Call it mother’s intuition, but Sharon Evans woke up the morning of Valentine’s Day in 2001 with a feeling of dread. She did not want her 19-year-old daughter Monique to go into work that day but members of the Israeli Army can’t exactly call in sick. So Evans let her go but couldn’t shake the eerie feeling, wishing that she had given her daughter an extra kiss before she left to catch the bus.
When reports came over the radio in the taxi she was taking to her own job in Israel, Evans struggled to understand the news given in Hebrew, the language she was still learning. A terrorist attack. A bus. Israeli soldiers. Somehow, she knew in an instant that her daughter was in the terrorist attack.
Evans and her daughter, Monique Goldwasser-Buzhish, were in San Diego on April 17 to share their story of terror and survival at the Adopt a Family Foundation’s annual fundraiser. Adopt a Family was co-founded by Rancho Santa Fe’s Carine Chitayat to bring emotional and financial support to victims of terror, to help people come to terms with the shock of the loss of their loved ones or to overcome fear of terror events that have become a part of their everyday lives.
Evans and Chitayat have been connected since the early beginnings of Adopt a Family in 2003.
“Sharon is a hero to us and the true inspiration behind our program,” Chitayat said.
Evans’ father was a Holocaust survivor and her very strong Zionist beliefs led her to move her family from South Africa to Israel.
“I came to Israel to help build the country and put my signature on my country,” Evans said. “I am an idealist and was probably a little naive…but I was determined to fulfill my Zionist dream.”
She and her husband didn’t see eye to eye on what Israel had to offer so they parted ways — she was left a single mother to four young children with limited knowledge about the culture and the language of the country, struggling to make ends meet.
As the family did not have a car, Monique had to get a lift from the family’s home in Ashkelon to the base. On the day of the terror attack, her ride fell through and she had to take the bus instead.
Seeking revenge for Palestinians killed by the Israel Defense Forces, the bus driver spotted a group of soldiers at the crowded bus stop near Holon and plowed straight into them.
A friend of Monique’s would later tell Evans that he heard a bang and a smash and watched horrifyingly as the bus rolled over Monique.
When Monique arrived at the hospital she was bleeding profusely, her pelvis and limbs were broken, all of her teeth were knocked out, and the skin was ripped off her face. The doctors were considering amputating her leg and were struggling to control her internal bleeding.
Doctors told Evans they had less than a 1 percent chance of saving her daughter’s life and that her only hope was the use of an experimental blood-clotting drug.
While her daughter underwent surgery, all Evans could do was pray.
“I looked to God and asked ‘What can I do? I have nothing,’” Evans said, realizing that the answer was her own voice. “I promised that if God saved my daughter’s life I will become the face for terror victims. Seven people were killed that day and two were left brain damaged. I would become their voice and I would make sure the world will never forget what happened that day.”
In what she calls “Monique’s miracle,” Monique survived but her long road to recovery was just beginning. She endured more than six months in the hospital, 38 surgeries and months of rehab.
As a single mother alone in Israel, Evans drew strength from the kindness and support of strangers, who visited with her in the hospital and gave her family donations and gifts.
As the world had adopted her and helped her through a “nightmare,” she wanted to give that back to others and fulfill the promise she had made to God. Now both a daughter of a survivor and a mother of a survivor, she became a public speaker and advocate for victims of terror, helping introduce victims to congregations and churches around the world.
She was speaking in Switzerland in Carine’s hometown of Geneva in 2002 when Chitayat’s mother saw her, leading to Carine contacting Evans and bringing her to San Diego to speak.
‘This visit changed my life and inspired me to co-found, with Iris Pearlman, the Adopt a Family Foundation,” Chitayat said.
The organization began in 2003 as a partner of Congregation Beth Am in Carmel Valley, but as it grew bigger it went off on its own, becoming a 501c3 non-profit.
“This year we felt that it was time to bring Sharon back,” Chitayat said. “We wanted her to witness that the seed she planted had grown, that even so far away from Israel, there is a community thinking about them and ready to bring its support to victims of terror.”
Evans said the organization has become bigger than she ever could have imagined and is amazed at what they have accomplished and continue to do. Adopt a Family adopts a family a year and has embraced 14 families through its program. They have also undertaken projects that affect a larger population, especially children. Their efforts have focused on helping children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, have sponsored alternative therapy sessions and refurbished playgrounds.
Last month’s Adopt a Family fundraiser was the first time Monique spoke publicly about what happened to her. As Evans said, Monique “claimed her voice.”
“They told her she would never walk and she walked. They told her she would never have children, she is now a mother to three children,” Evans said. “Monique is absolutely amazing with her spirit and warmth. She has a 65 percent disability and her leg is partially paralyzed but she is out there with a zest for life and doing all she can to conquer all of the hurdles put in her way.”
She received a standing ovation at the event.
“Of course, I wish what happened to Monique didn’t happen but it’s all a matter of what you do with it. I don’t ask ‘Why me?’ It’s a matter of how you deal with the cards you’ve been dealt,” Evans said. “I will never leave Israel. I love Israel and I fight for Israel.”
She is the director of the non-profit Israel Public Diplomacy Program and she hopes to return to San Diego in the fall to help Adopt a Family expand its efforts.
“We’re all small cogs in a big wheel and I believe the reason I came into this world is to make a difference,” Evans said.
For more information, visit www.adoptafamilyfoundation.org.