When Marni (Balter) Benuck heard about the bombing at Sbarro's in Jerusalem, she immediately thought of her best friend Shoshana. She knew that Shoshana, nearly five months pregnant, loved pizza, and in her last e-mail a few days before had mentioned Sbarro's as her favorite pizza place in Jerusalem. Marni left a message with Shoshana's husband, Shmuel, to see if he had heard from her.
It wasn't until hours later that Marni found out that Shoshana had just ordered when the suicide bomber, standing right behind her in line, blew himself up. She died instantaneously, along with 14 other Jews.
The grief is still settling in for Marni and for the rest of us who knew Shoshana (Hayman) Greenbaum, who was 31 when she died. Shoshana and Marni were both my classmates in the YULA class of 1988. Her death has sent shock waves through us all, a close-knit class of 32 girls. For the past week we have converged on the phone, feeling the need to connect in ways we haven't in years.
Part of the shock surely stems from the fact that it could have been any of us. Shoshana, a teacher, was in Israel on a six-week program as part of obtaining her master's in education. She had stopped at Sbarro's for a study break.
But it is more than its senselessness and proximity that makes this death so difficult.
It was Shoshana. She was in so many ways the class tzadeket -- the most mature in her righteousness, the most genuinely pious one among us, the one most dedicated to true chesed, acts of lovingkindness. She was academically among the brightest, socially liked by everyone.
Despite the fact that for so many of us she represented a distant ideal, and was a role model more akin to a teacher than classmate, she never felt herself above the rest of us, though she had every reason to do so. Shoshana, always cheerful, was one of us -- in on our antics, a good friend to all, eager to help everyone.
One classmate remembers that Shoshana was the first to reach out to her when she found out she was from out of town, boarding at someone's home. Another comments on her ability to be confident enough to be different, to have it together when so many of us were doing what teenagers do -- floundering as we searched for direction.
I hadn't been in touch with Shoshana in years, but I kept up with her through common friends. I knew that she was well on the way to achieving the things she always knew she wanted -- a family, a life of service to God and of giving to others.
Shoshana's death has ripped through the community, shocking her friends, her colleagues, her former teachers and students.
In their Hancock Park home, her parents, Alan and Shifra Hayman, received a constant flow of hundreds -- possibly thousands -- of people who came to comfort the mourners as they sat shiva for their only child.
The visitors were a mixture of friends of Shoshana, people who had been impacted by Alan and Shifra -- both pillars of activism and chesed in the Orthodox community -- and strangers who were overcome by the tragedy.
On Monday night, about a dozen of us from the class of '88 went over. It was a surreal experience, gathering in a shiva house rather than at a bris or a wedding, as we usually do.
As the line of comforters flowed without stop through their home, Shoshana's mother spoke with deep, spiritual emotion but without tears. She talked about the sparks of beauty Shoshana had left behind, of the legacy of chesed, of Torah, of a unique passion that would live on with her friends, her family, especially her hundreds of students.
And Mrs. Hayman urged us not to lose this lesson about keeping in touch, about coming together -- whether on the phone, or by e-mail, or in person. She urged us to remember to hug each other often.
"Because you can't hug a neshama [soul]," she said.
While eulogies tend to be laudatory, what everyone is saying about Shoshana is in fact understated.
"It's hard enough to hear that 15 fellow Jews were killed, but when it is somebody you know and somebody so beloved by everybody, the pain is not bearable," Debbie Eidlitz, who taught with Shoshana at Emek Hebrew Academy in North Hollywood, told me on the phone. "It's amazing how many people she touched and how many people are so shocked and devastated."
Shoshana was buried within a day of her death, as is the custom in Jerusalem. Her parents, who could not get there for the funeral, will be going to Israel in a few weeks. Shoshana's elderly grandfather was at her burial, as were many people who knew her well or who knew someone who knew her, but felt the need to be present at her funeral.
Her husband of 16 months, Shmuel Greenbaum, fought back tears as mourners shoveled the earth of the land of Israel into her grave. "Shoshana, I love you," he said, according to news reports.
Shoshana wanted to get married and start a family soon after she spent a post-high school year in seminary in Israel. But through the years she kept a bright and positive attitude as her search for her beshert, her destined one, went on.
"She always had a smile, was always cheerful," says Marni. "When other people were having their own simchas, even though she hadn't attained those milestones, she was the first one there to dance and the first one to bake a cake."
In April 2000, she married Shmuel, who is now 38. Marni describes Shoshana and Shmuel's wedding as radiant, with guests overjoyed that such a couple found each other. Seeing the way Shoshana and Shmuel looked at each other and cared for each other made it so clear that their wait had been justified, Marni says.
"At their wedding there was such an outpouring of love that they had for each other, and that everyone around them had for them," Marni recalls.
Soon after they were married, Shmuel and Shoshana were regularly hosting singles and other guests over for Shabbat, treating each one -- adults and children alike -- as an honored guest. Marni's three small children loved Shoshana like an aunt. Shoshana and Shmuel had moved to Passaic, N.J., about six months ago to be near Marni and her husband, Mitch. Shoshana and Marni, who became instant friends when they were 12 years old and have kept up the relationship throughout the years, would often spend Shabbat together, or just hang out, eating ice cream or pizza late into the night.
"Even though she had these intense ideologies -- her commitment to Eretz Yisrael and to Torah -- her personality was such that you could just hang out with her," Marni says. "Her intensity didn't impact on her enjoyment of life."
Shmuel had left Israel a few days before the bombing. Shoshana was scheduled to return Aug. 15, at the end of her program with Yeshiva University's Azrieli School of Education.
By all accounts, Shoshana was already a gifted teacher. She spent two years teaching at Emek Hebrew Academy in North Hollywood, and at Valley Torah High School, before she went to the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach in New York, where she spent 10 years. She was set to begin teaching at the Yeshiva of Northern New Jersey in September.
"From day one I knew she was going to be an amazing teacher. The girls had an instant love for her," says Mrs. Eidlitz, who was a fellow teacher at Emek at Shoshana's first job out of seminary, teaching seventh and eighth grade girls. "She was the kind of person who, when she talks to you, you feel like you are the only person in the world. The students felt her caring for them, and in my experience with adolescents, when they feel you care about them, they give themselves completely to you."
A former student, Sigalit Sharabi, who had Ms. Hayman -- as she is known to her hundreds of students -- in 10th grade about 10 years ago, describes her as a teacher, who aside from imparting information in creative and interesting ways, was always there for the students.
"She had this unbelievable level of bitachon [faith] and was such a good person. She really set an example for all of us to strive for," Sigalit says.
Sigalit kept in touch with her former teacher for a while, but by the time she got to Israel for a post-high school year in seminary, they had lost touch. That is why she was so surprised and touched when she received a care package of treats from Ms. Hayman, with a card urging her to hang in there and not feel too homesick.
"She was such a giving person, she gave of herself without any expectations of receiving anything in return," Marni says. "She gave for all the right reason -- she was not trying to look good or wanting anything. She just gave because she was genuinely a good person."
Michal Sharabi, Sigalit's sister, remembers one of her teacher's primary messages.
"She was always telling everybody that God never gives you something you can't handle. You are only given challenges that God knows you can succeed in," Michal says.
May that message be a continuing source of strength for all of us, and may God comfort all of us among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Goodbye Shoshana. Your memory is a blessing.
Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, where Shoshana went to elementary school, is holding an alumni reunion from 3 p.m. -6 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19 at the school, 9120 W. Olympic Blvd. The reunion is dedicated to Shoshana's memory and in honor of the hundreds of alumni now living in Israel. Proceeds from the event will go to buy an ambulance for Magen David Adom in Shoshana's memory. For more information call (310) 276-6135.
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