Elad Wassie was working in Netanya’s open-air vegetable market when a suicide bomber detonated a shrapnel-laden explosive nearly three years ago. Wassie awoke in the hospital to learn that a nail lodged in his spine had paralyzed him from the waist down. He refused to utter a word for nearly two months.“I needed time to absorb what happened to me and decide what I was going to do with my life,” said Wassie, 28, who emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel via Sudan in 1985. “I spoke with God, and said, ‘OK, you took away my legs, but I still have my head and my arms and I am going to do something with them.’ ”Now Wassie, who last week wrapped up a three-week, 11-city North American speaking tour, is making up for his self-imposed silence. He traveled to synagogues and community centers to raise awareness and funds for Selah-Israel Crisis Management Center.“People should understand what Israel is really like,” said Wassie, who uses a wheelchair. “They think we’re the bad guys, but I want them to know that we suffer as well.”
Selah, which provides goods and services to recent immigrants struck by tragedy, has counseled Wassie since the terror attack and bought for him a number of independent living devices. The 12-year-old organization assists about 1,000 families per year and organizes twice-yearly conferences for new immigrant victims of terror attacks.“New immigrants don’t have the support system of veteran Israelis,” said Micha Feldmann, director of Selah’s Ethiopian Division, who traveled with Wassie and acted as his interpreter. “Our job is to be that support system.”
The May 19, 2002, terror attack, which killed three Israelis, left Wassie with third-degree burns on his face, back and arm, and with 17 nails imbedded in his body. In addition to speaking on behalf of Selah, Wassie studies computers and plays wheelchair basketball.“It’s sad to see someone in a wheelchair, but it’s encouraging to see someone in a wheelchair with such a spirit,” said Feldmann, who in the early 1990s headed up The Jewish Agency’s efforts to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel. “It’s part of the Israeli spirit.”
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