Tuesday morning prayers at the girls school of Yeshiva High School of Los Angeles (YULA) took a little longer than usual this week.
It wasn't just the extra Tehillim (Psalms) the high school girls added for their former schoolmate Ariella Feinstein, 20, who was injured in Saturday night's suicide bombing in Jerusalem. It was that each girl seemed to need just a little more time with her prayers to reflect on what is going on in Israel, and how it keeps getting a little closer to home.
"The younger ones don't know Ariella, so they relate to it differently. But many of the seniors were just in tears," says Rabbi Sholom Strajcher, educational director at YULA.
Feinstein was injured when shrapnel from the bombs lodged in her legs and face. She is currently recovering from surgery.
Feinstein was the second YULA graduate in just a few months to bring terrorism in Israel closer to home for the Los Angeles Orthodox community. In August, Shoshana Hayman Greenbaum, who graduated from YULA in 1988, was killed when a suicide bomber blew up Sbarro Pizza in downtown Jerusalem.
Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, where the Feinsteins are members, says Feinstein is a "very special, sweet kid" from strong and kind family. Her parents, Dr. Charlie and Alice Feinstein, had just returned from Israel three weeks ago, and Alice Feinstein went back this week to be with her daughter.
It wasn't until Sunday night that Dina Morrow, 20, also a YULA graduate and a friend of Feinstein's, told her mother, Linda, that she was in the area when the blast occurred. Morrow told her mother that her roommate, Temima Spetner, a yeshiva student from St. Louis, was seriously injured when the bomb severed Spertner's femoral artery, and a bolt punctured her intestine and lodged near her spine.
Tali Katz, a YULA senior whose family moved to Los Angeles from Israel five years ago, was deeply affected by news of Feinstein's injuries.
"When my brother called and told me, I felt that thumping in my heart, that adrenaline rush, like, 'Oh my God, I know that person,' " Katz says. "But even people we don't know are our brothers and sisters and we should feel that thumping in our heart every time -- but we don't."
Sarah Stomel, a senior who is president of the school's Israel Club said, "I was crying when I heard about Ariella, because it really made me realize that everyone who is hurt or killed has families and friends, and now we are experiencing what they experience every day." The Israel Club, which gives daily and weekly news updates, sells dogtags to help Israel's MIAs, is initiating a pen-pal program with a school in Israel.
Many of the girls at YULA are planning to attend yeshiva in Israel next year, and they have no intention of changing those plans.
"If we stopped going to Israel and gave up on it, it would be like letting the terrorists win, like we're letting them scare us off," says YULA senior Esther Behmanesh.
Debbie Schrier, the school's interim principal, thinks Feinstein's injuries might penetrate the students' sense of invulnerability, much as it has done for weary parents.
"Until this the kids felt untouchable, thinking, 'all right, this is going on but we're going to Israel anyway.' But it depends on to what degree this escalates," says Schrier, who has a daughter who is a senior at YULA who plans to go to Israel next year.
The girls, however, seem to have taken a much different lesson from this.
"Ariella told her parents she didn't regret her year in Israel and she wants to stay," says Tiffany Lev, a senior. "That is total counter attack, because she won't be afraid."
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