wife, Keren; and the couple's two youngsters, Noya, 1, and Liran, who was to celebrate his fourth birthday in his preschool class Sunday.

The family went out Saturday for a relaxing afternoon shopping for gifts for Liran's party, Leviatan said. The boy himself had carefully counted and arranged the kid-size chairs in his classroom exactly the way he wanted them.

But those plans ended in smoke and bloody devastation when a Palestinian woman blew herself up in the crowded restaurant where the Zer-Avivs had gone to enjoy a late lunch overlooking the placid Mediterranean Sea.

"I woke up to a new day and a new reality," Leviatan said Sunday. "Nothing like this has ever happened to us.... A whole family with little children is gone."

In all, 19 bystanders were killed and dozens more were wounded in the bombing at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa, a northern coastal city famous for its steep hills and panoramic views.

Besides the Zer-Avivs, the victims included members of another extended family, the Almogs of Haifa. Their silvering patriarch, Zeev, an Israeli naval hero; his wife, Ruthie; their son Moshe; and a grandson, Tomer, all died in the blast, the deadliest such attack in Haifa during the 3-year-old Palestinian uprising.

Here on Kibbutz Yagur, a leafy neighborhood where residents putt around on scooters and in golf-cart-like buggies, news of the Zer-Avivs' fate filtered in like a puzzle whose pieces fell into place to form a terrible picture of loss.

Gone are the days when the kibbutz clanged a bell to summon residents to the communal dining hall for important announcements. Residents picked up clues to what happened Saturday by watching television or listening to the radio.

Benny Shiloh, Bruria Zer-Aviv's neighbor, noticed what looked like the family's baby stroller amid the wreckage shown over and over on TV.

The camera then zoomed in on a baby's bloody milk bottle. There was a name written on it: Noya. Shiloh began suspecting the worst but hoping against it.

Sophie, Bruria's older daughter, who also lives on the kibbutz, knew that her mother and her brother's family had gone into Haifa for the day, Shiloh said. When she couldn't reach them after the bombing, she and her father, Freddy Zer-Aviv, Bruria's estranged husband and a retired orthopedist living in Haifa, went looking for them.

They found only the family's car parked near the restaurant. An uncle went to identify the bodies.

"It's always been away from us.... It didn't come into our doors, our homes," Shiloh, 66, said of the recent stream of terror attacks on Israelis.

But now, he said, "you don't read it in the news. You live it."

This long-established kibbutz was subdued Sunday morning, hours before the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur began at dusk. Sophie Zer-Aviv and her husband declined to speak to reporters.

Freddy and Bruria Zer-Aviv's three children grew up on the kibbutz after their parents moved there in 1985, Shiloh said. Bruria, 59, managed the auditorium on the kibbutz, which staged regional performances. Bezalel, 30, was engaged in culinary studies. Sophie, 28, works in the kibbutz's plastic-tubing factory. Gabby, the youngest, was en route home from Thailand, where she had been traveling. Bezalel's wife, Keren, 29, worked on one of the commune's plantations.

More than 1,300 people live on the kibbutz, which derives its income from its factories, a large nursery and its herd of cows.

"It's a wonderful place," said Ilana Livne, who moved here 15 years ago. "It's a very special kibbutz."

The Zer-Avivs are to be buried Tuesday, leaving neighbors like Shiloh to ponder their loss and look for some meaning -- any meaning.

"I know it's a common saying, 'We are different people than we were yesterday,' but it's true," he said.

"What kind of people we will be, we shall see."

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