Yeshiva students undeterred by terror attack close to home in Jerusalem's Beit Yisrael
Yeshiva students undettered by terror
by Gavin Rabinowitz
March 8, 2002
Students at Mir Yeshiva are determined to stay put despite the terror attack that took place 100 meters away from them in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Beit israel neighborhood on Saturday night, killing 10 people.
The attack has shaken many of the over 3,000 students at the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva, more than half of who come from overseas, primarily from the United States and England. Many of the foreign students will be returning home for assover - but they say that almost all of them will be coming back.
"My parents are very concerned," said Yechiel, a 24-year-old New Yorker who, like other students that talked to Anglo File this week, asked not to have his last name printed. "I think they would have wanted me to come home, but the September 11 attacks changed their view. Still, like all parents, they are oncerned."
Municipal workers were still working on Chaim Ozer Street on Tuesday, repairing windows and working with a sand blaster to remove all traces of the bomb. "Last ime, they had everything cleaned up by the next day," said Paysach Freedman, who originally comes from Baltimore and has studied at Mir, known as he world's largest yeshiva, for eight years. "I don't know why it's taking them so long this time," he said, referring to a car bomb that exploded in the same pot last year in January without causing any injuries.
He added that he thinks there will be no mass exodus of Anglos from Mir: "People come here for deep ideological reasons. As much as we are called non-Zionist, the Haredim have a very deep appreciation for the land of Israel."
Aharon, a 22-year-old student from Queens, New York, is also determined to stay on, citing a family tradition of commitment to studying at the yeshiva, even during the hardest times: "My father studied here during the Yom Kippur War and did not go home, and my brother was here during the Gulf War."
The proper response to the terror attack is to stay at Mir, said Aharon, ecounting the legendary escape of the Mir yeshiva during World War II from Lithuania to Shanghai, and eventually to its permanent premises in erusalem. "Those who stayed with the yeshiva survived," he noted. "Those who left and went home to their families were caught and killed by the Nazis."
The attack on the community was viewed at Mir as a cause for introspection. The head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, gave a special sermon Monday ight, calling on the students to strengthen their collective Torah study and to work on their relations with others. Finkel told the students that when they re afraid, they should remember that it is more important to be concerned for heir friends.
The rabbi's emphasis on the importance of the collective struck a chord with he students, who agree that what is needed most now is unity among the Jewish people. Rabbi Mordechai Kreitenberg, who comes from California and has been tudying at Mir for five years, said that lack of unity is Israel's greatest eakness in the conflict with the Palestinians. He compared the situation in srael with the wave of unity and patriotism that swept America after the eptember 11 attacks, asserting, "There is a common denominator among all of us here."
Echoing Kreitenberg's sentiments, Freedman said that "the terrorists don't ask what kind of a Jew you are, or what kind of head covering you wear."
He went on to address the controversial subject of the role of the ultra- rthodox, who believe that their prayer and Torah study play a vital role in safeguarding the people of Israel. The past victories of the Israel Defense orces, Freedman said, can only be explained by divine intervention: "If you ook at the relatively low amount of casualties compared to the thousands of ttacks there have been - it is supernatural."
On the ground, physical security is also a very real concern for the Mir students, who are very aware of their proximity to East Jerusalem, just 200 meters down the road. Chaim, a 21-year-old from Westchester, New York, noted that there is almost no police presence in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods hat are sandwiched between the eastern part of the city and its center.
"Every other place has security," he said, "so [the terrorists] have to turn somewhere else."
"There is a realization that this neighborhood is really accessible to the errorists," agreed Kreitenberg. "It is a miracle that an attack like this has not happened before."
After the bombing Saturday, life seemed to go on as usual at Mir, where the entral Beit Midrash was packed with students studying in pairs. The hallways ere crowded with students of all ages talking on cell phones, continuing almudic discussions, or heading outside for a cigarette.
Outside, the nearby road where the attack occurred was almost deserted. The few passersby cast furtive looks at the charred telephone pole and the small raters in the sidewalk that remained. There were no candles or flowers cattered about in memory of those killed, but a large American flag was flying from an apartment above.
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