A Few Words About Our Cousin Marla

by Brian on August 25, 2002

in Living Through Terror

Our cousin Marla came into
our lives only two years ago when she arrived in Israel to study at the
Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. But as soon as we found each other,
she became a close part of our family in Jerusalem. We both had very
little family here, and so finding each other was that much more
important. Marla spent countless Shabbatot with us, many chagim, and
time at shul as a member of Kehillat Yedidya.

It seems that
whenever someone leaves us in such a sudden and harsh way, everyone
says how special and unique that person was. In Marla’s case, this was
really true. She was a remarkable human being – a wonderful, giving,
caring, playful woman with a deep love of deep life – and her death is
a tragic loss to the entire Jewish people. She was always up, always
full of energy. Her smile could melt any sadness. It is not for nothing
that her email address was marlaann@cheerful.com.

She was
smart, tolerant, committed to tradition, and embodied the very things
the Jewish world and the world as a whole need more of. As a teacher,
she would have inspired so many Jewish children towards those values.
Her commitment to tzedakah and helping people were not just words, but
really were an integral part of who she was.

Marla had a
particularly strong connection with our children who loved her deeply.
When the parents needed to nap on Shabbat, it was Marla who would hang
out all afternoon and play games with them – cards with our 11-year-old
Amir, Monopoly with our 9-year-old Merav, or endless rounds of hide and
seek with our 4-year-old Aviv. She made a special effort to come to
Merav’s violin concert; I think the first time she had been in an
Israeli elementary school. I remember her sitting with us, the proud
parents, just as proud of her 9-year-old cousin. Telling our children
about her death was one of the hardest things we’ve had to do.

we went on vacation this summer, we gave Marla the keys to our
apartment and car. She was so excited to have a car to use for the
month… or maybe it was the access to cable TV for a while! I came back
after four weeks from my part of the vacation; Jody and the kids were
to stay on in San Diego for another 3 weeks. Marla was flying to see
them the very day she was murdered. Before I left, we joked that she
and I would cross in the air – as I would be landing literally as she
was taking off. Marla’s last email to Jody was – see you on Friday in
San Diego. They met, instead, a few days later under entirely different
and tragic circumstances.

In the weeks since Marla’s death,
there have been many moving tributes distributed by email and posted
throughout the Internet. What was it about Marla that has touched so
many people in such a profound way? Certainly, she was an amazing
person. But it’s more than that. I think that, in many ways, we are all
Marla. We can see ourselves in Marla – in what we were, what we are, or
what we might become. For Jody and I, the parallels are particularly
striking. Our paths were the same, even though they were separated by
some 17 years.

Marla, Jody and I all grew up in California and
came from reform or unaffiliated backgrounds. Marla and Jody both came
to Israel when they were 22. Each of us studied and became observant at
Pardes. Jody & I met while studying together at Pardes in the early
1980s. Marla and her boyfriend Michael fell in love here in the 21st
Century. Jody & I were married and spent several years in the
States before making Aliyah. This could very likely have been the path
for Marla and Michael as well.

Marla’s friend Shayna told Jody
a story about one day in July, while we were on our vacation and Marla
had use of our car. Shayna and Marla took the car and went to the pool
in the Jerusalem Forest. They had a great time. Afterwards, they came
back to our house because Marla needed to water the plants. That was
the kind of person Marla was – she would never miss a day. While there,
Marla took Shayna on a tour of all the photographs in our living room.
She kvelled over the kids.

Marla looked at us and saw what her
own life could become, and we looked at her and imagined anew the
possibilities of life and what it would bring, as she was starting out
on her path. Would she and Michael truly marry? Would they have
children? How many? Where would they live? What would they do? Would
they be happy? In what ways would they change the world? In what ways
have they already changed it?

When we look at Marla’s destiny
now, we can also imagine that it could have been any one of us at
Hebrew University that day. That our life, so fresh with promise at age
24, could have been cut down mercilessly and everything that has
unfolded since would never have come to be. Marla touched all of us
because she was all of us, either now or at one time.

When a
tragedy such as this befalls us, it puts into perspective our
relationship as individuals vs. the national history of the Jewish
people. Too often, in the face of difficult times such as those we are
experiencing now in Israel, we tend to bury our heads, hoping it will
pass over us and our immediate family will get through this on the way
to “better” times. But when someone in your family is targeted because
she is a Jew, you instantly are thrust into part of the collective
Jewish narrative. Your story of tragedy – and also in entirely
different circumstances a story of joy or success – becomes part and
parcel of the Jewish totality. You can no longer see yourself as just
individuals. In this way Marla is not alone, none of us are alone. Our
struggle is collective.

Indeed, Marla wrote these very words in
May in a column she contributed to a San Diego newspaper that has now
been widely circulated online. I’ll repeat the critical lines here: “My
friends and family in San Diego are right when they call and ask me to
come home – it is dangerous here,” she wrote. “I appreciate their
concern. But there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be right
now. I have a front-row seat for the history of the Jewish people. I am
a part of the struggle for Israel's survival.”

Marla dared to
express the feelings we are sometimes afraid to say out loud. That this
place we live in IS dangerous…but that it’s worth it. That life is more
than just a new SUV, a movie theater with stadium seating and 400
channels of digital cable. It is that meaning is critical. That some
things are worth fighting for.

And yet, just three months
before those words were published, in February, when she was in the
States doing her student teaching, she emailed Jody asking for some
words of strength and encouragement to come back. She was worried.
Scared. Was this the right thing to do? And we gave her the words she
was seeking. Now it is Marla, through her words and her actions, who is
giving strength and encouragement to all of us to continue in the
struggle, to not give up, to not run away to a place that we perceive
to be somehow “safer.” But rather to remain part of community – this
community – and participate fully in the unfolding national Jewish

Marla had her eyes wide open. She knew why she was here.
And her actions were contagious. Debbie Jacobson who knew Marla from
the Educator’s Program, sent out an email to the Pardes community where
she related speaking with Marla’s mother Linda after the funeral in San
Diego. “Go back to Israel next year, don’t even think about not going
back,” Linda told Debbie. “Marla would have wanted you to go back. It
would be a waste of Marla’s life and everything she stood for if you
don’t go back”. That a mother while still in the throes of mourning
over the loss of her precious daughter could say such a remarkable
thing is a testament to the way Marla has already changed the world.

have tried to find words of comfort for my children. My message to them
when I spoke to them over the phone in San Diego after the hearing the
tragic news was that the best way to preserve Marla’s memory is to use
who she was and what made her special to either change yourselves or
change the world. To make yourself a better person – more like Marla –
or to help make the world a safer, more giving, more loving place.

this, I would add that we must do it together, as a community,
following in the path that Marla was on – the path that we have all
been on, or that we are on now, or that we will be on in the future.

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