The day a suicide bomber killed 19 people in Israel’s capital, a single-page fax from Jerusalem scrolled into a Coeur d’Alene living room.
There, a trembling Helen Stoddard read the latest from her friend, New Yorker-turned-Israeli Zipporah Bennett.
“I was awakened again at 6:30 a.m. by siren after siren of ambulances and the sound of helicopters buzzing overhead,” the March 2 message read. “I dragged myself out of bed to the TV, fearing the worst. The morning aerobic lesson was quickly eclipsed by the emergency news flash - another bus bombing, this time just around the corner.”
For Stoddard, Israel’s recent bombings and the assassination last fall of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin are not distant tragedies.
The Coeur d’Alene resident, Israeli citizen, Jew and scholar spent much of the past week wondering, worrying and grieving for her war-torn homeland.
“I always have my finger on the pulse of Israel,” Stoddard said Friday. “That is my life. Here is not my life.”
She’s not alone. Dozens of North Idaho families have friends and relations now living or touring terrorist-stricken Israel.
An elderly Hayden Lake couple, Holocaust survivors, struggled this week to reach a brother who left Poland with them and now resides in Jerusalem. Another Coeur d’Alene couple has a son who serves as a television news correspondent there.
Coeur d’Alene travel agent Rhonda Sand led 34 North Idaho Christians to Tel Aviv last Sunday, the day of the second bombing in Jerusalem 24 miles away. She returned to Coeur d’Alene midweek.
“We went into the hotel that first night and said ‘What on earth is happening?”’ Sand said Friday, from her office at TMI Travel. “Every street corner had policemen with guns.”
The next day, as the group headed south, another bomber killed a cluster of pedestrians near a Tel Aviv mall. “That mall was like ‘the’ meeting place for kids,” Sand said.
Few of the tour members were rattled, Sand said, because they were riding tour buses and bombers seemed to focus on city buses. Family and friends in the states are updated daily, she said.
“My mom was more afraid for me than I was because as far as she knew, we were right there,” she said.
Post Falls’ Koinonia House founder Chuck Missler - who organized the tour - contacted his office earlier this week to say the terrorism has barely interrupted the trip.
“They feel they are where they’re supposed to be,” said Koinonia’s Carol Gill in Post Falls.
Stoddard has been reading about Hamas, the terrorist organization that claims responsibility for the bombings. She keeps their “manifesto” on a dining room table - even though one tenet urges the murdering of Jews.
It reminds her that the Israel she knew as a resident in 1992 was a place where the sight of armed people was more reassuring than scary.
“Children on field trips would bend over to pick up something and you’d see pistols in their waistbands,” she said. “I’ve moved the barrel of an M-16 off my lap when a soldier fell asleep next to me on a bus.”
“At no time did I feel frightened, and I’m not a brave person,” she said.
Andy Day isn’t frightened either, even though his father, the Rev. Ashley Day of Coeur d’Alene Bible Church, and mother, Edna Day, are with the Koinonia House tour. He’s spoken with them once since they arrived.
“They saw a few roadblocks, but they were headed out to the Sea of Galilee and were safe and sound,” he said. “They’re all in the Lord’s hands. And that’s his country.”
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