Inside the Cauldron: Eyewitness to Jerusalem Bombing
A rabbi who survived the carnage describes its horror and heartbreak.
Friday, August 10, Erev Shabbat -- Yesterday, August 9, 2001, on my way to work, I found myself walking down Jaffa Street. Hungry, I decided to stop and grab a quick bite at Sbarro's Pizza. In the past 5 years I have frequented this establishment exactly twice.
Walking into Sbarro's there is a larger area for sitting in the front, but the back looked a bit cooler and quieter, so I decided to grab a seat in the back. That decision saved my life.
Waiting on line, when they brought me the baked zitti I asked for, it was cold. So I asked the woman behind the counter if she'd mind warming it up. "Ein ba'ayah," no problem, she said with a smile. I will always wonder if that was her last smile on earth.
I felt a tremendous explosion, and then the screaming began.
A couple of moments later, a fellow from behind the counter came to the back with my baked zitti. Then he started to speak to someone at one of the tables. That baked zitti saved his life.
At about 2 p.m., I felt and heard a tremendous explosion, and day turned into night.
And then the screaming began. An awful, heartrending sound; the sound of people coming to terms with a whole new reality, of people not wanting to comprehend that life has changed forever.
Those of us sitting in the back were spared, but I was afraid of panic, so I started yelling at everyone to quiet down and not to panic. The ceiling looked like it might cave in, but there is always the danger of a second explosion, detonated on purpose shortly after the first.
But then I smelled smoke, and was suddenly afraid the restaurant might be on fire. So we started climbing our way through the wreckage to the front.
Would there be another explosion? Would the roof collapse? Were we making the wrong decision, climbing through? There are moments that last a lifetime...
There are no words to describe what the front of Sbarro's Pizza looked like in the immediate aftermath of that explosion.
I watched the life drain out of her.
A woman was lying near the steps to the back. Her eyes were staring straight at me, following me. So full of pain and longing, sadness and despair. I dropped down beside her trying to elicit a response to see if she could speak. And then I watched the life just drain out of her. I tried to get a pulse, to no avail. She died there, on the steps in front of me. She was lying by the table I had decided not to sit at.
Her eyes, I think, will stay with me forever. Imploring, beseeching, full of so much sadness. I think the shock of where and how she was, was sinking in. I can't begin to describe all that was in those eyes.
There were bodies everywhere. Those images are in my mind and they won't let go. A child's body under the wreckage; a baby carriage; limbs and a torso; a woman holding a motorcycle helmet, screaming next to a person on the floor who had obviously been someone she was with.
And then the mad rush to help the ambulance and emergency crews get the wounded out. They were afraid of a second bomb, so there was no medical effort inside beyond getting the wounded on to stretchers and out. A religious Jew missing at least two limbs in tears and shock -- what do you say? "Yehiyeh Be'Seder?" It will be all right? Will it?
I happened to sit a bit to the left as you walk towards the back, and so the wall behind me shielded me from the blast. Another fellow whom we went back in to get wasn't so lucky. Sitting only 5 or 6 feet to my left, he caught the full force of the blast and was thrown in the air. When we got him on the stretcher he was bleeding profusely and was missing a leg.
There are no words to describe what that man's hand, clenched around my arm, felt like. He just kept looking from me to his leg and back again. I started saying Psalms.
I came home and gave each of my children a very long hug.
So many mixed emotions fill my head today. I came home last night and gave each of my children a very long hug. But there are so many families today who are waking up to the reality that life will never be the same. Fifteen funerals with friends and families saying goodbye to those they loved so, whose only crime was a desire for a slice of pizza on a beautiful Jerusalem afternoon.
I recall once reading a story of a boy who was saved from a near-drowning by a stranger. As the fellow carried him ashore, the boy looked up and said, "Thanks for saving my life, mister." To which the man responded, "Just make sure it was worth saving."
Tonight we celebrate Shabbat. All over Israel, parents will bless their children at the Shabbat table. I imagine we will all hug them a little tighter this week.
In a few hours we will light Shabbat candles. This Shabbat, in the wake of all this darkness, the Jewish people will do what we have been doing for 4000 years; what we have always done. We will pick up the pieces and light our candles, because that is all we have ever wanted; just to bring a little light back into the world.
After 2000 years of dreaming, we have come home. So many nations, and so many empires tried to stop us from getting here but here we are, nonetheless. Home. That word has such a beautiful sound to it, to a people that has wandered the globe for so long.
We are not leaving. We will be here to celebrate this Shabbat and next Shabbat, and forever, until the end of time, here, in the hills of Judea and Gush Etzion, and Jerusalem.
May the Almighty, who in His infinite Wisdom saw fit to allow me the privilege of celebrating one more Shabbat with my family, in the hills of Jerusalem, see fit to put an end to all of this pain, and all of this suffering.
Wherever you are, and whoever you are, be with us here, in Yerushalyim, and offer up a prayer for all those who lost loved ones in yesterday's terrible tragedy.
May it be God's will that soon, we will find the road to the peace we have longed for, for so long.
There is something you can do. See 7 Ways You Can Help Israel. Also, the children victims of terrorist bombings love to receive letters. Write to them! Most can read English (be sure to print clearly or type), and for those who can't, we'll translate the letters. Do not send emails. A real letter that they can hold in their hands, perhaps on nice stationary, will mean so much to them.
Address your letters to a specific child, c/o:
PO Box 14149
Jerusalem 97500 Israel
Here are most of their names: