On July 31st, 2002 I made a choice that saved my life.
All of what follows is memory failed and faltering. I am most certain about everything that I write but can’t always be sure. That day cost me a lot. One of the highest prices was extracted from my mind in the form of clouded realities and missing pieces.
In remembering this I always feel the need to apologize to those who lost so much more – their daughters and sons, boyfriends and girlfriends, parents, students, eyes, legs, hearing, whatever it may be.
I was studying in the Summer Ulpan at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It had been my first month of a two year program at Pardes where I was studying to be a teacher. This was the last, or penultimate (I can’t remember) day of the session. Normally I would have travelled back to the German Colony with my ulpan classmates but as it was the last day there was an exam being offered for those who wished to move up to the next level in the ulpan. I thought about taking the test figuring I would pass and avoid taking an entrance exam in the future. But I disliked ulpan and did not want to continue my studies during the regular school year which would begin in September. So I went home alone. I got back to my house and went out for a walk with my wife.
At 1:30pm a bomb exploded in the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria on Hebrew U’s Mount Scopus campus. In the bombing five people died. Eighty-five were injured and subsequently four of those first counted as injured died.
Two of the dead were Marla Bennett and Ben Blutstein students in the Pardes program I was in. My daily taxi-mates and friends. Marla and I sat near each other in class on the morning of the bomb. Another woman from our class and Pardes program was gravely injured.
I was walking my wife and I heard about the bomb. I was told, initially, that all ‘our’ (Pardes) people were safe, but in the end it was untrue. When I got home from the walk I saw raw photos of the victims and emergency workers on Yahoo.com’s news-photo feed. I looked at the bodies draped in sheets and tried to determine if they were body-types that I recognized. I decided that they weren’t. But then I got another call.
“What was Marla wearing today?” That was what my teacher asked me. I remember that she was wearing Naot sandals, a toe ring, and a Mickey Mouse t-shirt. I told him. At the time I couldn’t remember what shorts she had on and now I know that all I mentioned was the t-shirt and the toe ring. I then asked him, “Why?” “There is someone in the hospital and they don’t know who it is.”
I remember realizing that there was a possibility that a woman was lying in the hospital so profoundly injured that she was unrecognizable but nonetheless we were now hoping that it was Marla. That was how low hope can sink.
I was also told that my other classmate was in the hospital. Injured badly – burns on half her body and a screw or nail had penetrated her belly and pierced her intestines. This was considered ‘moderately’ injured. In subsequent months and years I watched her recover it took so long. Moderately.
I went back to the computer and realized that in fact I could see Ben’s body covered in a sheet.
I can’t remember much more. Haze. Confusion. Sickening grief. Distance from my loved-ones. Alienation. That is all I have for months of my life after those events.
I do have a strong memory from the day after: I was walking through a park from Emek Refaim to Pierre Koenig, to the Pardes campus, and I heard birds chirping and singing. I remember consciously thinking “don’t they know?” Don’t they know that nothing is the same? How can this chirping go on? Why is the sun shining?
On July 31st, 2002 my Jerusalem changed forever.
As I wrote above others suffered so much more profoundly than I. There is no comparison. I was and am aggrieved but my family is in tact. My body is whole. But not a week passes without some stunted memory. Sometimes it is day after day. Some glimpse of grief.
Jerusalem is also grieving. The campus is not whole. Every time I pass it I see the fences and security measures that scar the face of the beautiful campus that had survived open and welcoming. Now visibly hidden behind a veil of barbed wire and metal.
Ten years and a day.