Rabbi Barry Marcus spent many years living in Israel, but he never came as close to a terrorist atrocity as he did in London Marcus, the rabbi of the Central Synagogue on Great Portland Street, was cycling across Tavistock Square on the morning of July 7 when he heard and felt “an incredible blast.” Just yards away, a bomb on the No. 30 bus had exploded.
“I saw the roof of the bus go up in a plume of white smoke and all the windows of the building nearby go through,” said the South African-born Marcus, who holds the Israel portfolio in Orthodox Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Cabinet. “I knew in my gut it was a bomb.”
The tranquil central London square — a place devoted to peace, with a Holocaust memorial standing near a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and a cherry tree from Hiroshima — had turned into a vision of hell strewn with broken glass and severed body parts.
Blood was splashed high up against the wall of the nearby headquarters of the British Medical Association.
“There was an incredible amount of glass and massive lumps of human flesh all over the place,” Marcus recalled. “People were almost glued to the back part of the bus, the seats in front blown into their chest cavities. There was absolute mayhem. In my mind I saw all the images of Israeli buses blown up and thought, ‘It is now here. The barbarians are now at our gates.’ “
With most of the United Kingdom’s 290,000 Jews living in London, it was with a sense of inevitability that the community awaited details of possible Jewish casualties, as missing commuters were listed and fatality totals were announced.
At least 49 people are known to have died. With more than 20 still missing and more than 60 still being treated at hospitals, the number of deaths is expected to rise.
The first Jewish death officially confirmed was Susan Levy, 53, a mother of two from Hertfordshire, who was killed on her way to work in the subway-train explosion near King’s Cross.
“We are all distraught at her needless loss, and our thoughts and prayers are also with the many other families affected by this horrendous tragedy,” said her husband, Harry, a taxi driver, who described Levy as a “much-loved wife and mother.”
Other Jewish families face an agonizing wait. Miriam Hyman, 32, a freelance picture editor, called her father, John, from King’s Cross Station at 9:45 a.m. Thursday to say she was all right.
That was the last anyone has heard from her.
After a fruitless search of London’s hospitals, “we are just waiting,” Hyman’s mother, Mavis, told JTA.
Hyman, from Hampstead Garden Suburb in north London, was traveling to work at Canary Wharf. It was typical of her character, her mother said, that the attacks didn’t deter her.
“She phoned work to say she was going to be late,” Hyman’s mother said. “She was still obviously determined to get in. I think she didn’t understand the seriousness of what was going on.”
The family of Anat Rosenberg, a 39-year-old Israeli, arrived in the U.K. on Monday morning as hope faded of finding her alive.
The children’s charity worker had been a passenger on the doomed No. 30 bus. Rosenberg’s British partner, John Falding, said he had been on the phone with her, talking about the travel chaos, when he heard “horrendous screams.”
Ironically, Rosenberg had moved to England nearly two decades ago, partly due to her fear of terrorist attacks in Israel.
As the full horror of the London bombings began to sink in and with the perpetrators still at large, the U.K. Jewish community remains all too aware that the danger is far from over. The experience of the recent terror attacks in Madrid — where a second wave of planned attacks was to include a Jewish social club — and Istanbul and Casablanca, where Jewish sites were targeted in the first wave of strikes, makes that clear.
But synagogues were filled to capacity across London on Shabbat, just one day after the bombings, as Jews of all levels of observance flocked to shul to gain comfort.
“People do certainly come out in the face of tragedy to search for meaning,” said Rabbi Yitzak Schochet of the Mill Hill United Synagogue, who pointed out that the experience of terror is nothing new for many Jews.
“A lot of us have visited Israel countless times and lived in this sort of traumatic situation, even if only for a couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s not that we have been desensitized, but we can be defiant in the face of it.”
That defiance was embodied by Rabbi Michael Harris of the Hampstead Synagogue, in north London, who had his own engagement party planned for the evening of July 7. After discussing it with his fiancee, the couple decided to go ahead.
“It was very poignant and moving,” he said, “to be affirming Jewish life as a response to terror and to not let the terrorists stop us.”
The following night, his synagogue was packed with people wanting to pray together. Like the “stiff upper lip”approach so characteristic of British society, Harris said, “my sense is that the community is determined to carry on.”