Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Terrorists murdering sons and daughters

        It would be easier not to know them.They didn't live here, and they died half a world away. These young people have nothing to do with us. Unless you've ever known a kid who made you proud or a kid who made you laugh. Or both.

        Funny and exuberant, Benjamin Blutstein loved to play bongo drums and moonlighted as a disc jockey while he went to school, moving easily between the music of 10,000 Maniacs and the Talmud.

        He wore an earring and a blue crocheted skullcap. The white fringe of a prayer shawl sprouted from his baggy clothes. Ben's father, a Harrisburg, Pa., pediatrician, smiled wryly as he described his 25-year-old son to reporters.

        Ben was at a table in the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria at Hebrew University in Jerusalem when a remote-control bomb left in a student backpack killed him, along with six others. Ben's own backpack was thrown over a chair in his room. A gas mask hung over his bed. He lived in a dangerous place, and he knew it.

        His fellow student, Marla Bennett, 24, told her family in San Diego that each morning when she left her apartment building, she thought carefully. “Should I turn left or should I turn right?” she wrote in the Jewish Press-Heritage. “Each small decision I make - which route to walk to school, whether or not to go out to dinner - may have life-threatening consequences.”

        And on July 31, she sat down at a table with Benjamin Blutstein.

        Marla's parents knew right away that the news from Israel would not be good. “Every time a bomb would go off, Marla would call within 10 or 15 minutes because she didn't want them to worry,” a friend told reporters.

        Still the young people go. About 30 teens from Greater Cincinnati traveled to Israel this summer. Dorit Ingber, 17, a senior at Sycamore High School, just returned. “This is when Israel needs us the most, to show we are connected to what's happening there.”

        Dorit's father, Rabbi Abie Ingber of Cincinnati Hillel Jewish Student Center, officiated at a memorial service Monday for the seven victims. “It has hit us so hard because it happened in a university setting,” he said. “It's not because five of the victims were Americans. They were sons and daughters - not American or French or Israeli or Arab.”

        Rabbi Ingber read an e-mail message from a friend of Ben and Marla's, and Dorit joined her father, leading a prayer. The rabbi has put his daughter on a plane to Israel twice. And will again.

        “It's Dorit's choice. I could not say to her, "Your grandparents survived the Holocaust, but you cannot go to the Jewish homeland.' I could not.”

        Marla Bennett wrote, “At least if I am here, I can take an active role in attempting to put back together all that has broken. I can volunteer in the homes of Israelis affected by terrorism. I can put food in collection baskets for Palestinian families. I can see what goes on each day with my own eyes.”

        Very brave. Braver still is to see that we are all connected.

        It would be easier not to know.

        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.


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