Bay Area Jews react: Anguish and rage, shock and fear

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Ibi Goodfriend was fighting back tears even before the start of a memorial service for Israel's suicide bombing victims.

"I can't sleep," the elderly San Francisco woman said Tuesday night as she sat in Congregation Sherith Israel's sanctuary. "We didn't have enough time to mourn for one" bombing before the next one happened.

Goodfriend wasn't the only person crying as Jews gathered this week at services across the Bay Area to hear a comforting psalm, recite the mourner's Kaddish and sing Israel's national anthem, "Hatikva."

Yet no single emotion could capture the reactions of heavy-hearted Bay Area Jews. Disgust, anguish, rage, shock and fear mingled and fused.

"It was just dayenu — too much," said Barry Rosen, a 48-year-old San Franciscan.

After the hourlong service in San Francisco, about 300 individuals poured onto the city's streets for a candlelight vigil, escorted by motorcycle police who stopped traffic at a dozen Pacific Heights intersections.

Strains of "Oseh Shalom" and "Hinei Mah Tov" filled Fillmore Street as bar and cafe patrons looked on. The vigil culminated in a short rally under a clear, star-studded sky at the edge of Alta Plaza Park.

Natan Golan, who flew into the Bay Area two days earlier from his Jerusalem home, was one of a dozen speakers at the memorial service.

Golan, the father of three children and director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's office in Jerusalem, is certain of only one fact right now: He cannot shield his children from the horror.

"I wonder for them what tomorrow will be like," he said.

One of his daughter's schoolmates was pulled out of class Feb. 25 to learn that her 19-year-old sister was killed in a suicide bus bombing. A week later, the same classmate's cousin was seriously injured in another attack.

"Oh God," one audience member quietly gasped.

Mari Hoffman wiped away tears throughout the service.

Hoffman, 23-year-old San Franciscan, described a sense of isolation since she learned of the fourth suicide bombing in nine days.

"I was the only person crying on the bus. People thought I was crazy," she said. "I felt a need to find solidarity with other Jewish people."

She also expressed frustration with the Bay Area's scattered Jewish community. Hoffman, a Los Angeles native who lived in Jerusalem last year, cried after the first and second suicide bombings too but couldn't find a memorial service.

"It took a fourth bombing to get people together. That bothered me," she said.

The memorial services this week in San Francisco, San Mateo, Palo Alto and San Rafael were sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Jewish Community Relations Council, as well as seven other Jewish groups.

A fifth service, sponsored by Kehilla Community Synagogue, is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10, at Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda, Berkeley.

San Francisco's service sought to balance the need to grieve for the 61 deaths with political action.

"There isn't a home in Israel — not a Jewish home in the world — that isn't mourning," Congregation Beth Sholom Rabbi Alan Lew said from the bimah. "When one heart is torn open, all our hearts ache."

Lew added that now isn't the time to analyze the future of the peace process.

"Political calculations strike me as more than a little obscene with all these bodies lying before us. We can only offer solidarity, support and love," he said.

Minutes later Dan Grossman, chair of the JCRC's Middle East Strategy Committee, urged individuals to do more than mourn, citing the JCRC's Fax Arafat campaign that began last week.

Naomi Lauter, regional director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, recommended writing letters to U.S. Congress members to support anti-terrorism legislation such as the Iran Foreign Oil Sanctions Act.

And Nimrod Barkan, Israel's Consul General in San Francisco, explained why the Israeli government is reacting with more fury than ever before.

"Hamas…has taken an action of war," he said.

Though the vast majority of the estimated 700 who gathered at Sherith Israel were Jews, more than a dozen local Christian clergy also came.

Catholic Archbishop William Levada, who sat on the bimah among local rabbis, offered a public prayer for the victims and survivors of these "tragic and repulsive terror attacks."

When the service ended, march organizers distributed six Israeli flags, 200 candles and two banners stating "Solidarity with Israel" and "Stop Hamas Terror."

Among the marchers were Flor Feldman and her 11-year-old son, Tamir Elterman.

Feldman, a 45-year-old Berkeley resident and one of the few parents to bring along a child, said she believes it's important for her son to understand "what is everyone's experience as a Jew — growing up with tragedy."

Elterman, a Tehiyah Day School student with a blond buzz haircut, said he was trying to understand how Israelis are hurting. He thought about losing his brother to such an attack and felt especially bad for the Israeli family that had two relatives on the bombed buses.

"I just felt really sad," the boy said. "I thought: How would I feel? I couldn't imagine losing even one."

Natalie Weinstein
Natalie Weinstein

Natalie Weinstein is J.'s senior editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at CNET News and, in the 1990s, as a reporter and editor at J., which was then called the Jewish Bulletin.