Thursday, August 02, 2012

10 Years and a Day – The Hebrew University Bombing

Ten years ago, on July 31, 2002, a bomb went off in the Frank Sinatra cafeteria at the Hebrew University. Nine people were killed, including a young man whom I knew, Ben Blutstein, who was studying at Pardes. Ben's mother, Katherine Baker, was interviewed for an article in Haaretz commemorating the murderous attack.

The Haaretz article begins:

It was a brazen attack that reverberated throughout Israel and struck deep into the heart of Israel's English-speaking community. On July 31, 2002, a bomb packed with shrapnel was placed in a bag in a crowded Hebrew University cafeteria on its Mt. Scopus campus. The explosion killed nine people - four Israelis and five foreign nationals - and injured 85. Hamas claimed responsibility. 
Among the victims were Benjamin Blutstein, 25, of Harrisburg, PA; Marla Bennett, 24, from San Diego, CA; Dina Carter, 37, a dual Israeli-U.S. citizen originally from North Carolina who converted to Judaism after moving to Israel; Janis Ruth Coulter, 36, a native of Boston, Massachusetts who also converted; and David Gritz, 24, of Massachusetts, who held dual U.S.-French citizenship.

Dr. Baker said:
"I don't think time ever heals this kind of loss," said Dr. Katherine Baker, a Penn State University microbiologist whose son, Benjamim Blutstein, was one of the victims. "There are days I can't get through the day without crying, there are a couple of days in a row I can do it. But it's extremely hard." 
Baker, too, is frustrated and disappointed by the lack of advancement in the peace process, and said the U.S. government has shirked its responsibilities. "In the United States there's this tone that says 'all of this is just working our way toward a peace, toward an ultimate settlement.' I don't see that alternate settlement coming, and I see tremendous cynicism, particularly on the part of the American government in not acknowledging its responsibility toward Israel nor to American citizens," said Baker.
An example, she explained, can be seen on her son's death certificate. "It sounds terribly minor, but it really gets to me this time every year. Ben's death certificate says that he died in Jerusalem, blank. The United States refuses to write that he died in Jerusalem, Israel. Well, the United States acknowledges that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. So, put it on your documents, because my son died because he was in Israel, not because he was in the 'ethereal Jerusalem.'" 
A U.S. Consulate General spokesman in Jerusalem said that it is a well-known U.S. policy that Jerusalem is a final status issue, that "must be resolved through negotiations between the parties." 
The year after her son's murder, Baker, 60, spent a Sabbatical year in Israel, and her daughter - 11 years younger than Ben - completed her high school studies here before enrolling at Pardes. "I was concerned about her going to Israel. She told me, 'I need to know why Israel was so important to Ben that he would die for it," Baker recalled, choking back tears. 
The bombing, said Baker, "taught me for the first time that there really, truly, is evil in the world and that evil will not be appeased." But what remains in her heart are her son's last words to her. 
"Ben turned 25 years old on July 25, before this pigua," said Baker, using the Hebrew word for a terrorist attack. "And in the last conversation I had with him, on that day, one thing he said to me that will always stay with me: 'You know, Ima [the Hebrew term for mother], I finally know what I want to do with my life. I'm where I'm supposed to be. And I'm happier than I have ever been.'" 
A couple of days after the attack, I wrote this brief note on my reactions:
[8/2/02] I’m writing now after the bombing on Wednesday [7/31/02] in Jerusalem, at the Hebrew University, in which 5 Americans and 2 Israelis were killed. [Actually, nine people in all were killed, and 85 were injured]. Two of the Americans were students at Pardes, an institute for higher Jewish studies in Jerusalem, and one of them (Ben Blutstein) was the son of a family I knew last year when I taught at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and frequently went to Harrisburg for Shabbat. I think I only met Benjamin once, but I spent some very pleasant Shabbats with his family, and I feel sick at his murder. Fragments of poetry keep going through my head – “they were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their deaths not divided.”[1] I've felt so numb and in shock today - a feeling I recall after the September 11 attacks last year. It seems there is no end to violence.


[1] 2 Sam. 1:23. This is a verse that is quoted in the version of the Jewish memorial prayer that is said for those who have died על קדושת השם, “for the sanctification of God’s name.” See Philip Birnbaum, Daily Prayer Book: Sephardic (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1969) 671-72.

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