Steve Averbach, the former Monmouth County resident who was paralyzed in an attempt to thwart a suicide bomber in Jerusalem in 2003, died suddenly at his home in Tel Aviv on Thursday, June 3.
Averbach was 44. He leaves his wife, Julia; four sons, ages 10 to 20, and his parents, Dr. David and Maida Averbach of West Long Branch.
Averbach immigrated to Israel in 1982 at age 16, and went on to serve in the elite Sayeret Golani, or Special Forces, unit of the Israeli army. Following his service, he joined the police, where he worked for 10 years, including five in an anti-terror unit, and three-and-a-half years as the Jerusalem police force’s top weapons instructor.
On May 18, 2003, he was on a bus heading to work when a Palestinian terrorist dressed as a fervently Orthodox Jew got on board. Averbach realized immediately that he was a suicide bomber. As he reached for his handgun, the terrorist blew himself up, killing seven people and seriously injuring 20, including Averbach.
Israel’s internal security ministry later wrote Averbach a letter saying, “An investigation of the incident revealed that you were courageous, brave, and selfless in attempting to prevent a mortal attack.”
It said the bomber had planned to blow himself up in the crowded center of town or in the bus station, where the death toll would have been far higher.
After a 14-month recovery process at the Hadassah University Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem and the Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital, a rehabilitation facility in Tel Aviv, Averbach returned home. Like the film star Christopher Reeve, whom he met in 2003, Averbach committed himself to helping others with spinal cord injuries, and also strove to help other victims of terrorism.
Maida and David, who are members of Congregation Brothers of Israel, Elberon, together with family members and friends, established the “Heroes Fund for Victims of Terror” through the Jewish Community Foundation of Monmouth County, to assist affected individuals in Israel from Monmouth County and the organizations that serve them.
At an August 2005 tribute to Averbach organized by the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County at the Ruth Hyman JCC in Deal, former New York City mayor Ed Koch said his story inspired him both as a Jew and as a public figure deeply concerned about the threat of terrorism.
“Steve Averbach gives every person, whatever their religion, something to be proud of,” Koch told NJJN at the time. “He’s an extraordinary man.”
From early in 2006, Averbach also served as a spokesman and fund-raiser for Project Tikvah, an Israeli nonprofit that uses sports activities to rehabilitate children and their family members who have been victims of terror.
Later that year, in New Jersey to receive two $10,000 donations to the project, he told NJJN, “Project Tikvah brings those who have been victims of terror back to life physically and emotionally. It also helps me to continue being a useful person and a better father to my children.”
The funeral was scheduled for June 7 in Israel. Averbachís parents were planning to return the following day to sit shiva at their home in Long Branch, ending the evening of June 12.