Arnold Roth wishes he hadn’t earned his billing as "a world-renowned expert on the victims of Islamic terrorism." He’d prefer to stay home with his family in Israel instead of spreading sobering news around the world.
Arnold Roth, whose 15-year-old daughter was killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, will speak in Englewood on April 5.
But because his middle child, Malki, was blown up by a terrorist on Aug. 9, ‘001 in a Jerusalem pizza shop, this former Australian lawyer feels he has no choice. That is what brings him to Cong. Kol HaNeshamah in Englewood on April 5 for a Lunch & Learn session following Shabbat services.
"When we arrived in Israel ‘0 years ago with our four children, my wife Frimet and I thought life would continue in a very private way," said Roth in a telephone interview before leaving Israel. (The Roths have three surviving daughters and three surviving sons.)
"Malki’s murder made a lot of changes in how we look at life. We’re both looking for opportunities to speak and to be read, which runs counter to our nature. Some issues are so compelling that simply living them makes you obliged to share them."
Since Malki’s murder, the Roths have not only accepted numerous speaking engagements often on behalf of the Israeli Foreign Ministry but have also thrown themselves into the foundation they started in memory of their daughter. Keren Malki, which supports families who choose home-care for their special-needs children, has provided more than ‘5,000 therapy sessions for nearly ‘,000 Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze families in Israel.
"Nice as that is, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface," said Roth, whose youngest daughter is multiply disabled. "There are probably 60,000 children needing our services." Before his Englewood appearance, he was planning to meet with Keren Malki supporters in London as well as elsewhere in Bergen County.
"I have a double message for my audiences," said Roth. "I always speak about the work of Keren Malki but I also start by explaining that this is an undertaking that stems from the murder of our child. The two issues are related because of our oldest and youngest daughters. For us, one motivates the other. Terrorism is based on hatred; families are based on love. Therefore, this is a highly appropriate way to memorialize a child who was murdered by people with hatred in their hearts."
Roth has found that his listeners and readers do not always react sympathetically. "Just being a victim and trying to explain yourself to others leads to some surprising and deeply disturbing feedback," he said. "At the international level, the amount of hatred directed at Israel is very frightening. What follows that is the ability to blend opposition to terrorism in principle with the idea that when it comes to attacking Israel, it’s different. For many, we are not seen as victims at all."
He also encounters much denial. "Most people in most places do not ‘get’ terrorism," he said. "There is a perception that it only happens in some places and that we’re ‘winning.’ Really, it happens in all places and we’re losing."
Roth has addressed the European Parliament, and met with leaders in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Commission. He has contributed opinion pieces and interviews to major newspapers and has appeared frequently as a guest on television and talk-radio programs in Europe, Australia, and the United States. He has been a keynote speaker at several international conferences on terrorism.
In the United States, he said, he gets three kinds of audiences: Those who strongly identify as Jewish; those who consider themselves friends of Israel; and university students.
"The first two are self-selecting audiences, so there is not a lot of denial," he said. "With university students, it’s not just denial it’s a deadly combination of confusion of basic facts and ideology coupled with na?vet?. You just want to stop and say, ‘Tone it down you have no idea of the facts; don’t speak with such confidence.’ In some of my discussions with political leaders, I have had precisely the same feeling that they have an ignorance about fundamental issues in the history of this conflict and a sort of ‘CNN view’ of the world."
He expects that on this trip, people will ask him to discuss the recent murders of eight students at Merkaz HaRav Kook yeshiva in Jerusalem. "Far from an extraordinary event, it was a symbolic representation of the forces at work on the Palestinian-Arab side," said Roth. "If those forces are unleashed, what happened in Merkaz HaRav is only the beginning. There is no good will on that side, and it is foolish to expect change. The fundamental issue is their education of their children."
He tries to stay out of political discussions and will not come out in favor of any particular presidential candidate. Instead, he advises listeners to vote for candidates who "support sane measures against terrorism. Think of terrorism as a defining issue in terms of our personal lives today."
Roth also publishes a blog, "This Ongoing War" (http://thisongoingwar.blogspot.com/). "The blog has a pretty large readership, and I think of it as a responsibility," he said.
"This role we would rather not have had in our lives is growing," he continued. "The Israeli government is the main agent for telling the Israeli story and does not do a good job of telling that story, so it’s up to people like me."
Kol HaNeshamah, an egalitarian Conservative congregation, meets on the premises of St. Paul’s Church, 113 Engle Street. Shabbat services begin at 9:30 a.m.; Roth’s presentation is to begin at 1 p.m. For more information, call (’01) 816-1616.