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Memorial candles at Cafe Hillel
by Judy Lash Balint
September 13, 2003

"There's been hardly any publicity about it here," wrote one of my west coast US correspondents about the latest Jerusalem cafe bomb attack. I was stunned.

The explosion that tore through our neighborhood a few days ago has reverberated through every fiber of the lives of all of us in the area, and consumed our emotions and attention. I had naively assumed that the enormity of the impact of the tragedies would have rippled through the media too, as they had through Jewish communities throughout the world by word of mouth...

Here in the close-knit community of English-speaking immigrants, the impact of that fraction of a second explosion has been enormous. The horrendous blow to people we all know and a place we all frequent has shaken almost everyone. Dozens of e-mails circulate from people who found themselves at various stages of proximity to Cafe Hillel--my guess is that like myself, many writers use these expressions to provide some catharsis for the anguish we feel.

Looking at the faces of neighbors and friends over the past few days, the shell-shock is evident. Many who live within a half mile of Cafe Hillel report feeling the physical force of the explosion through their bodies. Those who raced out of their apartments to see what happened saw horrific sights. The rest of us just heard it. Such experiences must have a profound psychological and physical effect that we're not yet even fully aware of. Almost everyone I speak to reports having difficulty sleeping the past few nights.

My synagogue, Shir Hadash, is on Emek Refaim about one hundred yards away from Cafe Hillel. Before Shabbat, Rabbi Ian Pear sent out an e-mail to members urging especially spirited prayer this week. It read in part:

"In attacking our neighborhood, I am convinced that the terrorists were not simply trying to score a military victory. They were, I believe, also attempting to wage a spiritual war against all Jews living in Israel. They were attempting to demoralize us, inspire fear, and to make us question whether or not it's worth it to live here. They were attempting to turn the dream of resurrecting our land and nation, dormant for so long, into a nightmare.

This was not simply a physical attack but also an assault on our spirit, a spiritual response is also required ... and that is entirely within our abilities.

The terrorists wanted to turn our community into a Jewish cemetery, a place without life and devoid of happiness. We must proclaim with all our strength -- and through our tefillah (prayer) that it is a joyful, soulful place where the exultation of being a part of rebuilding the Jewish nation permeates our very essence. I can assure you that that was the attitude of many of the victims in these recent attacks. When we do so, we will have frustated the terrorists goals."

Rav Ian warned that expressing joy when we are filled with sadness would not be easy, and although our singing is strong and spirited many of us find ourselves struggling through tears to sing the difficult words. When we sing Lecha Dodi--the lyrical hymn welcoming the Sabbath bride which opens with : "Come My beloved to greet the bride," who among us is not thinking of 20 year old bride Nava Appelbaum, buried on her wedding day. As we entreat God to "Spread over us the shelter of Your peace," and praise God, "Who spreads the shelter of peace on us, on all His people Israel and on Jerusalem," who among us doesn't wonder what happened to that peace right in our own Jerusalem neighborhood.

After services, we see dozens who gather in front of the flickering memorial candles outside Cafe Hillel. Walking home I pass the home of Yaffa Moalem, a 65 year old grandmother killed in the #14 bus bomb in June. The shoe store she owned with her husband is just up the block from Cafe Hillel.

During Shabbat morning services Rav Ian suggests that anyone who was in the vicinity of the bomb attack and heard or saw it should say the Birkat Hagomel prayer recited by one who has escaped danger. More than half the congregation rise to say the blessing.

Instead of the usual mix and mingle kiddush in the courtyard at the conclusion of services, the entire congregation walks together to Cafe Hillel. Rav Ian has prepared a piece of Torah from the Rambam's Yesodey HaTorah that we learn as we stand in the sun in front of the boarded-up cafe. The boards masking the devastation within have been painted blue, our national color, and are covered with blackboarded shiva announcements of the victims. The sweet face of Alon Mizrachi the 22 year-old security guard we had all kibitzed with as he searched our bags, faces us from a poster on the wall.

On the back of the Rambam study sheet is an article written by Rav Ian published in the NY Jewish Week more than two years ago. It recounts his reaction to a terror attack that took place a hundred yards from his shul office in his old neighborhood of Nachlaot. Two Israelis were killed. There too, he took his congregation to the site the following Friday night . "For the sake of the two victims, and for our own sake and that of Jerusalem, we felt it was necessary to recite the words of the service in this location, to turn the unholy into the holy," he wrote.

As the light, spices and wine of Havdalah mark the transition from the holiness of Shabbat to the mundane workweek many neighbors and friends brace themselves for the resumption of shiva visits to the bereaved families. But it will take more than Havdalah for the reverberations of a horrible week to be forgotten.