Family of slain S.F. native still backs peace plan

Only hours after her oldest daughter died in Monday's Jerusalem bus bombing, former San Franciscan Betty Edelstein said she hasn't lost faith in the peace process.

Sounding weary but resolute, Edelstein maintained that her daughter, Joan Davenny, would have wanted it that way.

"She was strongly in favor of the peace process," Edelstein said from her home in Jerusalem. "She felt it was the right way to go."

Likewise, Edelstein won't let the tragedy shake her political views. "It's strictly a personal loss," she said. "I very much feel the peace process should go on."

Davenny, a 47-year-old San Francisco native, was buried Wednesday in Jerusalem. Memorial services are being planned for next month at San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom.

She was one of five fatalities, including the suicide bomber, in Monday's bus attack. Hamas claimed responsibility for the explosion, which also damaged an adjacent bus and injured more than 100.

Right-wing opponents of the peace process see the terrorist attack as yet another reason to scrap the Oslo accords. But government officials have resumed peace talks in Eilat to extend Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank.

Within a day of Davenny's death, family members had received telephone calls and visits from right-wingers who wanted them to speak out against continued negotiations.

"They're trying to tell us peace is no good. That's not part of what we feel," Edelstein said. "I resent what they do, and I disagree with their views."

For Davenny, arriving in Jerusalem in late July was supposed to begin one of the best years of her life.

A teacher at a Connecticut Jewish day school, she was taking a year's sabbatical on a prestigious fellowship to study at Hebrew University's Melton Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora.

She was finally near family members who had made aliyah in the 1970s and 1980s, including her parents and two of her three sisters. Davenny's 18-year-old daughter, Maya, was scheduled to arrive next week for a yearlong Young Judea program in Israel as well.

Davenny celebrated her 47th birthday Thursday of last week. A day later, Betty and Burt Edelstein celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary.

"Joan was extremely excited. It was her dream to be in Israel for a year," said Amiel Malale, an Israeli native who is married to Davenny's sister, Amy, and lives in New York City.

But Monday morning, Davenny stepped onto a bus heading to Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus to attend her second week of Hebrew classes. Hamas bomber Sufiyan Sabiah boarded the same bus.

Family and friends in the United States and Israel recall Davenny as an exuberant woman who loved teaching, Judaism and the Jewish state.

"She was very vivacious and gregarious," Betty Edelstein said. "She was full of life."

Emily Honig, a friend since childhood who now lives in Santa Cruz, agreed. "She was a person who just had an extraordinary amount of passion for literature, reading, learning, history and people. There was nothing dull about Joan."

The oldest of four sisters, Davenny attended religious school and confirmation class at Reform Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. Her parents later joined San Francisco's Conservative Congregation Beth Sholom.

The Edelstein girls — Joan, Sally, Nancy and Amy — swam at the local Jewish Community Center pool and spent summers at a Jewish camp in Southern California.

Elisabeth Semel, who left San Diego for Jerusalem on Wednesday to help console the family, met Davenny in nursery school and remained a close friend. They were particularly close as teens in the mid- to late-1960s, when they became hippies.

"We lived out the Haight-Ashbury experience," Semel recalled fondly.

The Edelsteins were friends with rock-music producer Bill Graham. The friendship allowed Davenny to get work at the Fillmore Auditorium as a teenager and hang out with the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

While living in San Francisco, Davenny attended George Washington High School, but she headed to New York to spend her senior year with an artist's family, graduating from high school there.

In 1976, when their youngest daughter, Amy, was in college, Betty and Burt Edelstein made aliyah.

Betty Edelstein said the decision to immigrate was an extension of their life in San Francisco, where they supported "anything dealing with Israel," including Hadassah and Israel Bonds.

"We didn't want to be donors. We wanted to be part of it," she said. They still love life in Israel so much that Edelstein "is always disappointed we didn't raise the kids here."

Edelstein even remembers that she was pregnant with Joan when Israel was founded in 1948. She was "as old as the state," Edelstein said.

After leaving San Francisco, Davenny attended several colleges and traveled through Israel and Europe. She finally earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Massachusetts.

She returned to San Francisco for several years in the late 1970s and married an art student, Ward Davenny. They divorced in the early 1980s but remained friends. Besides being a teacher, Davenny was involved in AIDS and sex education as well as drug counseling.

Living for the past decade in Connecticut, Davenny taught language arts and social studies to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Ezra Academy, a Conservative Jewish day school in Woodbridge, a suburb of New Haven.

Rabbi Jesse Fink, vice principal of Ezra Academy, said Davenny had a special knack for working with youths.

"She had not only an enthusiasm but she had an ability to relate to children at their most miserable age," Fink said.

In the evenings, Davenny also taught classes at Makom Hebrew High School, a part-time religious-education program for teenagers in the New Haven area.

"She was dynamic, totally energized for any subject. But her specific love was for Israel," Fink said.

Four years ago, she began taking eighth-graders on a two-week trip to Israel. Fink said Davenny hoped the trip would "sow seeds of love of Israel" in her students. The annual trip worked so well that it was later expanded to three weeks.

Davenny was no stranger to Israel. In the 1970s, she lived for a year on Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael near Haifa. Altogether, she had visited the Jewish state at least two dozen times.

Her intimate ties to Israel influenced her views about the Jewish state and peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Sharon Kaufman, a close friend since childhood, said Davenny "had a very sophisticated and in-depth knowledge of the Israeli scene…but was also devastated by all the horrific incidents."

"Ultimately, like everyone, she was optimistic," said Kaufman, who lives in San Anselmo.

Semel called the right-wing efforts to influence the Edelsteins in their time of mourning "incredibly insensitive. People need to be left alone. They need not to be hounded and not be exploited."

Like Davenny's parents, her uncle, Maurice Edelstein of San Francisco, said he also continues to support the peace process.

"I'm very much pro-Rabin, Peres and the whole peace process," he said. "It's hard to be for [the peace process] after a thing like this but I want things like this to stop."

He believes only the current peace process will put a stop to terrorist attacks and such tragic deaths as his niece's.

Davenny made her final trip to San Francisco last summer to visit her grandmother, Pauline Edelstein, a longtime Jewish community activist and Congregation Beth Sholom member who died at age 95 in September.

Although a strong Zionist, Pauline Edelstein was alarmed whenever she heard about terrorist attacks in Israel.

"She would always go into a complete panic until she found out for sure none of her relatives were involved," Beth Sholom's Rabbi Alan Lew said. "She was so worried one of her kids or one of her grandkids would show up on a victims' list."