Deleting Marla

by Brian on August 26, 2005

in Living Through Terror

A cell phone is an intensely intimate device. It’s not just that it can
be used for conducting personal conversations in discrete locations.
What you have stored on your phone’s memory card tells a lot about a person.

I’ve had several phones over the years, all with the little SIM
memory cards that can go from unit to unit. As a result, I haven’t had
to reprogram old numbers. My address book is like a walk through the
last 6-7 years of my life.

I have the numbers of people who I used to call all the time: work
colleagues, friends with whom I was close but who have since become
more acquaintance than buddy.

There are temporary phone numbers still on there that I never bothered
to delete, like the one for a taxi service in Amsterdam or the
international switchboard at my last job.

Usually the numbers just sit there, waiting for some practical use.
Occasionally, though, when I have some down time and I’ve neglected to
bring a book or my IPod, I’ll pull out the phone and start browsing
with the intent to remove a number or two. I’ve pretty much maxed out
my card’s capacity. Better to be prepared than be caught by the dreaded
“memory full” error message. Usually I don’t get much past the letter G
or H before it’s time to move on to some other activity.

So that’s what I was doing last week while on a train ride through a
glacier during our family’s vacation in Switzerland. The kids were either
reading or playing with their GameBoys; Jody had closed her eyes, and
I had seen so much breathtaking scenery I needed break in order to keep
from becoming blasé.

I scrolled by several names I considered removing, then thought better of it.

The home phone of the surgeon who operated on my hernia five and a half
years ago. No, the hernia could still come back. Better save that one
for an emergency.

A friend who has since moved from Israel to Toronto. I’ll get his new number and update the existing entry.

My old accountant. Maybe later. The tax authorities have a nasty habit of showing up when you least expect them.

It was a long ride and I found myself getting further into the address book than usual. I skimmed past Howard…Jenny…Lynne….

And then, as I was half way though the alphabet, there was a
name I didn’t expect. In all caps, the phone practically screamed at me.

The display read: “MARLA BENNETT.”

The irony of the timing was not lost on me.

This Saturday night will be the three year yahrtzeit of our cousin’s
death. Marla Bennett was murdered by terrorists while eating lunch in
the cafeteria at Hebrew University on July 31, 2002. Saturday, the 22nd
of the month of Av, marks the Hebrew date.

Marla was in Israel studying to be a teacher at the Pardes Institute.
She quickly became a “regular” at our Shabbat table and developed a
particularly strong connection with our children. I will never forget
how Marla went out of her way to come to our daughter Merav’s violin
concert at school just a month before her death; she was so proud of
her little Israeli cousin. A photograph of Marla taken with our then
four-year-old son Aviv, snapped in our sukka, stands
near the front door, silently bidding us goodbye each day as we head off to school or work. Three years is not
too long to vividly remember her infectious laugh, her enduring smile

And yet, despite my desire to keep her memory alive, I can’t help
asking: what purpose does holding onto her old number in my phone
memory serve?

This was not the first time I’d stumbled across it during a
search for numbers to delete, of course. Each time, though, I decided to
let it stay there. The physical action of clicking the “Erase” button
while Marla’s name was displayed has been something, symbolically at
least, I’ve just not been ready for.

But maybe it’s finally time.

When I started writing this blog three years ago it was as an emotional
response to Marla’s death. I wanted readers know what it was like to
live daily with terror. I felt it important to show why we
chose to come here and how we had been able to continue living a so
called “normal” life in Israel.

Moreover, I hoped that the action of writing about “normal” Israel
would place Marla’s decision to live, study – and ultimately die – here
in some sort of context. That she was not simply in the wrong place at
the wrong time, as some might claim. But rather her presence in Israel
was a conscious and deliberate expression of a young woman’s commitment
to her people.

I felt a responsibility to live up to the words from her often-quoted
opinion piece
in a local Jewish newspaper. “There’s no place I’d rather
be,” she wrote in not-so-subtle defiance of family and friends who urged her, in that the
horrible Spring of 2002, to return to San Diego. But how could she? “I have a front row seat for the history
of the Jewish people,” she said with conviction.

As her third yahrtzeit approaches, then, I wonder: is it time to make
way in my cellular address book for newer, working numbers?

I resolved to delete the number…but not until we got home from our
vacation. I wanted to call it one last time. I can’t say why exactly.
Another symbolic act. I fully expected to receive an out of order

Instead, the number rang.

How could that be, I thought? How could they have given Marla’s phone
number to somebody else? How could they be so insensitive? Don’t they
have a record of such things in the social security office or

After five, maybe six rings, the new owner’s voicemail picked up. There
was no personal outgoing greeting and I didn’t leave a message.

An hour later over dinner my phone rang. Jody picked it up. The words
MARLA BENNETT CALLING flashed across the screen. Jody held the phone
out to me. She looked like she’d seen a ghost.

I quickly explained what
I’d done earlier and how whoever I’d called must have punched in redial
to see who had called earlier but failed to leave a message.

I let it ring.

Later that night, I deleted the number once and for all.

Three years after her death, Marla remains in my heart and in my soul.
She will forever be a part of my memory, even if she’s no longer on my
phone card.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 7:30 pm

Mrs. Chaya-Baila Spira writes:

I'm sitting here at work crying my eyes out.
May her neshama have an aliya – I firmly believe that this blog serves as a conduit for that.
Kol Tuv and Shabbat Shalom,
Mrs. Chaya Baila Spira
PAssaic, NJ USA
2 Anonymous August 26, 2005 at 3:37 am

ommie fazel writes:

Marlas smile is very touching indeed, and seeing this beautiful face one cannot imagine how life had been cruel , and how terrorists had been merciless and denying her life . God bless her soul , and help her relatives and friends to carry on , rememering and redeeming her pious goals.
3 Anonymous August 26, 2005 at 12:02 pm

Abbi Adest writes:

I learned with Marla at Pardes and Hebrew U. I'm thinking a lot about Marla now as well. My most vivid memory of her is waiting with her for a class at Hebrew U to begin and watching her eat a hard boiled egg as a snack. It's so mundane but I can't get it out of my head.
She was one of those friends that you have where you both know it would be great if we got closer, but we never had the chance. (She was the year below me in the educator's program and our paths just kept skimming rather then meeting).
But I knew her enough that the minute I woke up in the States and heard about the pigua, I went into hysterics. It pierced me like nothing else in my life so far.
Marla was indeed an extraordinary woman and her memory and energy will never be deleted from the people who knew and loved her.
Shabbat Shalom
4 Anonymous September 23, 2005 at 7:03 pm

Anonymous writes:

I don't even know how I came across your blog, but I did. And I read enough to get to this entry. Beautifully written, beautifully expressed, and beautiful story.

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