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December 15, 2002

The long arm of terrorism

From: Birmingham News, AL - 15 Dec 2002

By ROY HOFFMAN Staff Reporter

FAIRHOPE -- Joy Antar, who is curly haired, energetic and profoundly deaf, uses a gesture in sign language to describe her sorrow. In her living room with an interpreter, Debi Robbins, sitting close by, Antar touches her fingers to her eyes and draws them quickly down her cheeks, the path of tears. In telling, through her interpreter, what befell her loved ones on Thanksgiving Day -- a terrorist explosion in Africa that shattered her heart in Alabama -- she uses the tears sign often.

There had been a terrorist attack against Israelis vacationing at a resort hotel in Kenya -- a jeep bomb driven into the lobby. Among the 13 innocents killed were two Israeli boys, Dvir and Noy Anter, 14 and 12. Their father, Rami, as Joy tells, had been upstairs in his hotel room when he heard the blast, threw open the window and looked down to see his wife, Ora, and daughter, Adva, hurt and bleeding. Ora was screaming, "Where are the children?" Rami rushed down to find the charred remains of his sons. The blast was so horrific that Dvir's orthodontic braces were found 35 feet away from his body.

The terrorist group al-Qaida was said to be responsible for the attack.

The story of this tragedy, as it affected their relatives in Alabama, is only being told now. Because Joy's husband, Shaul Antar, is also deaf -- he works on the maintenance staff at Marriott's Grand Hotel at Point Clear and flew to Israel to be with his brother Rami -- the Antars did not broadcast their loss. Indeed, many in their Jewish religious community knew nothing about the connection between the bombing and the Antars until days afterward.

(The Israeli name "Anter" became the American name "Antar" due to an immigration office translation, Joy explains.)

Joy, a mental health counselor with the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind in Mobile, may not be able to hear, but she has a strongly intuitive sense of the things going on around her. Indeed, on Thanksgiving morning, when she awoke in Fairhope, she had a sensation about the murders more than 8,000 miles away.

"I just woke up with a feeling," she says, touching her heart. "Something was not right."


Even though it was Thanksgiving, for Shaul Antar, who oversees the enormous laundry facilities at the Grand Hotel, Nov. 28 was a work day. As Joy recounts it, Shaul's shift was over by 2:30 p.m., and he would return home for their dinner.

They have a daughter, Simcha, 9, and a son, Ariel, 7. "Simcha," Joy explains, means "happiness" in Hebrew; the name Ariel is "lion of God. Strong."

Both children are "hearing," and Simcha sometimes helps interpret, although reluctantly, for her parents.

When the telephone rang Thanksgiving afternoon -- it both sounds and flashes -- little Simcha answered it. It was her uncle Ron Manoah, who lives in Atlanta, saying he had "bad news" that he had to give them. By the time Joy returned the call, using the Alabama Telephone Relay System -- an operator types out messages for the hearing impaired -- Ron was unreachable.

"I thought," Joy recalls, "that 'bad news' had something to do with Shaul's parents in Israel, maybe they were sick."

She had not yet turned on the television.

When Shaul got home from work, he told her, through their sign language, that he had seen reports about an attack having to do with Israel and Africa.

With family living in Israel, they had grown bleakly accustomed to hearing about suicide bombings and always paid close attention, making sure everyone they knew was all right. But the connection to Kenya seemed improbable.

By the evening, Shaul was starting to turn on their home computer, ready to read, as he usually did, the Israeli newspapers online.

"I put the kids to bed," Joy says through her interpreter. "Shaul looked on the Internet."

"I said, 'What's it say? What's it say?' It was all over the Internet!"

Joy raced to turn on the television, to see the closed-caption news channels showing the smoldering hulk of the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, a resort popular for Israelis with its kosher food and in-house synagogue. What was Thanksgiving Day for Americans was, for Jews worldwide, also the eve of Hanukkah, the religious festival of lights. The Anters of Israel had gone to Kenya to get away from the violence for the Hanukkah season and to celebrate the bar mitzvah of Dvir and the forthcoming ceremony for their younger, Noy.

They had saved money for years, Joy knew, for that vacation in tranquil, seaside Kenya, on the eastern coast of Africa and the Indian Ocean.

As they absorbed the news, a fax from Ron came in.

The message was undeniable.

"Both boys," Joy says, trailing her fingers down her cheeks, "were dead."


In terms of miles, it's a long way between the Dead Sea and Mobile Bay, but to Joy Antar, who has lived near both, the distance does not seem far at all.

The Rochester, N.Y., native met her husband-to-be at a Jewish convention, in Los Angeles, for the hearing impaired. "It was love at first sight," she says, smiling.

She married Shaul, who had a family of 10 brothers and sisters, and they began life together in his native Israel.

As Joy explains: "I lived in Israel for almost one year, and I developed warm relationships with his family. I feel close to them. I spent many Sabbaths and holidays with Rami, Ora, Dvir and Noy. Dvir was a toddler when I was in Israel, and Noy was a baby. They would spend the weekend with us ... This is always the best way to really develop bonds."

But Joy found it a challenge to lip-read conversational Hebrew. Mostly, she missed the United States, and felt it was easier here than abroad for someone deaf. "There were more opportunities."

They moved back to Rochester. With a graduate degree in counseling, Joy answered an ad for a job as a mental health counselor in far-away Alabama, at the Institute for Deaf and Blind. "I was the only deaf mental health counselor in the state of Alabama," she says.

Since then, as a result of a lawsuit against the state by two deaf adults needing mental health services, Alabama's mental health agency has expanded counseling services, Joy says.

Joy's hearing loss began, she says, when she suffered a high fever as a 2-year-old. She says she can remember "sounds, noises," but as the years have passed, her capacity to hear has dwindled to nothing.

While she can read lips and form words in a whisper, she utilizes signing, with an interpreter, to make her thoughts clearest. Shaul, who picks up some sound with a strong hearing aid, lost his hearing as a child from spinal meningitis.

"Maybe it's easier at a time like this," Joy says of the bombing, "not hearing everything."


To get to Israel quickly, the Antars found a flight on Air Canada that would take Shaul through Toronto. They drove to Atlanta with their children, and Joy put her husband on the plane.

It was the day after the attack, but "I kept feeling, 'This can't be real,'" she says.

Driving home with her two children, the weight of the tragedy hit her, and she began to cry. "I had to concentrate" -- she makes a gesture like steering the wheel of a car -- "to keep driving."

Back in Fairhope, Joy read about the sad funeral with the rest of the world and saw it played out on television news. On the cover of The New York Times was a photograph of the Anters holding a candle -- Shaul's brothers Rami and Avraham, and their father, David -- their faces twisted in grief.

In the news stories, Rami was quoted as saying he refused to show tears to the world so as not to give the terrorists a sense of victory.

"We will be strong," Joy says. "Rami doesn't want our tears to go out as a sign to al-Qaida."


As Joy continues her tale, her children, Simcha and Ariel, arrive home from playing with friends. They lean against her shoulder. She takes out a photo album with pictures of their cousins -- Dvir and Noy.

"I can't imagine," she says. "Rami lost his two boys. I can't imagine!"

Simcha touches the pictures.

Joy says that the story, to her children, is still distant. "Maybe it will be different when their daddy comes home."

Ron calls from Atlanta. He has just returned from Israel and says that Shaul will be staying a little longer.

Ron reports that Ora is still in the hospital, in critical condition. He says that shrapnel in her skin has continued to create medical problems. Rami and Ora's daughter, Adva, is undergoing skin grafts.

Joy looks at the photographs again of her nephews.

"Why can't we just have peace and live in a peaceful world?" she asks.

She pauses. "What does a bombing like this accomplish?"

She throws down her hands, making zeros with her fingers.

"Nothing," she says. "Nothing."

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