Nine tall candles burned on the bimah as friends and graduates of Hebrew University and other members of Chicago's Jewish community held a memorial service on Thursday, Aug. 29 for the nine people killed at the university's Mt. Scopus campus in a terrorist bomb attack.
The event, at Chicago's Anshe Emet Synagogue, marked the end of the sloshim or 30-day mourning period for the nine, five of them Americans. All were Hebrew University students, teachers or employees. The service was sponsored by the American Friends of Hebrew University, along with a number of other Jewish organizations.
The program began with a welcoming speech by Anshe Emet's Rabbi Michael Siegel. He told the gathering that the lives of the nine individuals "should serve as an inspiration to all of us to stand with the State of Israel and not be deterred." Each of the nine "was beautiful in their own way," he said.
During the rest of the event, audience members caught a glimpse of that beauty as a number of speakers described the lives and personalities of the victims, especially the Americans.
David Strausberg, who graduated from the university's Rothberg International School, was a friend of two of the American students, Marla Bennett, 24, and Benjamin Blutstein, 25, both of whom were attending graduate school there. He called his two friends "the best of us."
Blutstein-who aside from being a student was a well-known disc jockey who "brought hip-hop to Israel"- was "an amazing blend" of the religious and the secular, Strausberg said. The native of Harrisburg, Pa., after winning a youthful battle with alcoholism, was in Israel studying to become a Jewish educator while spending his evenings playing in clubs as a disc jockey, where he was known throughout the country as "Benny the B."
Bennett, a student from San Diego who was also studying to be a teacher, "was constantly finding and adopting people in need of help," Strausberg said. "At her funeral, 10 people each introduced themselves as her best friend."
Strausberg expressed the hope that "their stories will help to bring about real change in the world," and exhorted audience members to "take something from them and help make somebody's life better."
Another speaker was Spencer Dew, 26, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago's Divinity School who was taking summer Hebrew courses in Jerusalem. At lunchtime on July 31, he had just sat down at a patio table outside the university's cafeteria. Moments later, he was cut by flying glass when the bomb blew out the cafeteria's windows. He was rushed to the hospital and treated for cuts in his legs and body. He was one of more than 90 people injured in the blast.
In a forceful talk, Dew did not relate his experiences on that day but instead told the audience that "we are here tonight to remember ... that hatred cannot continue in the world, and yet it does, everywhere, and its most pernicious harbor is inside ourselves."
"We are here to remember the event, to stand united in shock, to remember viscerally, as if we were all there on that campus, all endured that scene," he said.
He urged audience members to remember the nine people killed and the value of all life. In the new year, "let us be done with hatred," he said.
One of the most moving talks was given by Gabriel Ladowski, the brother of David Diego Ladowski, 29, who was killed in the blast. David Ladowski had emigrated to Israel from Argentina in 1992 and had joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs-selected fourth on the list out of thousands of applicants-in 2001. He had just received his assignment to his first diplomatic post, at the Israeli Embassy in Lima, Peru, and was at the university on July 31 to turn in his last paper for his master's degree.
In the short time David was in the diplomatic corps, his brother said, "everyone had learned to love him"-including one of his bosses, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who attended his funeral. David Ladowski "had time for everyone," Gabriel Ladowski said, describing his brother as "a humanist and a pacifist" who had found his true vocation in the diplomatic service.
A Chicago-based foundation will be established in his name to help students attend Hebrew University, Gabriel Ladowski said.
Israeli Consul General Moshe Ram called the attack "the complete opposite of everything Hebrew University represents" and said he has urged students to continue to pursue their studies there-"We will not allow the terrorists to win," he said.
Other speakers included Michele Katz Rosenblum, an alumna of the Rothberg International School and the incoming Future Leadership vice-chair of the American Friends of the Hebrew University's Chicago Chapter. She called the university "a sacred place, a safe haven" and praised the courage of all those who continue to study in Israel at such a difficult time.
Todd Lundy, president of AFHU's Chicago Chapter, offered a plea to American Jews "to go on davka- in spite of everything" and "not to let terrorists kill our aspirations for peace." Incoming president Eugene Zemsky also spoke, calling the university "a place known for tolerance and pluralism."
Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, called the July 31 blast a particularly egregious one and noted that more Americans were killed during it than in any other single terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001.
Howard Kaplan, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council, expressed what could be the final word on the subject. "Our prayer for the New Year," he said, "is that this will be the last memorial service in our lifetime."
Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation in Chicago, who gave the closing prayer, said that as a perpetual optimist, he always tries to find something comforting in every situation. Admitting that it was difficult in this case, he said he nevertheless hopes that the tragedy may help other Jews to "discover the Torah, the value of it, as (the victims) discovered it, and let that inspire us."
Also taking part in the memorial service were Chazan Alberto Mizrahi of Anshe Emet and a number of members of AFHU's Future Leadership board.
Hebrew University students and graduates in the audience participated in lighting the nine memorial candles, which, Rabbi Siegel said, helped to remind those present that "the soul of every person is a light of G-d."
"Nine holy lights have been taken out of the world," he said.
The others killed in the July 31 blast were Dina Carter, a native of North Carolina who worked as a librarian and archivist; David Gritz, a student who held dual U.S.-French citizenship and spent summers in the Berkshires in Massachusetts; Janis Ruth Coulter, a native of Boston who was the assistant director of the Rothberg International School's Office of Academic Affairs; Levina Shapira, head of the university's student services department; Dafna Spruch, who had been an administrative staff member of the university for 26 years; and Revital Barashi, who trained staff members at the university's Law Faculty.
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