SAN DIEGO – Spilling beyond the doors of a synagogue, thousands of people gathered Monday to honor Marla Bennett and to mourn the 24-year-old California woman they remembered as accomplished, loving, idealistic and filled with promise.
Bennett, a graduate student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was killed Wednesday when a remotely detonated bomb exploded in a university cafeteria. Six other people, including four Americans, also died in the midday blast.
An estimated 2,000 people crowded into the Tifereth Israel Synagogue, many of them weeping as the cantor sang mournful songs of faith.
“Can there be a lament greater than for a young life lost?” asked Rabbi Martin Lawson.
“We grieve for what might have been, for joys unrealized, for tasks undone, for hopes thwarted, for growth arrested.”
A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Bennett was in the second year of a three-year master’s program at Hebrew University and was taking a Hebrew language course.
Lawson recalled Bennett as a determined woman with “an endless sparkle in her eyes.”
Her Jewish faith had grown in the years since her bat mitzvah and her first trip to Israel at age 16, he said.
In recent years she had begun to follow strict Jewish law and gave up driving on the Sabbath — which she made into an opportunity to take long walks with her father, Michael.
Even as a teenager, Bennett worked to feed and clothe the homeless. During the last two years she spent in Israel she continued her charitable work while exploring her religion and cultural history.
“To be with Marla was magic, spiritual magic,” Lawson said.
Even though her family feared for her safety, they supported her decision to live in Israel.
Lawson quoted her mother, Linda, as saying: “She was where she wanted to be, doing what she wanted to do.”
Lawson said, “Sadly Marla Bennett is one of Israel’s martyrs for shalom, peace.”
Bennett was to have returned to San Diego on Saturday to attend a family bar mitzvah and the wedding of a college friend. Her boyfriend, Michael Simon of Long Beach, was to have joined her later. Instead he arrived in San Diego early Monday, escorting Bennett’s body.
A grief-stricken Simon said Bennett had seen every moment of her life as an opportunity “to bring goodness into the world.”
Terry Smooke, a representative of Gov. Gray Davis, presented the family a state flag that had flown over the Capitol and announced that the day was being recognized as “Marla Bennett Memorial Day” for all Californians.
Reading a statement from Davis, she said: “The clenched fist of religious hatred and violence ... has now struck one of our own.”
Tzvi Vapni, an Israeli deputy consul general, praised Bennett for her commitment to her faith and for her willingness to live in Israel “in this most challenging time.”
“We will remember her as one of the innocent, one of the brave, one of the best,” Vapni said.