Stephen Flatow remembers the moment 20 years ago when he heard about the terrorist bus bombing in Gaza that killed his 20-year-old daughter, Alisa.
He was backing out of the driveway of his West Orange home on his way to morning services at his synagogue when he heard about the attack on the radio.
“I cannot tell you I heard the explosion, and I’m not going to tell you I heard the cries of pain,” said Flatow during a Sept. 20 program at the Monroe Township Senior Center. “I knew instinctively that Alisa was involved and she was in terrible shape and only God could help her.”
Flatow’s talk was sponsored by the Hadassah Associates of Monroe Township to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Alisa chapter, named in memory of Flatow’s daughter.
“It is very comforting to our family to know that Alisa’s name is linked to an organization and chapter that does so much good for Israel,” he told the crowd of 250.
The chapter has grown from its original 35 members to 660 over two decades, said its charter president, Tiby Lapkin, noting, “Alisa’s name and merit have inspired us all. We at Hadassah cherish Alisa’s Jewish values and we are implored to emulate the Flatow family goals.”
In his talk, Flatow described the events that quickly unfolded in the hours and days that followed Alisa’s murder.
Shortly after arriving at his synagogue, Flatow received a call from his wife, who had spoken to the mother of one of the two girls who had accompanied Alisa for a few days at a beach resort in Gush Katif. Alisa, a student at Brandeis University, was on a study program in Israel.
“The two other girls were back in Jerusalem, but they had been separated from Alisa and didn’t know where she was,” recalled Flatow. He said he quickly took off his tallit and tefillin and raced home, where he placed calls to Israeli and American authorities.
A short time later the State Department called to inform him that Alisa was at Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva. A doctor there told the distraught father his daughter had been hit in the head and that he should come immediately.
At the hospital, Flatow said, he found Alisa in intensive care and hooked up to life support. A doctor told him that Alisa’s brain had been lacerated by shrapnel and she was being kept alive by the machines. Flatow agreed to donate her organs, one of which went to an Israeli Arab.
Referring to the stipulation in the Talmud that “to save a life is to save the world,” Flatow asked, “How could I say no to save six worlds in Israel?”
That love of Israel was something Alisa, who was on her sixth trip there, always felt, Flatow said. However, it was a March of the Living trip to the death camps of Poland and then Israel at age 17 that “made her what she was.”
“When Alisa returned she was not the teenager we sent away,” said Flatow.
Flatow, an attorney, set out on a speaking tour for such organizations as Israel Bonds and United Jewish Appeal. Overcoming government objections and with the support of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), he began legal action against the Iranian government for bankrolling the terrorist act that killed his daughter.
As an advocate for the rights of terror victims, Flatow has spoken across the country, appeared on national television, and testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He met with President Bill Clinton on several occasions, as well as with other top government officials.
Flatow also spearheaded an effort to pass legislation to unfreeze Iranian assets in the United States. A $247.5 million judgment was awarded in federal court in February 1996 against the Iranian government.
Last year, Flatow’s research led to findings that Credit Suisse, Lloyds, and the French bank BNP indirectly funneled money to the Iranian government that was used to finance terrorist attacks. BNP reached an agreement with federal prosecutors to pay nearly $9 billion in fines for circumventing laws against doing business with Iran.
Flatow said he has collected about $25 million of the settlement, part of which was used to help start a foundation sponsoring studies in Israel by women from around the world.
Flatow said he took inspiration from Holocaust survivors who were among the founders of the State of Israel and Israelis who suffered personal losses in the country’s wars and conflicts. Despite “the murder of parents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, and children, [they] got up from shiva and went out into the world, took care of their families, and, more importantly, built a nation.”