Marla (left) and Stephanie.
I can’t read the news about Israel and Gaza. It is too violent. Too heartbreaking. Too familiar. And I also can’t stop reading the news about Israel and Gaza.
It is too important. Too urgent. Too familiar.
The situation is complex. There are no easy answers. There is no clear right or wrong anymore, except for this: too many people are dead. Too many people are being left to grieve and mourn those they love. Too many fathers are without their children, too many wives are without their spouses, and too many young people have lost their parents, friends, and siblings. Enough is enough. There has to be a better way.
Wednesday, July 31, 2002
The world woke up to news of a bombing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was the first time a place of learning – a University with Israeli, Palestinian, and international students –was targeted by a terrorist attack. I heard the news on the radio on my way to work that morning. I was the Camp Director at the PJCC, at our Belmont campus. It was a regular camp day. Kids went swimming and we played games. We ate lunch and sang songs. At 2:30 pm, as I stood outside singing Boom Chicka Boom, urgent messages on my walkie-talkie instructed me to immediately return to the office for a phone call. On the other end of the line was a college friend who said, “No one can find Marla. We think she was in the cafeteria when the bomb went off.”
And just like that, everything changed. A day that had been quite normal suddenly became surreal.
It was the day before my 24th birthday. The day before Marla was supposed to fly home to California for a visit. I spent the evening on the phone with friends across the country and with Marla’s family. Eventually a body was found. A friend who worked for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in San Diego helped in transmitting Marla’s dental records to authorities in Israel. And late that night, the thing we had all hoped was not, could not, possibly be true became true.
Marla Ann Bennett, age 24, was killed in the Hebrew University bombing, along with eight other people. 100 people were wounded – both Arabs and Israelis.
Today it has been twelve years since Marla’s death. Twelve years that feel like an eternity, yet passed in the blink of an eye. Twelve years ago, I buried my best friend. When her body arrived from Israel, my friends, who flew in from all over the country, joined me to sit with Marla in the mortuary until her funeral began. We tried to comfort her parents, her sister, each other, on this loss that seemed like it could not possibly, actually be happening. There were no words. We were barely adults. We didn’t know what to say or do, but we knew we had to be together to survive this horrific event. We held each other close and collectively mourned the loss of an amazing young woman. We had to bear witness and honor the memory and spirit of the extraordinary life this remarkable woman lived in 24 short years. Over 1,000 people attended Marla’s funeral. People had to stand outside the synagogue for lack of space inside.
I grow anxious during this time of year. As the calendar marches towards July 31st I think of all the things that Marla has missed over these last 12 years. Would she be married? Have children? Would she and I have opened our own overnight camp, like we dreamed about doing in college? Would she still be living in Israel?
Today, there are memorial funds, memorial gardens, and even memorial concerts honoring Marla’s life. I wonder, how the death of this one young woman, who was cherished and loved by so many, could not have been enough to stop the ongoing violence? How can the deaths of the nine people who died from that bombing not have been enough? How can the thousands of other people who have died from acts of terrorism and retribution not be enough? How many lives will have to be destroyed before both sides finally “beat their swords in plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4), and find peace?
Each person that has died – who has been murdered – is a part of their own larger network of family and friends. For the thousands lost, there are tens of thousands left behind to live in a world without the person they loved. When is it going to be enough to end this bloodshed?
Whatever your beliefs, you’re entitled to them. The current situation in Israel and Gaza is complex and there are no easy answers. But enough is enough. No more children should have to bury their friends, their siblings, their parents. No more parents should have to bury their children.
There has to be a better way. There has to be a path toward peace.