Vigil memorializes fallen Israelis

425 killed in past year are focus of ceremony

July 15, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Tsiona and Yaakov Cohen were standing on an upper level of a crowded Jerusalem pizzeria last summer when a suicide bomber toting a nail-packed explosive detonated the device, killing himself and 15 others.

Yesterday, the Baltimore couple stood before a symbolic graveyard for Israeli dead at Park Heights and Slade avenues in Northwest Baltimore and remembered the victims of the Aug. 9 bombing at Sbarro - adults and children whose bodies they had to step over to escape the chaos.

"The psychological effects on people like us who have been there are very strong," Tsiona Cohen, 22, told the crowd of about three dozen people gathered on the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation lawn. "It takes a while to get over them."

The Cohens were among the early speakers on the first day of a weeklong vigil designed to remember those killed in Israel by Palestinian violence during the past year. Organizers said more than 425 people have been killed since Aug. 5, as tensions in the region have escalated and suicide bombings have become increasingly frequent.

Like a similar remembrance held last year, this year's memorial is designed to humanize the violence occurring half a world away, organizers with the Baltimore Zionist District, an Israel advocacy group, said.

But unlike last year's vigil, which allowed some time for reflection - one half hour for each of the more than 130 dead - this year's is necessarily more hurried.

With more than three times the number of victims, speakers will be able to devote only five or 10 minutes of storytelling and prayer to each person to fit them all in the week, said Jerry Kiewe, the Zionist organization's executive director. Remembrances of the 15 dead in the Sbarro blast were spread over three hours.

"We thought, last year, 130 people was a lot. Little did we realize. ... This year was just overwhelming," he said.

The vigil, which will be held about 12 hours a day through Sunday, excluding the Jewish Sabbath, does not include Palestinians killed in the violence during the past year. Kiewe said he knows of no list of the Palestinian dead that separates out "those involved in terrorist activities" from "innocent victims."

For the 60 remembrances yesterday, organizers created posters, complete with name, picture, details of death and a brief life story. The posters - including one for the victims of the attacks here Sept. 11 - were then clustered together and driven into the ground on the rain-soaked synagogue lawn, giving the appearance of headstones.

Today those posters, which commemorate those who died between Aug. 5 and Nov. 2, will be moved farther up Park Heights Avenue and a second group will be clustered together for remembrance.

"We really want to stress that these are people who have parents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles," said Richard Shelter, a Pikesville financial adviser who is co-chairman of the Zionist organization's public affairs committee. "They are not just numbers."

For some, the memorials were intensely personal.

Jordan Wiener, a Baltimore businessman, read the remembrance for someone he knew - a pregnant 31-year-old woman who had traveled to Israel with her husband for her graduate studies and was killed at Sbarro.

Still, despite the violence, he said, he plans to take his family, including his six children, to the country in two weeks.

"I tell people everyone has their time, and if you give in to [fear], then the terrorists succeed," he said.

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