JERUSALEM (BP)–One month after a deadly suicide bomb attack ripped through a Jerusalem restaurant, killing 15 Israelis and tourists and injuring more than 130 others, the pizzeria reopened its doors to the public in what was billed as a “stand against terrorism,” CNSNews.com reported Sept. 13.
Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert and the U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer attended the emotional opening ceremony the evening of Sept. 12 in the heart of Jerusalem.
The opening, planned in advance, seemed even more poignant against the backdrop of the previous day’s terrorist spectacle in the United States, where teams of suicide bombers hijacked four airplanes and used them as flying bombs to attack the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. The fourth plane apparently missed its mark and crashed in an uninhabited area near Pittsburgh, Pa., killing all on board.
The American fast-food restaurant Sbarro was completely gutted by a suicide bomber’s Aug. 9 at the corner of Jaffa Road and King George, the busiest pedestrian crossing in the city.
“Where we stand now, we had to collect the pieces of bodies a few weeks ago of people who came to work or came to have lunch at this place and were torn to pieces,” Olmert said.
“We understand and we feel deeply for the people of New York and we know that the strength that we show here in reopening the place, in overcoming all these difficulties, is the spirit of New York,” the Jerusalem mayor said.
Sbarro spent two million shekels ($476,000) and had crews working day and night to complete the renovations in just three weeks.
Salads, pizzas and pasta dishes adorned the food showcases. The marble floors and giant plate glass picture windows showed no signs of the previous month’s carnage.
Only a memorial plaque on the wall attested to the tragedy that happened there. “In memoriam of the darkness that befell us on August 9, 2001. Sbarro Family, City of Jerusalem, and the whole House of Israel,” it reads.
Kurtzer hailed the speedy reopening as a victory against terrorism.
“I think it’s important to view the fact that the United States and Israel have both been attacked so often by terrorists [and] that this restaurant has made an effort to open up fast,” Kurtzer said. “I think it’s a really nice stand against terrorism.”
All the employees — mostly young people — returned to their jobs, except one girl who was killed and two others who are still recovering. Most of them stood shoulder to shoulder behind the food counter.
Patrons who had been in the restaurant at the time of the explosion were invited to return for the event. A handful showed up. Most hovered in corners, many with tears in their eyes.
Sixteen-year-old Mili Maoz stood a bit apprehensively at the cash register as dozens of reporters, dignitaries and Sbarro employees crowded the restaurant.
“It’s difficult,” said Mili, whose 19-year-old sister Tehila was the only Sbarro employee to be killed in the blast. Mili’s brother, Ouriel, 32, stood at her side.
“[I feel] like thousands of Americans today,” Ouriel said. “We are all the same.” When he heard of terror in the States, he said he collapsed. “I sat before the television and cried. I identified with everyone inside and out.”
Managers from Sbarro’s 23 branches around the country came for the rededication. Itai Keren had been the manager of the Jerusalem branch until February when he took over as manager of a Tel Aviv Sbarro.
Keren said he was both thankful that he hadn’t been there and sad because of his close relationship to the people who work in the restaurant. Tehila Maoz, he said, had been the “flower” of the place.
“We need to go forward and not submit to terror,” Keren said, periodically fighting back tears. It strengthens and helps to return to a routine rather than submit to terror, he added.
For some, it took all the courage they had just to return to the restaurant. One lady with tears in her eyes politely waved away reporters. Another young girl in a wheelchair with a splint on her arm covered her face with a baseball cap when asked to speak.
Others battled their feelings and bravely shared their stories. Among them was David Nachenberg. His wife, Channa Tova Chaya, 31, is still in a coma after her heart was pierced with a piece of shrapnel. His 3-year-old daughter, Sara, who had been with her mother on that day, was miraculously unhurt in the blast.
Nachenberg, an American who lives in Israel, and his family had prepared a message of condolences to those who were suffering from the effects of the treacherous attacks on the United States.
“The people who celebrated and rejoiced at the outcome of the inhuman attacks in New York and Washington are the very same people responsible for the attack here,” he said, referring to celebrations in parts of the Arab world after the American tragedy. (No one has yet been accused of the crime.)
“Our family has experienced man’s evil, hatred and disregard for human life but also seen man’s kindness,” he added, exhorting everyone to appreciate their family members while they still have them.
Huddled in a corner, Oded Ya’akov, 18, had returned to the very table at which he had been sitting when the blast occurred. He was the only one of five of his friends who had had the courage to return, “to close the circle,” he said.
Ya’akov and his friends had been eating downstairs and had moved to the upstairs corner table 15 minutes earlier to continue talking and having fun. His hand was broken in the blast, but the move upstairs, which he couldn’t explain, had saved their lives, he said.
Deganit Refoua was saved by her 4-year-old daughter’s insistence that they eat upstairs. Fighting her emotions, she told of how she had clutched Eden in her arms after the blast and ran to the front of the shop.
As she climbed through the broken window, she ran into her husband, Jean, who owns a nearby shop. He knew his wife and daughter had been eating there and ran to find them when he heard the explosion.
“No one in America really understands this [terrorism],” Deganit said. “We really identified with them.”
Jean Refoua said he has an American as well as Israeli flag outside his shop as symbol of the close relationship between the two countries. “We are two bodies with one soul,” he said.
Stahl is the Jerusalem bureau chief for CNSNews.com. Used by permission.