Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Remembering Marla Bennett: Ten years after the Hebrew University bombing

Posted by Oyster on August 1, 2012

Yesterday, July 31st marks 10 years since the terrorst attack on the Hebrew University cafeteria. Among the victims was Marla Bennett, a Cal student that I knew from the Berkeley Bayit. I wrote about my memories from that painful day on Oy Bay previously.

There are several important ways that people have chosen to honor Marla over the years. One of them is the Marla Bennett Jewish Learning Fellowship at UC Berkeley Hillel. Below please find a letter sent by the committee overseeing this fund (most of them close friends of Marla) via Berkeley Hillel, followed by a speech delivered by the Marla Bennett Jewish Learning Fellow, Teddy Ulansey. I encourage everyone to donate anything, even just $18, to perpetuate Marla’s memory.

As summer unfolds, our thoughts turn to Marla Bennett’s life and untimely death.  This July 31st will mark 10 years since Marla died, but we know you’ll agree that her memory lives on in each of us.  Marla was a special person who deeply touched the lives of everyone she came in contact with.   Knowing her helped shape who each of us is today.  For that, and so much more, we are forever grateful.

Marla was a gifted student as well as a natural teacher.  This special combination is what made her studies in Israel all the more compelling for her.  We are comforted to know that Marla’s desire to learn and to teach continues to be a light in the world through the Marla Bennett Memorial fund established in her honor at Berkeley Hillel.  Last year the fund raised more than $10,000 thanks to the incredible generosity of you and others like you.  These funds enabled Teddy Ulansey, last year’s Fellow to spend a life-changing summer at Pardes in Israel.  If you weren’t able to join us for Teddy’s Day of Learning at Hillel this past spring, we hope you’ll take the time to read her reflections of living in Israel and learning in Marla’s memory.

This summer Ben Brint, the 2012-2013 Marla Bennett Memorial Fund Award recipient, is learning at Pardes and continuing to honor Marla’s memory through study.  We are already looking forward to the insights and perspectives he will gain and bring back to us from his time at Pardes at his Day of Learning scheduled for spring ‘13.

Our goal into the future remains the same: each year we hope to send at least one new Marla Bennett Memorial fellow to Israel to study in her memory. We are once again asking for your help to make this dream a reality.   If each donor can make a 10% increase we will easily match and exceed the total raised last year, and secure the ability to send a fellow to Israel in the summer of 2013.

You can make a donation in the enclosed envelope, or online by visiting the Berkeley Hillel website at www.berkeleyhillel.org/donate/ and in the comment field write Marla Bennett Fellowship. Please give as generously as you can.

Thank you for your partnership in this meaningful endeavor.

Hila Abel

Alana (Hoffman) Rotter

Josh Miller

Lesley (Said) Matsa

Eileen Shelden

From Berkeley Hillel’s student leadership page:

The Marla Bennett Jewish Learning Fellowship honors Marla’s memory and legacy by bringing Jewish learning to campus. Each year, the Fellow spends a month in Israel studying at Pardes: Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. In the fall, they return to campus and spend the next year bringing as many opportunities of Pardes-style learning back to the Cal community.

Below is an essay written by Teddy Ulansey, our 2011-2012 Fellow.


This time last year, I was hearing Marla’s name for the first time.  I had no concept of the meaning that name would eventually come to hold.  Marla has become more than a name, more than the stories I’ve heard, more than the picture on the wall at Pardes.  And a year ago, I never would have guessed that she would become a part of my life as real and as meaningful as my friends and family.  In June of last summer I traveled to Jerusalem to begin my studies at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies.  I had no idea what to expect, and I still can’t quite put into words the effect the experience had on me.

On my first day, I settled into my apartment in the mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhood of Abu Tor in south-east Jerusalem, a block away from the old Jordanian border and a 30 minute walk to Pardes.  I never took the bus during my time there; I loved walking every inch of the city.  Walking to school on my first day was nerve-wracking.  I had no idea what to expect, and the entire time I kept wondering how Marla felt on her first day.  I knew Marla was bright and fun; she was outgoing and talkative.  I knew she would have walked through the door and embraced every part of her experience, so I tried to do the same.  And when I walked through the door, I immediately saw the pictures of Marla and Ben on the wall.  At that moment I was struck by the fact that this was Marla’s place.  She had walked up and down those hallways day after day, she had studied for hours in the classrooms, and she probably had a favorite seat in the Beit Midrash.  The days went by quicker than I thought was possible, considering we were studying from 8:30-5 every day.  And as much as I like to think I’m a decent college student, I have never studied more intensely than during my month at Pardes.  I filled notebook after notebook with half thought out revelations and completely nonsensical ideas about Rashi and the Rambam, Torah and Talmud.  I went from knowing no one to arguing with my chevrutot like we were family.  Pardes fully embraces the Jewish idea that learning is best done while yelling, so I learned how to yell.  It was unlike anything I’d experienced before or since, and I miss it every day.  Pardes is populated with people from across the world, political spectrums, observance levels, and from ages 18-80, and somehow they all became a family.  Marla was and is an inseparable part of that family, and now I’m lucky enough to be a part of it too.  I thought about her every day in the Beit Midrash.  What would she think of this parsha or that?  What advice would she give me about living in Jerusalem?

One of the rabbis sent me an essay Marla had written about her life in Israel and I had to laugh at how some experiences in Israel are shared by everyone.  I’d like to share a part of the essay that resonated with me.

“I’ve been living in Israel for over a year and a half now, and my favorite thing to do here is go to the grocery store.  I know, not the most exciting response from someone living in Jerusalem these days.  But going grocery shopping here – deciphering the Hebrew labels and delighting in all of the kosher products – as well as picking up my dry cleaning, standing in long lines at the bank, and waiting in the hungry mob at the bakery – means that I live here.  I am not a tourist; I deal with Israel and all of its complexities, confusion, joy and pain every single day.  And I love it.”

My experience with Israeli grocery stores was not quite so rosy.  Like Marla, I loved wandering up and down the aisles trying to figure out the labels and, failing that, throwing it in my basket anyway.  Leaving the store, however, is what I dreaded more than anything.  My Hebrew is less than perfect, and my accent is just embarrassing.  After working myself up to brave the checkout line I tried, never successfully, to not make a fool out of myself.  My first grocery trip ended in the charming old checkout lady getting so frustrated with my lack of comprehension of heavily Russian-accented Hebrew that she actually snatched my wallet out of my hands and counted my money out for me on the counter.  Turns out she just wanted to know if I had any smaller change, but that obviously went straight over my head.

Day by day, I settled into my routine in Jerusalem and at Pardes, and like all things, it came to an end much too soon.  I understand now why Marla loved even the tiniest aspects of life in Israel because I do too.  It was so hard to say goodbye to my tiny apartment, to my new family at Pardes, and to everything I had come to love about my life there.  Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be able to come back and share all of those things with my friends and family here, and especially to share about Marla.  Until last year, I didn’t know what an impact she had on the Jewish community here; I didn’t even know that she lived in the same house I live in now.  Until today, I didn’t know we lived in the same room.  Marla was the foundation of my Pardes family, and after finding out that she was a Bayitnik, she became a part of my Berkeley family too.  Marla gave me a gift that I can’t even begin to describe.  She inspired me at Pardes to approach everything with the whole-hearted enthusiasm I knew she would have.  She inspires me here to help build a more caring Jewish community.  This Day of Learning is all I can do to give part of that gift back to Marla, so I’d like to thank you all for coming and for taking part in the legacy Marla left us.  It means a lot to me, and I know it would mean the world to her as well.

May Marla’s memory always be as a blessing. May we blog again in happier times.

Other websites discussing Marla or the bombing:


2 Responses to “Remembering Marla Bennett: Ten years after the Hebrew University bombing”

  1. Tovah Nachmani said

    Your writing is a very sensitive tribute to Marla.
    It would so much rather have seen a photo of beautiful Marla.
    This photo of the bodies is what one of my teachers once called pornographic- i.e. the viewing of something that the one being photographed would have preferred to have been kept private. In her honor and memory, please reconsider.

    • Oyster said

      Hi Tovah,

      Thank you for taking the time to write. I appreciate that.

      There were many pictures that I could have used for this post. Why did I pick that one? When I stumbled upon it at the Israel Foreign Ministry webpage regarding the Hebrew University bombing, it really shook me to the core. It brought back all of the painful memories of that day. I thought that this picture, even if uncomfortable, would best convey my sense of horror of the bombing that took several lives, one of them being Marla. I knew that this picture would be distasteful for some. My sense is that if this was offensive to any of the families, the Israel Ministry would have taken it down.

      I also would like to say that I am offended that you refer to my choice as “pornographic”. That’s a hell of a way to start a conversation. Unfortunately, we will never know in this world what was the preference of the victims: to have no one see the scene of their despicable murders, or to have the whole world never forget the atrocity, even via graphic depiction?

      I will provide you a compromise, Tovah: Please find me an alternative photograph that is more tasteful in your view. I will put your replacement at the top of the post, along with moving the more controversial photo “behind the jump”, with a warning, so that people will be warned of graphic imagery before they see it. Is that fair?

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