15 Years Later

I will never in my life forget this day, 15 years ago, when my friend, Howard Simpson, called me frantically during the work day. “We can’t get a hold of Marla. We’re calling her and it just goes to her voicemail.”

Marla Bennett z”l

We didn’t know it in that moment but Marla Bennett z”l was murdered that day in the bombing at Hebrew University.

While I was not personally very close to her, Marla and I had lived parallel lives in many ways – we both grew up at southern California Jewish camps, we attended UC Berkeley together and were active in Berkeley Hillel, we both lived in Jerusalem, attending The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1999, and both of us had ideas and ambitions of pursuing a career in Jewish professional life.

Except that Marla never got to realize her dream. Her precious, young life was stolen from her when she was only 24 years old in a room where I had sat with her countless times. Marla could have been any one of us, young and ambitious and with so much promise for leading and touching any number of Jewish communities.

Fifteen years later, I remember driving from Las Vegas, where I was living at the time, with my mom, to Marla’s funeral. As I told my kids today, that funeral was probably the saddest experience I’ve ever had. I remember my mom turning to me and just blurting out loud what was playing on repeat in her head: “That could have been you.” It’s true; Marla and I had such similar paths up until the last few years of her life and really, it was only by circumstantial happenstance that I was not in Israel that year, studying in Jerusalem. Had I been accepted to

The Memorial to Marla Bennett z”l at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

rabbinical school, I would have been there too. Many of my other friends were there.


Fifteen years later, I grieve for the life she never got, the career she never pursued, the students who missed out on her teaching, the family she left behind and the family she never got to build. When I was in Jerusalem this past November, I walked past an intersection near Ben Yehudah Street where I have this vivid memory of hanging out with Marla and many other friends on Erev Purim. I know it sounds crazy but I sensed her there. Her presence lingers in Jerusalem and it lingers in all of us, even in those of us who were more tangential to her life, even in those individuals that she probably did not even realize she had influenced.

Fifteen-years ago, when I was not even 24 years old, and very much still figuring out my path, Marla’s death reminded me of how fragile life can be.

Fifteen years later, her life reminds me of the goodness in relationships, how even the briefest encounters can influence someone’s trajectory. Her friends and family have been an incredible community that has carried on her legacy and for that I am grateful. Does the world look any better 15 years later? I’m not sure that it does. But I try to carry Marla’s eternal optimism with me regardless.