It is Monday afternoon at Universal Studios, and the place is swarming with camera-toting tourists, screaming children, beleaguered adults and bored-looking park staff. Prison-garbed Beetlejuice is flashing his blackened teeth as he amuses tourists with his banter, and the cheerful strains of the Universal Studios theme music are being piped loudly through the sound system, camouflaging upsets and distress with ersatz melodic joy.
In the midst of all this, Mashiach Kashi, 72, is showing pictures of his family. "This is my son-in-law -- he came to help the people on the bus, and he was murdered. This is my wife. They murdered her also. They shot a bullet through her head at close range. This is my daughter who was in the bus. The bullet went through her head and took out her eye.
"These are my grandchildren," he continues. "This grandchild was shot -- the bullet made a hole like this," he says as he holds up a fist. "This other grandchild was shot in the head and died. This little girl's name is Galia Esther, and my wife saved her by putting her between her legs, but when the terrorists shot my wife, the blood from her head fell on my granddaughter, and they thought she was also murdered."
Kashi's voice rises, passionate, but despondent. "What do they want? Do you know what they want? Nobody knows what they want. Master of the universe! They make our lives so bitter. Today I am a shattered vessel. I am not a man."
Kashi's words, and the company he is with -- 21 other Israeli victims of terror, some physically scarred, all emotionally wounded -- seem out of place in the tourist attraction that is Universal Studios. The 22 Israelis are there as part of their visit to Los Angeles, which was sponsored by the Southern California Jewish Center. The trip is meant to both educate the Los Angeles public about the Israeli casualties of the intifada and to give the victims a vacation of sorts.
At Universal, they are meant to be having a day of fun, some time out to relax a bit and, if possible, to move their minds away -- even if just for a short while -- from the horrors they have been through.
Yet despite being thousands of miles away from their homes, in a place where the admission fee generally guarantees some form of escapism, the most this group can hope for is to be mildly distracted.
"This is the first time since I came that I am enjoying myself," says Jakov Shefi, 32, whose 5-year-old daughter, Danielle Bat El, was murdered in her bed. "But every time that we are having fun, we think about our little daughter, and we want her to be with us and to have fun with us."
As other members of the group start to laugh while they shoot each other with water guns, Shefi's wife, Shiri, 29, talks about her daughter's murder.
"It was on Shabbat," she says, "when the terrorists came to our yishuv [settlement], and I was with the children in the room, and my daughter was murdered in front of my eyes."
Jakov Shefi continues, "There is a song that says, 'You have to live the fear and the pain, and look it in the eyes.' And that is what we do every morning, every day, every evening. You hurt. You pain. But you survive."
At another table, Shoshana and Hadas Katzav, a mother and daughter who were wounded in an attack on the Machaneh Yehudah Market in Jerusalem, sit and eat their Metro Glatt burgers. Hadas Katzav, 17, has prominent scars on her forehead; her mother, 52, has her arm in a bandage, which she takes off, revealing a mangled forearm on which the shiny, scarred flesh sinks into a hole near her wrist.
"This is nothing," says Shoshana Katzav, who needed to be hospitalized for eight months after the attack. "My whole body is scarred like this."
"We came for hasbara [public relations]," Hadas Katzav says, "to tell the people what happens in Israel. They are killing us stam cacha [just like this]. We are sitting in our houses, and they go into our houses, in the streets, all the places that we go, and they kill us. We are afraid to go in the streets."
Three feet away, a newly acquired Bugs Bunny stuffed toy sits in 10-year-old Tehila Cohen's wheelchair as she sits at a table finishing a hot dog with her father, Ofir, 35. The girl's legs, along with those of two of her siblings, needed to be amputated after terrorists blew up her school bus.
"The terrorists knew it was a school bus, they knew what a school bus looks like, and what time it takes off in the morning," says Ofir Cohen. "And they used a bomb like they used in Lebanon, and although the bus was armed, it was a big explosion, and two people died on the bus, and the others were terribly wounded."
Cohen says that Tehila, who didn't want to talk to the press, was doing well. "She is doing the best she can in this situation. She is very optimistic, and she is looking forward."
Although these victims are in the West, their hearts are in the East. "I want to tell the people in Los Angeles to come to Israel," Shefi says. "Here you are living in a beautiful dream, because you have beautiful cars here, and peaceful streets, and the houses are beautiful. But this is not reality of the Jewish people. The reality of the Jewish people is Israel, and we can't escape from that."