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Bomb Blast at the Hebrew University (2002)

Usually I report on archaeological matters— after all this is an archaeological magazine.

I only refer to modern events is when they are related to archaeological matters. Makes sense.

This time I’m asking for an exception. After all it’s my life I am reporting about this time.

On Wednesday, 31st of July, I was busy in the library finishing my MA paper, as the final stage of my MA studies in Archaeology at the Hebrew University. Towards lunch I called my friend, Noam Shoval, a young Doctor in Geography. It is our tradition to meet for lunch every couple of days, discuss academic issues, and gossip as well. Usually we meet around 13:00 to 13:30. There are 4-5 cafeterias in the campus. The “Frank Sinatra” cafeteria (named after the donor of the building) is one of our favorites.

By 12:00 that day I felt hungry, so I called Noam asking to eat earlier than usual. He replied that he was hungry too, so we decided to go to the “Frank Sinatra cafeteria,” famous for its big and tasty schnitzels. We ate and talked as usual, and left the place at 13:20.

I went back to the library, where I met Prof Israel Levine, and we discussed employment opportunities for me once my MA is completed. As we were talking we heard a loud noise and the windows shook. Such noises are not rare and are caused by super sonic planes when breaking the sound barrier.

After about 20 minutes one of my colleagues ran into the university calling loudly, “Are you aware that a bomb exploded at the Frank Sinatra cafeteria?” We were all shocked. Some went outside to witness the event. I ran to the web and checked a news site. It said that indeed a bomb had exploded in the cafeteria and 30 people were injured. I was thankful that there were no casualties and estimated (wrongly) that it was a small bomb. I’m not a paramedic, and unfortunately I came that day with my scooter, leaving the car, containing a big first aid kit, at home. I know the police always ask people not to disturb the emergency crews and so I decided to stay in the library. I tried getting some work done but kept checking the news on the web. My cell phone was constantly ringing— family and friends wanted to hear my voice and know that I was not injured. I had to calm every one, especially my wife who called three times, just to make sure I was not lying to her.

After realizing that I could not concentrate on anything I decided to check the place. By now there were police everywhere, blocking the area, and no emergency crews or injured were at the scene. I was relieved that it appeared to be a small-scale event, although the fact that a terrorist managed to get into the university was a surprise.

It was only during the evening news that I realized how wrong I was. Seven students and staff employees were dead, and over 90 injured. One of the dead, DiegoLadowski once worked in the Rothberg overseas school where I teach, but I knew him only vaguely. The news report showed pictures from within the restaurant—the damage was terrifying. Then they showed some of the injured and I burst into tears, even though I didn’t know any of them.

Only then I realized how lucky I was that day, simply for having an early lunch.

Within the next few days, two more severely injured died. At the end of the “Shiv’a” (meaning “seven,” the term for the number of days of mourning according to the Jewish tradition) a ceremony was held at the plaza in front of the cafeteria. The president of the university spoke in front of a large crowd which included five ambassadors. A few days ago I returned to the cafeteria. All the furniture had been taken out and the floor was cleaned up. The ceiling decoration was missing, blown away by the blast. Near the explosion the ventilation shaft fell, and there was a hole in the wall nearby. The whole scene was enough to illustrate the atrocity committed here. One chair was left in the middle of the dining area. I took a picture, cried a bit, then left.

The Frank Sinatra cafeteria

President of the university speaking in Jerusalem