JERUSALEM — Nine years after she was injured in a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem, New Jersey native Sarri Singer finally got the courage to get back on a bus in Israel’s capital, not far from where she did on that fateful day.
With a determined demeanor, Singer boarded the bus July 17 in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia with her mother, Judie, and Sheli Gabay, a friend who was injured in a different Jerusalem suicide bombing. The driver, told of his passenger’s experience, refused to accept bus fare from her.
She went right to the seat — halfway up the left side — she had sat in on her last Jerusalem bus ride. After Singer explained her mission, the woman occupying the seat got up and offered her her place and some words of encouragement.
After a short ride to the center of the city, following a route similar to the one she travelled nine years ago, Singer left the vehicle triumphantly, but with a look of relief on her face.
“It was hard but it was good, and next time I won’t have to be so emotional,” Singer told NJJN immediately after disembarking. “I hope that the next time I come to Israel, I won’t have to take so many cabs.”
But then, the day after Singer’s ride, another attack on a bus took place 1,000 miles away from Jerusalem in Bulgaria. Singer said the attack, which killed five Israelis, made her relive her tragic incident.
“I doubt I would have been able to get on the bus if the Bulgaria attack had happened before,” Singer said. “Whenever there is a terrorist attack anywhere in the world, I think of my own experience and relive it. That’s especially true whenever there has been a bus bombing.
“I think of where the bomber detonated himself and what happened immediately after the blast with the people murdered and injured. Any victim feels a connection to any attack. When it’s the same kind of event, that connection is even more real.”
Singer, whose father is New Jersey state Sen. Robert Singer (R-Dist. 30), came to Israel a decade ago to help terror victims. She became one herself on June 11, 2003, when a suicide bomber dressed as a religious Jew blew himself up, murdering 16 people and wounding more than 100. Everyone around her was killed. She was hurt in the shoulder by shrapnel and suffered from pierced eardrums and seared face and hair.
Following treatment at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, Singer returned to New Jersey, where she helped found Strength to Strength (formerly One Heart), a nonprofit organization that brings together terror victims and their families from around the world and assists them with long-term psychological care.
“Strength to Strength aims to raise awareness of the victims’ unmet needs,” Singer said. “We make sure the victims’ entire family are healing. We take them to New York City to share their experiences with political and community leaders and with each other. And there is also a pro-Israel message: Participants who never met Jews or Israelis form bonds of respect with them.”
The organization’s Young Ambassadors program in New York has attracted terror victims from the United States, Israel, England, Northern Ireland, Spain, France, Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, and Argentina. The emotional highlight of such trips has been meetings with family members of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Program participants, Singer said, “go back to their countries more focused on their future, on what they should be doing in life long-term.”
Representing her organization, Singer went to London three weeks ago to attend ceremonies marking the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks there and sharing with people who lost loved ones. Accompanied on her trip by her mother, Singer said the events proved to her once again the need for ongoing support for victims and their families.
Singer received that support herself when she visited Jerusalem this month. She was encouraged to go on the bus by Ron Krumer, external relations director for Hadassah Medical Organization, and other people she met when she was being treated for her injuries. The bus ride was also meaningful for Singer’s mother, Judie — a resident of Lakewood, where her daughter grew up, and a member of Congregation Ahavat Olam in Howell — who had never been on a bus in Israel and who, as the ride ended, expressed her pride in her daughter.
“The bus ride brought things full circle after nine years,” Sarri Singer said. “I was really nervous when I got on the bus but I took a deep breath. I made a point of sitting in the same place and not being afraid. When I got off, it felt very empowering to board a bus again.
“That 18-year-old Palestinian who tried to stop me from boarding a bus again didn’t win. He didn’t accomplish what he set out to do. I defeated him.”