Ode to a Friend

cousin Marla came into our lives only two years ago when she arrived
in Israel to study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. But
as soon as we found each other, she became a close part of our family
in Jerusalem. We both had very little family here, and so finding
each other was that much more important. Marla spent countless Shabbatot
with us, many chagim, and time at shul as a member of Kehillat Yedidya.

It seems that whenever someone leaves
us in such a sudden and harsh way, everyone says how special and
unique that person was. In Marla’s case, this was really true. She
was an amazing person and her loss is a devastating loss to the entire
Jewish people. She was always up, always full of energy. Her smile
could melt any sadness. She was smart, tolerant, committed to tradition,
and embodied the very things the Jewish world and the world as a
whole need more of. As a teacher, she would have inspired so many Jewish
children towards those values. Her commitment to tzedakah and helping
people were not just words, but really were an integral part of who
she was.

Marla had a particularly strong connection
with our children who loved her deeply. When the parents needed to
nap on Shabbat, it was Marla who would hang out all afternoon and
play games with them. She made a special effort to come to our daughter’s
violin concert; I think the first time she had been in an Israeli
elementary school. I remember her sitting with us, the proud parents,
just as proud of her 8-year-old cousin. Telling our children about
her death was one of the hardest things we’ve had to do.

When we went on vacation this summer,
we gave Marla the keys to our apartment and car. She was so excited
to have a car to use for the month. or maybe it was the access to
cable TV for a while! I came back after four weeks from my part of
the vacation; Jody and the kids were to stay on in San Diego for
another 3 weeks. Marla was flying to see them the very day she was
murdered. Before I left, we joked that she and I would cross in the
air – as I would be landing literally as she was taking off. Marla’s
last email to Jody was – see you on Friday in San Diego. Now they
will meet again on Monday under entirely different and tragic circumstances.

I have so many wonderful memories of Marla – we would see her almost
every Friday when I took the kids to Pizza Sababa – sometimes she
would sit and join us, sometimes she would just stop for a minute.
Just before we left for vacation, Marla showed us her new apartment;
she was so excited. And she had us over for Shabbat lunch where we
met her parents. Now Jody has been spending every day with them in
San Diego.

Marla’s loss is the first for our
family. Beyond that, a tragedy such as this puts into perspective
our relationship as individuals vs. the national history of the Jewish
people. Too often, in the face of difficult times such as those we
are experiencing now in Israel, we tend to bury our heads, hoping
it will pass over us and our immediate family will get through this
on the way to “better” times. But when someone in your family is targeted
because she is a Jew, you instantly are thrust into part of the collective
Jewish narrative. Your story of tragedy – and also in entirely different
circumstances a story of joy or success – becomes part and parcel
of the Jewish totality. You can no longer see yourself as just individuals.
In this way Marla is not alone, none of us are alone. Our struggle
is collective.

Indeed, Marla wrote these very words
in May in a column she contributed to a San Diego newspaper that
has now been widely circulated online. I’ll repeat the critical lines
here: “My friends and family in San Diego are right when they call
and ask me to come home – it is dangerous here,” she wrote. “I appreciate
their concern. But there is nowhere else in the world I would rather
be right now. I have a front-row seat for the history of the Jewish
people. I am a part of the struggle for Israel’s survival.”

Marla had her eyes wide open. She
knew why she was here. Maybe that’s why, after such news, my reaction
is not that of seeking to flee, to run away to a place perceived
to be somehow “safer,” but rather, my conviction to continue in Israel’s
struggle is strengthened even further.

I have tried to find words of comfort
for my children. My message to them over the phone before Shabbat
was that the best way to preserve Marla’s memory is to use who she
was and what made her special to either change yourselves or change
the world. To make yourself a better person – more like Marla – or
to help make the world a safer, more giving, more loving place. As
they were falling asleep, they didn’t understand exactly what that meant,
but I think in time they will. I know that Marla will never be forgotten
and that we will cherish our times with her through the actions we
take in the future. We miss her so much and she will always be in
our thoughts. — Brian Blum


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