Election of Officers
Shock, Then Awe
hey jumped into the ambulance, their instincts
as medics kicking into gear. They went 80 mph
past green lights, putting on two sets of gloves
and preparing body-parts bags should they be
Leah Stern, a native Detroiter, and other medics for
Magen David Adorn, Israel's emergency and relief agency,
were responding to a suicide bombing in the French Hill
neighborhood of Jerusalem. It was 5:50 a.m. May 18 — a
Sunday. Egged Bus No. 6 had blown up in one of five ter-
rorist acts that killed 12 Israelis and wounded 70 people
"Get there; you have two minutes!"
declared the dispatcher.
Stern, 22, was en route to her first explo-
sion, what Israelis call a pi gua. She was
about to see what so many Israelis have
endured in 32 months of Palestinian ter-
ror; at least 787 Israelis and foreigners have
died in the savagery.
"It is everything I expected it to be, the
ultimate act of violence: blood, body parts,
the expression on the dead sitting upright
with their legs crossed in their seats," she
told me via e-mail.
I was moved by her bluntness. The turbulent landscape
of her life in the Middle East unfolded quickly. Her will to
press on despite the horror underscores just how brave and
determined residents of Israel can be.
Leah is a 2002 graduate of the University of Miami in
Florida; her major included Middle Eastern studies. Her
mother and a brother made aliyah in December 2001. She
moved to Israel in February.
She's not only a medic, but also a Jerusalem Post reporter.
"If everyone had the ability to see the terrors of a
suicide bombing," she said, "they would under-
stand why Israelis are as tough as they are and why
violence cannot be tolerated — that these incidents
of human terror need to cease or else peace will
In Jerusalem's Har Hamenuhot Cemetery, Leah,
awestruck, stood with Lena Perov, a Kazakhstan
emigre whose mother, Nellie, died with six other
Israelis in the French Hill blast the day before.
"I felt her pain through her tears that landed on
my cheek," Leah said. "She embraced the picture
of her mother the entire time."
With her camera focused on Lena, Leah joined other
press representatives in capturing "that second of complete
sadness so others could understand the terrors of terror-
A former magazine administrative assistant and public rela-
tions account executive in New York City, Leah learned
quickly what really matters in Israel. Being able to buy
food and hire school guards — and settling a trade work-
ers' strike so that reeking trash could be collected — seem
infinitely more real to her than wondering which Gucci
bag to wear or which car to lease.
Leah, second youngest of four children, calls her Detroit-
born mother, Leslie, "a starving artist" who paints Judaica.
"I love it here," said Leslie, 51. "There is something in
Jerusalem's air that makes me feel alive. I am with my
Leah's brother Ellie, 20, is a soldier in the Israeli army.
"If you can make it in Israel," he said, "you can make it
He then said something, as related by Leah, that shook
me: "The Jews in America should not stay quiet like dur-
ing the Holocaust, but rise up and truly support Israel."
Moral support and giving money from the diaspora are
important, but stepping off an El Al plane at Ben-Gurion
Airport to personally comfort distraught Israelis and boost
their war-ravaged economy is the ultimate show of sup-
port. The 250 people who so far have made deposits for
Federation's Michigan Miracle Mission 4 to Israel April 18-
28, 2004, speak to Detroit Jewry's sensitivity to that.
Spiraling prices haunt Israel's economy, which is stag-
gered by plunging tourism, rising joblessness and height-
Language is another hurdle. Speaking from experience,
Leah said, "The trick to maximum respect in this country
as an immigrant is to be fluent in Hebrew."
Caution must be foremost, but Israelis can't lose hope.
Breaking the spirit of Israelis is what the terrorists staking
claim to Israel ultimately want.
Leah told me she burned a hole in her wallet taking
"overpriced taxis" before toughening up and starting to
ride the buses, the backbone of Israeli transit. "Violence is
a way of life here," she said, "and if you stick around long
enough, the fear wears off and your survival instincts kick
Concern, Yet Hope
On the front lines as both an Israeli and a journalist, Leah
regrets that Americans rely on an unsympathetic CNN for
news about the Jewish state. She trusts only
America among the international players who bro-
kered the tenuous road map for peace in the
Middle East. As I do, she insists that the
Palestinians must weed out terrorists in their midst
and neutralize Yasser Arafat, their terror-monger -
president, before the map will have a chance to res-
I admire her courage. She gave up many of the
things that Americans take for granted for the risks
of our ancestral homeland.
"I believe that every breath I take here will make a
difference," she said.
Whenever a bus blows up or she's down to just a few
dollars, she wonders if Israel is where she belongs.
"But when I wake up in the morning, and cherish my
cup of coffee and warm cheese berekah [pastry], I am truly
happy," she said. "So what if I have to carry my gas mask
with me everywhere I go and pay almost $2 for a minia-
ture bag of peanut M&Ms? I feel alive."
That's why she resists the temptations of America that
call to her in correspondence and cablecasts. And that's
why she has hardened herself to evildoers.
As she weighs aliyah, she's content that, for now, she'll be
around "when that next call comes in to lend a hand, to
shout out my voice for the world to hear, to know what it
feels like to really be alive, and to live long enough to see
peace between eternal enemies."
She wants me to know that "Israelis are still holding
strong." May that assurance stir the soul of Jews the world
Wednesday, June 4, 2003
D. Dan Et Betty Kahn Building
Jewish Community Center
6600 West Maple Road
Join us to honor
Slate of Officers Directors
Additional 3-Year Term
Beth Kroft Mondry
First 3-Year Term
— No Charge —
30301 Northwestern Highway
Farmington Hills, MI 48334
248.538.6611 • Fax 248.538.6615