American people were rudely awakened to the reality of being in a war on 9/11, and it is a credit to our media that they tried to dig up as much information on the victims, putting a human face to every entry in the list.
Israelis have been living with tragedy for a long time. It is a rare day that passes without another grim statistic. Open a newspaper. Only a few days ago, five people in the Merzel Kibbutz, including a mother and her two young children, were shot point-blank. Where is Merzel? Who were these people? Did they like to watch Harry Potter? Did they go out dancing? Singing along with a Top-40 station? We don't know...
May 31, 2001, was to be another fun night out for Russian-born teenagers in the Tel Aviv area, as they milled around the Delphinarium Disco on the waterfront. The boys checking out the girls, the girls parading their new outfits - especially the girls, they could get in for free before midnight, so they naturally crowded the doors, trying to get inside in time.
A smiling youth showed up, not much older, with a shoulder bag. He stood so close to them: he could touch their freshly shampooed hair, he could inhale their perfume. And then he pulled the trigger.
"My first thought was that a petard had gone off," recalls Anya Sinichkina. "Then everyone was running and screaming - and then it was quiet. So quiet. And then I saw Ilya Gutman [her boyfriend] lying on the ground, his heart being massaged by a paramedic. And there was nothing I could do to help."
Twenty-one died, nineteen of them teenagers. Over a hundred were wounded, some still needing surgery.
This is what the film Empty Rooms, made by a well-known Dutch director Willy Lindwer, is about. It puts a human face on a tragedy. How do the parents of Ilya Gutman cope with the loss? "I couldn't go to the kitchen," his mother Larissa recalls. "I could hear his voice, Mum, what's good to eat? Your son is hungry…"
Soon after the catastrophe, The Michael Cherney Foundation began rendering assistance to the victims. Then two Israeli journalists, Polina Lempert and Dmitry Radyshevsky, interviewed the victims and made the interviews into a book, Dolphinarium: Terror Targets the Young, published in Russian, English, and Hebrew earlier this year. Finally, David Gurevich, who prepared the English-language edition, conceived and produced the film - both the book and the film underwritten by the same Cherney Foundation.
"Interviewing the parents was a cathartic experience," Mr. Gurevich recalls. "And when you think what the survivors went through - and how they came out of this ordeal with their heads up - I was simply humbled. Our characters have seen the face of evil and lived to tell the story."
The film has already been shown to a great acclaim at the Denver International Film Festival and at the Los Angeles International Jewish Film Festival. More screenings are being planned, and some TV networks have shown interest. "I hope," Mr. Gurevich says, "that, after seeing the film, at least a few people will leaf through the newspaper and see these children's faces in their minds. Then we'll have succeeded."