Hilla Hayo, 16, was not a victim of the Dolphinarium attack in Tel Aviv on June 1, 2001 -- but she could have been. The teenager, who, along with four classmates, spent 10 days at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills this October as part of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation's Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, canceled her plans at the last minute the night of the explosion. She and her pal were planning to go to Pacha, the Dolphinarium's neighboring club whose patrons were also struck when the bomb was detonated.
"My best friend got sick and we decided not to go," remembered Hayo.
While Hayo may have dodged a bullet that fateful night, the anecdote seems just one of the many threatening situations she has confronted as an Israeli teen. Without hesitation, she described the deafening bombs she occasionally hears from her home in Yad Eliyahu, a city just south of Tel Aviv, and the eerie vibrations from the impact. Then there was the time that she saw an actual suicide bomber run by the buses at a central mall in Tel Aviv.
"I feel safe here," she said, looking around the crowded lobby of the West Hills Jewish Community Center. "I don't feel as safe in Israel."
Even having a social life involves being wary of terrorism.
"I have a lot of fights with my parents about going out at night," Hayo said. "When I had a boyfriend who had a car, they felt better because they knew I could return safely without taking public transportation."
But living with fear hasn't robbed her of hope or typical teenage enthusiasm. From teaching her host family Hebrew rap songs to serenading the New Community Jewish High School student body and faculty on the night before she flew back to Israel, Hayo is a spirited teenager whose zest for life is intact. Unlike some of the other girls from Ironi-Tet who visited Los Angeles, Hayo is open to friendships with Arab teens. Upon her return home, she was looking forward to singing with her band, continuing to be involved with her school's student council and becoming a doctor someday, after spending two years in the Israeli army.
"We donít want to let the Palestinians stop our lives because then they win," Hayo told The Journal. "We want to show them we're not afraid."