‘V’ Is for Victory
The odyssey of Jack Tytell: An intimate look at the accused Jewish killer
VI. The Enemy Within
Seven surveillance cameras are trained 24 hours a day on the Ortiz family’s third-floor apartment in the West Bank city of Ariel. The Ortizes are convinced that other Jews hate their kind of Jews, who were born Jewish and continue to observe many Jewish customs but believe that Jesus is the Messiah sent by God.
Every morning while he drinks his coffee, David Ortiz carefully watches the surveillance footage from the night before. When he is out of town for business he scans the footage on the Internet. While the family sits and watches television, a quarter of the screen is dedicated to the camera monitors. Any suspicious person, especially a Jew with a beard, is watched with fear. Their 5-inch steel front door is a shield. Once out of the door they carefully check for translucent tripwires that might trigger a bomb, for thumb-thick explosives that would blow off a leg with ease, or suspicious packages that would rip holes through their Jesus-loving bodies. David Ortiz gets on his hands and knees and meticulously checks under his car before he takes a ride.
His family is not paranoid, he says. They are just doing what they have to do to survive. Their routine is obsessive, but they believe the precautions are prudent rules that protect their lives and ensure another bomb does not shake their household.
On March 20, 2008, on the eve of Purim, a man hand-delivered a gift basket. When Ami Ortiz, David’s 15-year-old son, opened the red cellophane wrapping on the kitchen table, the basket exploded. Every window in the house shattered from the shock wave. Shrapnel ripped through the walls and ceiling and mutilated Ami’s 6-foot-6-inch tower of a body. Nails, glass, and safety pins severed three toes, cut through his neck (just missing his jugular), broke two ribs, collapsed one of his lungs, sliced chunks off his quadriceps, and for a few moments made him deaf and blind.
In a confession, Tytell said he delivered the booby-trapped Purim basket because he knew the Ortiz family believed in Jesus. The bomb’s force was the most powerful and deadly homemade explosive he had ever rigged. He told police interrogators that the explosive was meant to kill David, a Messianic rabbi who leads a congregation of 50 Messianic Jews and who strives to convert as many Orthodox Jews as possible to accept Yeshua, Jesus, as the one and only savior of the chosen people.
David Ortiz is a soft speaker. His voice is so gentle and light that it almost qualifies as a whisper. He was born a gentile in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, where Orthodox Jewish employers taught him the Talmud. In 1985, he moved to Israel with his Jewish wife, Leah, and their family. He says he was scared while living in Brooklyn, “You didn’t know who was going to kill you for your wallet,” he says as the security camera’s monitor flashes to the parking lot three floors under us. “At least here I know exactly who wants to kill me and why.” He says his neighbors, mostly Orthodox Jews, dislike him for believing in Jesus. They tried to have him kicked out of town, but the mayor refused to evict the group on grounds of its beliefs. Posters with David Ortiz’s name, picture, and address were pasted on every bus station from Ariel to Tel Aviv.
Tytell told investigators that he studied the family for months. He knew their schedule, he knew who would be home when, and when the house was vacant. He knew about the cameras, even the pinky-sized one in the hallway next to the door, covered with plaster, nearly invisible.
Unfortunately, Ami Ortiz did not watch the surveillance tape before he opened the Purim basket. In the security video of that fateful day, a man appears at around 11:16 in the morning walking up the stairs wearing gloves, a mask, and covering his mouth and face with a white towel. He clutches the red cellophane-wrapped basket, bends over the wooden gate at the top of the stairs, lightly places the gift on the ground, and leaves.
Strangely, the only thing Tytell was afraid of, according to David Ortiz, was his family being sued. In court Ortiz tried to hand Tytell a civil suit of 2 million shekels. “He wouldn’t look me in the eyes,” Ortiz tells me in an elevated whisper. “He was so ashamed. He never believed we’d judge him, people who he thought to be wastes of life, were now judging him.” We sit drinking coffee in the living room, just a couple feet away from the blast site in the kitchen. “I was able to catch his eyes for a second, I saw an assassin, I saw a man who doesn’t understand Israel. He’s just a foot soldier who knows only the targets to hit.”
Contrary to reports from the police and Shin Bet, David Ortiz believes Tytell is a professional assassin, working for a group. He even believes that Tytell’s trademark, the “V” sign for victory, is a signal to his followers, which says, “Continue without me.”
Still, Ortiz has forgiven his son’s assailant. “Let’s say this: I will have to forgive him,” he says. “If Jesus died for me, Jesus died for him, too.” He opens his Bible and shows me a picture of Tytell holding his own son on his lap. Ortiz and his wife dedicate daily prayers to Tytell and his family, they pray for Jack to know Jesus as his personal savior and be redeemed. “Forgiveness doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to pay for his sins,” Ortiz says, “but I pray that God has mercy on him.”
But forgiveness is not just for Jesus to do; it is also a form of therapy and healing. “If you do not forgive, you become a victim twice. Resentment and hate will ruin your immune system and your will to live. You become bitter, angry, suspicious, you stop being human.” Ortiz loses his train of thought as the camera catches a figure wearing a black hat and a black knee-length coat who stops and looks over his shoulder. He decides the man is a neighbor and continues. “After the attack, we knew we had to defend ourselves very quickly, and our weapon of choice was forgiveness. We told Ami he had to forgive.”
They decided not to move because God told them they were not to leave Ariel. The attack has been used to exult the name of Jesus, Ortiz says. Since the explosion they have received 4,000 letters, from China, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Canada, Korea, and the United States. But the most touching letters, David says, were from Jews all around the West Bank and Israel condemning the attack against Ami. Some Jews have even accepted Jesus as their savior, Ortiz says with a gentle smile.
“Staying here in Ariel is not courageous,” he says. “We have to die anyhow. If you’re afraid, you die every day.” He shows me the table where the bomb exploded. It looks like a surfboard, from which a shark took a great big bite. David told me that when Ami was brought to the hospital, the doctors gave him little chance of survival. The Hebrew word David used to describe the state his son was in is anush, which means the soul is leaving the body. Ami was put in a medically induced coma. When he was brought out of it, eight days later, the Ortizes saw a miracle. According to David, the doctors proclaimed to Ami, “You are born again.” (A representative from the Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, where Ami was hospitalized, was unable to contact Ami’s doctor by press time.)
Ami Ortiz is now the tallest student in his school and basketball league. He is all arms and legs and scars racing up from his severed toes all the way up to his neck. His basketball sits near him at all times, ready for a pick-up game. He is a pure teenager with a voracious appetite. He devours two plates of baked chicken and rice before he starts talking. His fingers fumble with the fork and knife, which are tiny in his lanky fingers. He carefully removes the chicken’s skin and places it in discarded clumps on the side of his plate.
CREDIT: Will Yakowicz
When I ask to see his wounds, he unbuttons the sides of his basketball pants to his upper thigh and shows me his shin, where doctors peeled off strips of skin to cover the exposed muscle and bone high on his thighs, chest, and neck. His skin is shiny and lumpy with scar tissue, and the skin covering his wounds resembles a small piece of cellophane plastic wrap stretched over a large steak. After 12 operations and four more to go, he is still the fastest kid in school, and he can still dunk a basketball.
“Jack is a normal person,” the teenager says, as he buttons up his rip-away pants. “He doesn’t have horns on his head, or red eyes, but inside he is not human. He’s not crazy. He believes what he believes and does what he thinks he has to do. He’s a very smart guy, but he uses it for evil.”
On a day-to-day basis, Ami Ortiz is still scared. The blast has left him shaken and traumatized, but he tries to live his life like a regular teenager. His faith has helped him look forward and find meaning in his injuries. The meaning of the attack, he believes, is to exalt God’s name and bring more people to know his son. Every week tour buses filled with Christians stop in Ariel, to see the family who almost died for Jesus. “There is probably more to God’s plan, and I will live to see it,” Ami concludes as he leaves to go play a round of hoops.