Hebrew U. Marks Tragic Anniversary
Inside the cafeteria next to Hebrew University’s Frank Sinatra Building, Arab and Jewish students gather for lunch. Though they sit at separate tables, they chat and laugh together, seemingly carefree.
The blown-out windows have been repaired, the blackened walls repainted. Almost no trace can be seen of the bomb that killed nine — including five Americans — and injured more than 80 at the university last July 31.
Yet, directly in front of the cafeteria grows an unusual-looking tree: its leaves are hearty and vibrant but its trunk is tilted and its roots jet out of the ground at various angles.
"We have planted a living tree [as a memorial for the bombing victims] which is symbolic," Hebrew University President Menachem Magidor said. "Our roots were shaken but, just like the tree, we keep growing and going forward."
On Thursday, July 31, at 1:30 p.m., exactly a year after the bombing, Magidor, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, other university officials and family and friends of the victims were to pause for a moment at a memorial ceremony that would include songs, poetry and speeches in memory of the tragedy — and continued hopes for real peace.
Ceremonies also were to be held in New York, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boca Raton, Fla.
Despite the challenges it has faced over the past year — mourning, replacing lost faculty, increasing security and drawing new students — Hebrew University is pushing forward.
"It’s a crazy attempt in this difficult time," Magidor said. "We’re dealing with research and major university issues while there is the feeling we are in a war zone. But we can overcome such terrible shock and still go on producing world-class education and research."
Citing the tenacious Israeli sprit, Magidor reported an increase in overall student applications this past year.
The Rothberg International School is still suffering, however: Before the bombing, the school averaged 500 to 600 undergraduate overseas students each year, while fewer than 100 came last year.
"Many schools in North America have issued a ban for their students to come here because of the fear of danger, and [fear] that they will be held responsible," said Shimon Lipsky, Rothberg’s vice provost. "Some schools have even put stumbling blocks in front of students who still wanted to come."
With the recent abatement in the intifada, there has been a 10 percent rise in enrollment for Rothberg’s upcoming summer Hebrew-language classes. The school expects the rise to be reflected in enrollment for the fall semester as well. Lipsky said there will be a big push to attract North American students for the spring 2004 semester.
"There really is a feeling that we have turned the corner and that things are getting better," he said. "We’re hoping that students will again say that Israel and Jerusalem is a place that they would like to come to."
As much as the university pushes forward, however, its roots have been shaken permanently.
Inna Zusman, 22, was one of the 80 people injured in the bombing. She woke up from a coma one month after the bombing unable to breathe or walk on her own.
"The first month and a half I was just working on breathing without a machine," she said. "Six months after, I realized that there was no progress [with my legs] and that I would have to stay in a wheelchair."
Zusman said she harbors anger toward Arabs, and says tighter security at the university could have prevented the attack.
Magidor admitted that the desire to maintain an open and pluralistic feeling on campus, for students of all races and religions, may have blinded administrators to the security risks.
"The first reaction was shock," he admitted. "We knew we were not immune, but maybe we thought naively that the campus should be immune."
The university has provided Zusman with an apartment near campus, and she plans to return to her computer studies this fall.
"Life’s surely going on but in some ways it’s a different life, not like before," she said. "But the answer is not to stay in the house and to be afraid."
The bombing also changed the life of Billy Shapira, the head of student administration. For a year and a half Shapira had served as head of human resources at the university until her sister-in-law, Levina Shapira — who was the head of student administration — died in the bombing.
"Two weeks later they asked me if I would take Levina’s place, so I sat down with my husband and my children, and with Alex [Levina’s husband]," Billy Shapira explained. "They all told me to take it, and Alex said that this way things that Levina was working for will be continued."
The two families often had spent summer weekends together in a cottage near Haifa, where Billy and Levina Shapira would discuss their goals and issues concerning the university. From these conversations, Shapira knew how eager Levina was to see a new and modern university center. Since taking her new position, Billy — who has a picture of Levina over her desk — has continued the university center project. Scheduled to open in October, the building will serve as a high-tech, central information center for current and interested students, and will provide new office space for Shapira’s department.
Despite her pain, Shapira said she is not angry with Arabs in general, only with the particular people who planted the bomb.
"We don’t hate the Arabs, we understand their needs," she said. "But they need to understand that killing us is not the way to achieve peace. We want peace, and my family, we have paid our portion for this peace."
Rwan Harb, a 19-year-old Arab student who just finished her first year at Hebrew University, agrees that violence is not the right path, but understands the terrorists’ logic.
"Killing people is not the way, and I pray for peace not just for myself, but for everyone," Harb said. "But the bombs put pressure on the Israeli government to search out peace."
Another student, Iran Ben-Ari, didn’t go to class last July 31. Three friends who did were badly injured in the blast.
Ben-Ari, 24, still describes himself as "extreme left," though many of his former political allies have changed their views since the Palestinian intifada began nearly three years ago.
"It’s our fault. We drove them to this," Ben-Ari said. "[Palestinians] are living in conditions that don’t suit human beings. They cannot leave their homes, and there is no hope. Of course blowing up bombs is not right, but the way in which Israel handles the situation is wrong also."
Yitzak Levin, an American exchange student who describes himself as a religious Zionist, was outside the cafeteria last July 31 during his first few hours on campus when the blast occurred. His determination to continue his studies in Jerusalem never wavered, Levin said, and the experience may even have strengthened his desire to be in Israel during this difficult time.
"We see from the Israelis that we can’t let terrorism dissuade us from our goals. The best thing we can do is carry on," Levin said.
That’s the lesson university administrators draw as well.
"Now we are in a crisis but eventually there will be peace, and we are still committed to that," Magidor said. "We are saddened and disappointed, but this does not change our resolve."
The American Friends of Hebrew University will remember the victims of last year’s Hebrew University bombing with a memorial service on Thursday, July 31, 7:30 p.m. at the UCLA Hillel House, 574 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 843-3100.