Israelis mourn U.S. tragedy

JERUSALEM, Sept. 12 (JTA) — It was a quiet day on Bethlehem Road in Jerusalem, where cars usually clog the narrow street lined with small shops and locals like to chat over coffee at one of several cafes.

But the sorrow and sadness over America’s terrorist tragedy was palpable Wednesday, declared as a day of mourning by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“We feel like this happened to us,” Victor Levy said, sitting behind the counter of his newsstand. “Everybody’s been mourning since this happened because it feels like our tragedy.”

As a day of mourning, flags at all government offices were flown at half staff. Radio stations played slow music while the state-run television stations remained focused on the aftermath of the hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington for much of the day.

Like many Israelis, Levy had his eyes glued to CNN, where images of the destroyed World Trade Center were displayed on the television mounted above the counter.

His neighbor across the street, Yehiel Tobol, was in the same position in his corner grocery store. He bagged cartons of milk and made change, but found it hard to tear his eyes away from the television set.

“This is a national disaster for us as well,” Tobol said. “It’s a deep, shocking hit that we’ve all taken.”

Tobol, like many of the store owners on Bethlehem Road, serves a large number of American immigrants who live in the neighborhood, many of them former New Yorkers.

But it wasn’t just the American immigrants living in Israel who were mourning the devastation caused by the terror attacks.

Israelis were deeply affected as well, and their grief-stricken faces said it all.

“I felt it all day long,” Timna Ella, 26, said, while stacking cans of cat food in her pet shop. “New York is a symbol of freedom, I can’t wait to go back there and all of a sudden I feel like I’ve been hit in the gut.”

Ella, like many young Israelis, spent more than a year in the United States. She lived with a family in a Westchester County suburb, working as an au pair. But her weekends were spent with friends in the city.

“I feel like a New Yorker,” Ella said, blinking away tears. “I called all my friends in Boston, in New York, in Chicago. But I sent e-mails when I couldn’t get through on the phone.”

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has so far received the names of 4,000 Israelis believed to have been in the areas of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon at the time of the attacks. The fate of many of them are not yet known.

“It’s like Judgment Day,” Ashira Keyran said, sitting with her two sons, Dan, 24 and Ori, 16, outside their home just off Bethlehem Road. “I feel a lot of sadness and if I forget for a moment, someone says something and I’m reminded all over again.”

Her sons, particularly Dan, said they felt more distant from the tragedy.

“If people get killed here, it hurts me more,” Dan said. “I have this sense of Israel saying, ‘I told you so, because we’ve been fighting terror all along.’ Now Americans will know what it’s like in the Middle East.”

Ashira didn’t admonish her son. But she shook her head and sighed.

“This is like hundreds of times worse than the Sbarro bombing,” she said, referring to the recent suicide bombing in a Jerusalem pizzeria that killed 15 Israelis.

“It’s about intense hatred of America, and they don’t deserve that kind of hatred. No one does.”

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