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Sherri Wise

By MYRON LOVE

More than 20 years after surviving a triple Palestinian suicide bombing in the heart of Jerusalem, Dr. Sherri Wise says that she still suffers the emotional scars of that horrendous experience.
“I still suffer from PTSD,” she says. “I am still troubled by any loud noise.”
But, despite what she went through, the former Winnipegger insists that she bears no ill-will toward the bombers who – that September 4 afternoon in 1997 on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem – killed five Israelis (including three teenage girls at a birthday party – and inured close to 200).

 

 

 


“The three bombers were just as much victims as the rest of us,” Wise observes. “They were born with a clean slate like everyone else. Growing up, they were taught to hate Jews and to aspire – the highest honor – to kill Jews. What chance did they have?”
Wise, who practices dentistry in Vancouver, was back in her hometown on Tuesday, November 12, at the behest of the Combined Jewish Appeal’s Women’s Philanthropy Campaign. Her presentation – at the Inn the Forks – was, she says, the first time that she has spoken publicly in Winnipeg about what she went through.
“I just started speaking about it about a year ago,” she said. “I have spoken at Federation events in Calgary and Edmonton over the past few months and – at shelichot at my synagogue in Vancouver, I spoke about forgiveness.


Wise’s presentation on the 14th was titled “Born Lucky: How Surviving a Triple Suicide Bombing Changed My Life”. In 1997, Wise had recently completed her dental post-graduate studies; she notes that her father, Julius, was also a dentist and her mother, Karen (who has passed away) was a dental hygienist – and she had just begun practicing dentistry in Vancouver.
“I had never been to Israel before and always wanted to go,” she says. “I learned about this program recruiting dentists to volunteer their services for short periods of time in Israel. I applied and, shortly after, was on my way to Israel. I worked for three weeks providing free dental care for poor Jewish and Arab children. The experience was both humbling and satisfying. The families were really appreciative.”
The bombing occurred near the end of her time in Israel. She and two friends were sitting in a restaurant on Ben Yehuda Street.
“I noticed what looked to be a large woman (one of the male suicide bombers) carrying a large bag, but didn’t pay too much attention,” she recalls. “There were ten girls celebrating a birthday party. I was feeling warm sitting in the sun and asked my friend, Diane, to change seats with me. Right after that, the first bomb went off.”
Diane was seriously wounded while the third friend, Greg, was uninjured. Karen was blown out of her seat and fell behind a thick table -which partially shielded her from the third bomb blast which spewed nails in her direction.


“I remember the screaming and the sirens,” she said. “My first instinct was to grab my backpack with my passport inside. The Magen David Adom was on the scene within minutes and I was soon in an ambulance on the way to Hadassah Hospital.”
Wise spent three weeks in hospital in Israel recovering from burns and other injuries from flying nails. She also lost her hearing for a while.
The other woman in the room, who was also injured in the bombing, had a large family whose members adopted Sherri as one of their own.
After being flown back to Canada, it took her six months to recover – first at her parents’ home in Winnipeg and then, back in Vancouver where, she recalls, she received a lot of support from the Jewish community, as well as good friends.
“For years, I struggled with survivor’s guilt,” she says. “I wasn’t able to make sense of it. Eventually, I came to accept that I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
She eventually began to channel her energies in a positive direction. She was part of a group of citizens who successfully lobbied the Federal (Stephen Harper) Government to pass into law the “Justice for Victims of Terrorism” Act in 2012, which allows for medical coverage and compensation for victims of terrorism and their families.
That same year, she was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal of Honour in recognition of her leadership role in lobbying for the “Justice for Victims of Terrorism” Act.


She also joined “Strength to Strength, which is a nonprofit organization established to support victims of terrorism with long-term psychological needs around the world through regular meetings, provision of information and advice, and raising awareness of the unmet needs of victims and their families.
In 2004, Wise went back to Israel and revisited the scene of the bombing. She said that she hopes that her 12-year-old daughter, Eden, will visit Israel one day.
“It’s an incredible place,” she said.
In concluding her presentation, Wise commented on the importance of community and Jewish federations. Her involvement in Vancouver’s Jewish Federation and other institutions, she noted, is due to the standard set for her by her mother, Karen.
“My mother played leadership roles in the (Winnipeg Jewish) Federation and the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue,” she recalled. “She was my inspiration. Her example is one of the biggest reasons that I do what I do.”

Prior to Wise’s talk, Barry McArton, the Combined Jewish Appeal chair for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg for 2019-2020, provided an update on this year’s campaign. He reported that the campaign so far has raised $4.250 million towards a goal of $6 million. The Women’s Philanthropy arm of the campaign, he added, has contributed $1,462, 722 to the total to date.
The former executive director of both Cancercare Manitoba and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra also pointed out that just 8% of the funds raised by the CJA campaign go to administrative costs – considerably less than most other institutions and organizations that rely on fundraising for a large part of their income.
He also listed the many ways in which the Federation through the CJA campaign benefits the members of all ages of our Jewish community and as well as projects in Israel.
“Our community’s varied needs are quite extensive,” he noted. “It is so very important that we reach our fundraising goal.”

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