When the Jerusalem bus she was riding on with an American friend on March 23 exploded into flames in a suicide bombing attack, 19-year-old Pia Levine of Highland Park was sure she was about to die.
“All around me people were screaming, bleeding, and crying,” Levine told NJJN. “There was glass and shrapnel flying everywhere.”
At Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim, the Jewish studies program she had been attending with other Orthodox young women, she had seen videos of such attacks and their aftermath.
“You burn to death or survive with terrible burns, so I said the Sh’ma,” Levine said. “That’s one of the things you think about, but never think you’ll do. I was just praying it would not hurt so much when I died.”
Miraculously, when the driver opened the bus doors several blocks later, Levine and her friend, Sara Siegelman — who had pulled her to the floor — got up to discover they had both survived without a scratch, virtually the only ones to be so lucky. One person was killed and more than 30 injured, many of them critically.
The two young women began running as fast as they could, stopping only to call close relatives to tell them they were fine.
Only after she was halfway back to her school, did she notice, she said, “the tears streaming down my face.”
She made it back to the school, but soon realized that she wasn’t totally unscathed by the attack. “I was scared to go outside,” she said. “The flashbacks became unbearable. Every time I stopped moving I could hear the boom, the screaming, picture the glass shattering.”
Fortunately, almost immediately after the incident, she received a phone call from a representative of One Family, an organization that helps terror victims in Israel, who informed the teen she was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and insisted on taking in both women for counseling.
Now, Levine has helped pay back the organization that helped her by competing in the Nautica New York City Triathlon on Aug. 7 as part of Team One Family. The event included a 1,500-meter swim, a 40-kilometer bike ride, and a 10-kilometer run. Levine finished the course in four-and-a-half hours, raising $2,126 toward her $3,000 goal.
For Levine, the link between One Family and endurance sports isn’t coincidental. Because of the organization’s assistance, only two days after the attack in Jerusalem, Levine was also able to compete in the Jerusalem Marathon, helped in part by the support she got from One Family. Two days after that, on a planned visit home in New Jersey, she was put in touch with an American representative of One Family.
“I’m very grateful to them because without them I never would have known to go to the hospital,” said Levine. “You feel very alone at a time like that. I knew I wasn’t wounded physically, but I was injured inside. I don’t know how I could have gotten through without them. Without One Family’s help, I and many others would be lost and overwhelmed.”
The daughter of Debra and the late Seth Levine, the teen went to Jerusalem last August not only to study, but to work on an archeological dig at the site of a 2,000-year-old drainage tunnel under the city. In recent weeks the dig, conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, made international headlines by uncovering a rock with an engraving of a seven-branched menora, and a saber used by a Roman soldier.
“I was there when they found the saber but we weren’t allowed to talk about it until they authenticated and dated it,” said Levine, who is about to begin studying at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women in Manhattan.
Also competing in the triathlon for Team One Family was Matthew Zimmerman, a 29-year-old chiropractic student who grew up in Edison.
“It’s a great charity that really speaks to a lot of my core values of helping those less fortunate in their time of need,” said Zimmerman. “I happen to know some people who were affected by terror in Israel so this is my small way of giving back. Even though this took a lot of work and training, it is nothing compared to living through a terrorist attack.”