Boston Tragedy Turns Local Independence Day Celebrations Into Somber Time for Reflection

The Israeli Consulate of New England held a toned-down Israeli Independence Day party Tuesday night, after consulting with the local Jewish community.

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Israeli Independence Day celebrations in Boston were muted and security was increased in the wake of bombings that left three dead and dozens injured at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.

The Israeli Consulate of New England held a toned-down Israeli Independence Day party Tuesday night, after consulting with the local Jewish community. The evening was rebranded as an evening of Israeli solidarity with the city of Boston, said Shai Bazak, consul general of Israel to the region.

The event included a moment of silence, prayers by a local rabbi and speeches addressing the unprecedented attack on the city during the Boston Marathon, the oldest and most prestigious of American marathons and a centerpiece of hometown pride.

“We hesitated and considered canceling the event but this will show that Israel and Americans stand together, both in joyous and difficult occasions,” Bazak said. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick did not attend, as he had previously planned, and no alcohol was served at the reception.

Bazak himself was only a few blocks away from the attack; he heard the explosions but said he dismissed the possibility of bombs.

“An attack in Boston − one does not even consider it could happen,” he said. “As an Israeli in Boston it’s surreal to get phone calls from Israel where people are calmly celebrating Independence Day and asking if we here are okay.”

Mike Rosenberg, director of community relations at the Maimonides School, a Jewish day school in suburban Brookline, said an event yesterday commemorating Israel’s 65th anniversary had been toned down out of respect for victims of the attack and their families.

No dancing, more Torah

“Messages have gone out to parents and students that in the context of [Monday’s] events, there will be no dancing and more [words of Torah],” Rosenberg said yesterday.

The Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston called off a flag-raising ceremony for Independence Day, leaving its flags at half-mast.

Shira Strosberg, the school’s director of communications, said security in and around its campus was ratcheted up.

“We are obviously saddened and everybody came to school today with a heavy heart,” she said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the bombings.”

Alasdair Conn, chief of emergency services at Massachusetts General Hospital told Haaretz: “This is like a bomb explosion we hear about in Baghdad or Israel or other tragic points in the world.”

He also said that a few years ago a team of Israeli doctors came to the hospital to help set up a disaster team to deal with this type of bombing scenario.

“A few years ago we wanted to upgrade our emergency response to things like explosions, and unfortunately Israel was dealing with several types of [these incidents] a year ... and we had to upgrade our response,” Conn said, adding, “This is something I’ve never seen in my 25 years here ... this amount of carnage in the civilian population,” he said. “This is what we expect from war.”

Lucky to finish

Yedidya Fraiman approached Monday’s Boston Marathon with this attitude: “You know what time you start, but you never know when you’ll finish.”

An avid runner who has participated in more than 20 marathons but was running his first race since undergoing ankle surgery last year, Fraiman, 56, achieved his goal of finishing in under four hours. As a result he was about 250 meters away from the site of the bombings that killed three people and injured at least 140. He was among the last to be able to cross the finish line.

“I was very fortunate that everything fell into place and I was able to finish when I did, because if I had been delayed just a few minutes ...,” he said, his voice trailing off.

Fraiman, a Boston native who immigrated to Israel 35 years ago and returned to his hometown temporarily to care for his ailing parents, said that his wife had made a note of the relaxed security at a busy runner’s expo held a few days prior to the race at a convention center in downtown Boston.

“She was saying, wow, anybody can walk in here,” he said. “For an Israeli, it’s pretty glaring how open places are everywhere in the States.”

It was no coincidence, Fraiman said, that the attack was carried out on Patriot’s Day in Boston − a public holiday commemorating the first battles of the American Revolutionary War − and Independence Day in Israel.

“That’s not an accident,” he said. “In the end, what it’s about is that independence and freedom have a cost and it’s not to be taken for granted. It’s something that needs to be constantly protected and cherished,” Fraiman said.

For Zvika Bronstein, who crossed the finish line in a time of 3:42, the opportunity to run the “prestigious” Boston Marathon was a dream.

Bronstein, 56, was speaking by phone from his Boston hotel room, where he was headed when he heard the explosions.

The Ramat Gan resident said the experience reminded him of how “fragile everything is” and how lucky he was to be able to “be in a place where I choose to be, doing what I like to do on the very day that everybody [in Israel] commemorates the soldiers that fell.”

He added: “As an Israeli, terrorism is part of your life, but this is the last thing you expect on such a beautiful day.”

Safer in Israel

Meanwhile, Boston natives in Israel said they spent much of Monday night reaching out to family and friends and were not able to fully celebrate Independence Day.

Julie Pulda, who grew up in the eastern-central Massachusetts city of Worcester, said her mother and sister were watching the race from the finish line, near where the bombs were detonated. They had been sending her text messages and photos throughout the day, but when Pulda got the news about the bombings from a cousin late Monday night she couldn’t immediately reach her mother.

“I was so panicked,” said Pulda, 25. “It felt like it took an hour to get ahold of my mom, but it was only about 10 minutes.” They had left 15 minutes before the blasts.

“I’m in absolute shock that something like this could happen in my home, in Boston,” she continued. “They had much more of a close call than anything that’s happened to me here.”

Early Tuesday morning, Pulda’s mother posted an unexpected comment on her daughter's Facebook page.

“She wrote, ‘Stay in Israel. It’s safer there,’” Pulda said. “She has wanted me to come home every minute of every day, so it was very ironic to have her say that I should stay put for now.”

With reporting from JTA

Yedidya Fraiman, who finished the Boston Marathon just before the blasts. Credit: Courtesy

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