By Dr. Joseph Chuman,
Leader of The Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County
For our platform on Sunday, January 4th I am pleased to announce that Mike Kelly, longstanding columnist for The Record, will be our guest. I will be interviewing Mike on his new and widely acclaimed book, The Bus on Jaffa Road.
The Bus on Jaffa Road
The book tells the story of Sara Duker, a young woman who grew up in Teaneck, graduated from Barnard College, and went to Israel to study microbiology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. On Sunday morning, February 26, 1996, Sara, together with her boyfriend, Matthew Eisenfeld, boarded a bus on the first leg of a trip to visit the ancient monuments in Petra in Jordan, just east of the border with Israel. The Oslo Accords of a few years earlier and the hope for peace that they inspired opened up opportunities for such an excursion that might not have been possible at an earlier time. As the bus approached the Jerusalem terminal, a young man, dressed as an Israeli student, inconspicuously boarded the bus, holding a duffel bag. At the determined moment, he stood up in the aisle, held the bag to his chest and pressed a button. The explosion left 26 dead. Among them were Sara Duker and Matthew Eisenfeld.
The death of Sara Duker, a young woman of tremendous promise, was an unspeakable tragedy, most of all for those who knew and loved her, her sisters and especially her mother, Arline, who continues to live and work in Teaneck. It was similarly a tragedy for the parents of Matthew Eisenfeld, who live in Connecticut outside of Hartford. Mike narrates the story of Sara and Matthew and their families with great personalism and warmth. But what adds special interest to this act of terrorism is not only the political context in which it took place but also its aftermath.
Tracing the trail back to Iran
Beyond mourning the death of their children, Sara’s and Matthew’s parents have sought justice for their murder. Using elements in a new law passed during the Clinton Administration when the bombing took place, the families committed themselves to tracing the trail that led back from the suicide bomber to the original source that funded the bombing and thereby had egregious complicity in this act of terrorism. The search led to and ended with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Their strategy was to attempt to sue the Iranian government in an American court for civil damages. Their goal was not personal compensation but to serve to expose and deter the Iranian government from bankrolling future acts of terror, which had become a well grounded function of Iranian foreign policy.
Mike Kelly is as splendid a writer as he is a journalist. His writing, based on meticulous research from many diverse sources, is at once very detailed but portrayed in a style that is open, flowing and compellingly engages the reader in the multiple dimensions of the story. His descriptions of Sara, Matthew and Sara’s mother, Arline, are drawn with sensitivity and humanity. Yet he does not refrain from explicating the political, legal, judicial context and facts that render this path-breaking story important and relevant to the troubled times in which we live.
I should also mention that this platform is personally significant to me. Arline Duker is a professional colleague of my wife, Linda, and she has been a personal friend to both of us from the days before the tragic death of her daughter. I have titled our program “Terrorism Very Close to Home: An Interview with Mike Kelly on his book The Bus on Jaffa Road.” I hope you can join Mike and me this Sunday for what will prove to be a very special program at the Ethical Society.