Text size

Until the last academic year, Jerusalem's ulpana (religious girls' high school) was situated in the center of Jerusalem. A number of the school's art and rehearsal halls were within an earshot of the many bombings that had rocked the capital.

The ulpana is now in the Katmonim neighborhood, near where the St. Simon monastery stood. In March, several months after the move, the school's principal, Rachel Lifschitz, told Etrog, the journal for religious teachers, that there was a sense of relief among the staff and the pupils that they had left the city's center.

"The physical distance from the center has given the girls the ability to study and create in better conditions," she said. "Still, there is always the sense of a deep loss. Five years ago, we lost a pupil, Yael Batwin, in a bombing at the [Ben Yehuda] pedestrian mall," she said.

The sense of loss returned yesterday like a nightmare that refuses to go away. Hodaya Asraf, 13, a pupil at the school, was killed in yesterday's bus bombing in Jerusalem's Kiryat Menachem neighborhood, close to her home. A schoolmate of hers was also injured in the attack.

"She [her friend] was only injured and not killed, because Hodaya boarded the bus first, and her friend had not yet gotten on," friends of the two girls said tearfully.

Like other Jerusalem schools, the ulpana is all too familiar with such tragic incidents. It is a small school, with 300 pupils, and has a family-like atmosphere.

Girls with artistic inclination from all parts of the capital go to the school, "but Kiryat Menachem belongs to our area, and pupils from the junior high there have priority in registering," said Lifschitz.

"The minute I heard on the radio that it was a bus from Kiryat Menachem, I realized that we are going through it all again," she said. "At 8 A.M., all the teachers had arrived in school, including those who were not teaching [yesterday]. No one asked whether to come; it was clear to all of them what had to be done, and unfortunately, of course, it became clear that we were right," she said.

"Hodaya's parents are very anxious," Lifschitz says. "Two days ago we went on a day trip, and her mother called to say that it is not enough to send the class out with only one security guard. A wonderful mother, who called every morning to ask if her child made it to school safely. Last evening we had a parent-pupil show, and Hodaya participated and was wonderful."

Near an impromptu memorial set up at the school, the pupils gathered near a photograph of Hodaya. "She was incredible, always helping and encouraging everyone," said fellow pupil Ya'ara Ivgi. "Whoever was sad she tried to make them happy and tell them `this is not the most terrible thing in the world.' Now she suffered the worst thing in the world," she said.

"We are constantly faced with questions of life and death, and it is important and precious for us to have a place where we can ask them," Lifschitz was quoted as saying last year at a workshop for principals. "We [the principals] are the wall on which [pupils] lean, and when teachers crash, we are there to support them. But we, the principals, are at the head of the pyramid. On whom do we lean?"