JERUSALEM (Mar. 6)
“Answer me,” blared the headline of an Israeli newspaper Thursday, summarizing a father’s desperate efforts to reach his son after their cell phone conversation was cut off by a suicide bomb attack.
For Yossi Mendelevitch, what he feared most came true: His son Yuval, 13, was among the 15 people killed in Wednesday’s bombing of a city bus in the northern city of Haifa.
Like Yuval, many of the victims were teenagers on their way home from school or extracurricular activities. Their stunned classmates and friends gathered at an impromptu memorial at the site of the attack on Thursday, before many headed on to the series of funerals that were held throughout the day.
Mendelevitch recounted how he and his son would regularly speak on the phone during Yuval’s ride home from school.
“We had a normal conversation, and then suddenly he said, ‘Dad, I love you,’ ” Mendelevitch told Army Radio. “In retrospect, those were his last words. The call was cut off for some reason, and I couldn’t reach him again. I hadn’t yet heard about the attack, so I wasn’t worried.”
When he learned of the attack, Mendelevitch said, “a shudder ran through my body.”
Despite initial reports that cited the wrong bus route, Mendelevitch said he had a deep fear it was his son’s bus.
He ran out to begin looking for his son. After searches at area hospitals proved futile, he and his wife realized all was lost.
“We both knew it, we had lost Yuval,” he said.
Mendelevitch described how he wanted to remember his son.
“A whole, handsome boy, like in the pictures,” he said. “He had amazing potential. He loved computer games, math, climbing. He was in a hiking club, he was a good student.”
Mordechai “Moti” Hershko and his son Tom were returning from a trip to Netanya when the explosion took place.
“They were the best of friends, and I’m sure” Moti “is watching over him up above,” said Tom’s mother, Ruth, who was divorced from Hershko.
Tom also had called his mother from the bus to tell her that he was on his way home and that he had a surprise for her.
“He took the surprise with him to his grave,” the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot quoted her as saying.
Relatives told Yediot that financial difficulties had forced Hershko to sell his car, which was why the two were traveling on the bus. They said he had recently found some work and was looking forward to sharing the news with his son and former wife.
Ruth said she had had a surprise waiting for her son as well.
“Tom loved surfing the Internet, and yesterday I hooked him up to high-speed Internet,” she said. “Now no one will use it.”
Ruth described the relationship between her only son and her ex-husband as extremely close.
“They went to a karate class together,” she said. “He was a fantastic father.”
Abigail Leitel, 14, was an eighth grader at Haifa’s Reali High School, concentrating in biology and environmental studies. She was on her way to a friend’s house after school when the explosion occurred.
An American citizen who was born in New Hampshire, Abigail was an infant when her family came to Israel so that her father, Philip, could study at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The family, who are Baptists, settled in Haifa.
At Abigail’s home, family members had a hard time absorbing the tragedy.
“When you live in a place where there is war, you are aware that it could happen. But none of us ever imagined that the terrible day would come when our young daughter would not come home,” her father told Yediot.
Her brother described Abigail as a creative person who was full of love for people and nature.
Abigail and classmate Yuval Mendelevitch were part of the Children Teaching Children program at the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace at Givat Haviva. The program teaches pluralism, tolerance and coexistence.
They and their classmates were preparing for an upcoming encounter with Arab youth from a neighboring town in coming days, reports said.