Friday, February 1, 2008

The Search For Gila Weiss

Here in Israel, the first thing we do when we hear that there was a bombing is to pick up the phone and call everyone we are close to in order to make sure that they are okay. The second thing we do is to wonder what happened to them, in the event that they do not answer, or do not show up as planned. The third thing we do is to start searching.

The following is the story of my friends searching for me.


Galia: A friend came over and while she was here she tripped over a step and she fell down and she cut her eye and she was bleeding all over the floor. So I call Magen David Adom (emergency services) and they come in and they are starting to fill out the paperwork to refer her to go to get stitches at the hospital and then they suddenly look at their beepers and they said “haya pigua” (there's been a bombing) and that was more important and so they raced out of here.

Steve: So I took her to the Wolfson Clinic; they stitched up her eye…

Galia: We didn’t want to send her to the hospital because we knew the hospital would be overwhelmed so we took her to Wolfson. So we never really turned on the news.

Steve: Right, we didn’t know anything about the pigua (bombing).

Yael: I think I heard that there was a bombing before that, because, at that time period there were a lot of them, a lot of bombings. So hearing about a bombing wasn’t all that unusual. So, I’m pretty sure I heard in passing that there was one at Machane Yehuda and that it was right before Shabbat.

Debbie: I knew, but I didn’t call anybody to see if they were okay. Sometimes I do that when there’s a bomb. I just think: God forbid somebody I know…. I want to prolong the time I don’t know. Which is not very considerate.

Galia: We were so busy that Shabbat because we had asked you to come for early Shabbat (bringing in Shabbat an hour before sundown). You had told me you were taking a break from people and you really wanted to have a very quiet Shabbat. And I said “but we’re not having anybody else”. And you said “Oh, that’s okay, I don’t want to see anybody”. You were studying for your exams. I told you “It’s just going to be us”. And then I thought, if she really wants to come…. My feeling is that if somebody wants to come, we love to have them.

So by the time Steve came back from the Wolfson Clinic, I told him to hurry because we were bringing in early Shabbat and Gila was going to come. Steve took Tzvi [ed: their son] to shul (synagogue) and when they came back you still weren’t here. So we waited and waited for you and then we said “well you know, maybe she didn’t get the message about early Shabbat”. We waited and you still hadn’t shown up and so we figured “okay, maybe she forgot, maybe she fell asleep”, and we went and we had dinner. And I don’t know if it was that night or the next day that we suddenly started thinking “you know, there was a pigua”.


Edith: You and I had a meeting for Shabbat lunch. So, I knocked on the door and I didn’t get any response and I was like “that’s weird” because that’s not like Gila. So I knocked again and no response and then I think I saw some of the neighbors and I asked “do you know if she’s home” and then I knocked again and then I went home. So then I called Motzei Shabbat (after Shabbat-Saturday evening) and left a message on your answering machine.

Galia: We were invited to lunch at a friend’s and we said to them: “Our guest last night never showed up to dinner and she is really responsible…she might have been in the pigua.” And they were like, “well, should you look for her?” and we said “no, no, after Shabbat we will look for her”. Steve started saying Tehilim (psalms) for you Saturday afternoon. We knew something must have happened to you because you’re not that sort. We figured that if you were okay, you would have shown up to say “I’m sorry I didn’t come by”. But you didn’t show up all of Shabbat. You’re responsible, even if G-d forbid something happened in the States and you up and went, you would have called and left a message and said “I’m gone”.

So we started the minute, the minute Shabbat was over. The first thing was I called your house and you didn’t answer. And then I wasn’t quite sure where to call so I called the moked (emergency command) for the city. I called them and they said “Oh, the pigua’s over. We’re not processing information anymore”. The guy who answers it (they answer 24 hours a day) gave me the phone numbers for all of the hospitals. So I started calling and I called all of the hospitals and I also called Sharmaine [ed: a mutual friend and my co-worker] because I didn’t know where you lived. That’s why I got Sharmaine involved because I figured she knew from your work how to find your house. I know you lived on Kovshei Katamon, but I had never been to your house and so Sharmaine went to look for you or she may have sent Jonathan [ed: a friend of mine from DC studying in Israel for the year] because I didn’t know anybody else who knew you and where you were from and all that.

So we started calling the hospitals and the first time I called I said: “Do you have someone there called Gila Weiss?” No, no, no, no. I finished the whole round of calls. By that time Jonathan had called me-he had been to your house-and I said “we can’t find her in the hospitals” and he said “well she’s not at her house”. He didn’t know where to find your roommate either. Then Jonathan said “maybe she’s not Gila, maybe she’s Jennifer” [ed: my English name]. So I called all of the hospitals again and asked for Jennifer Weiss, but again there was nothing. And at that point I didn’t know what to do. And so I left it with Steve at this point.

Steve: I had to call up Abu Kabir (the morgue) to find out if you were there. First I phoned my cousin, David Landau, who works for Haaretz (major Israeli newspaper) and he checked and he found that they hadn’t any body of an American there. They had two bodies, and there weren’t telling us any information about them but David said that, based on information from his inside sources that they didn’t match your description. So we were stuck.

Galia: So then we called all the hospitals a third time. Steve did the third calling. And this time, even though we didn’t know exactly how to say it-we kept trying to say: “is there anyone unidentified”. Again, we got nowhere.

Steve: And then you spoke to Ruchama [ed: their neighbor].

Galia: By then we didn’t know what to do and so I went up to Ruchama’s. Over Shabbat, we found out that Ruchama’s brother-in-law had been injured and that they were back and forth from the hospital and that they were completely devastated and that he was in the ICU. So I went up and I said “Lookit, we can’t find her, she’s not in the hospital, she’s not in the morgue…something happened to her. Where do you go in Israel if you are missing someone?” I felt really responsible for you because it seemed nobody else was looking for you. I didn’t know who else would look for you. And they were telling me where to go in the police department and I asked “Am I allowed to go file? Does she have to be missing a certain amount of time? We haven’t been able to find her since yesterday. We think that she was in the pigua but we can’t find her in any of the hospitals”. And at that point, Ruchama’s husband said “You know there’s an unidentified girl lying in the bed next to Ruchama’s brother-in-law”. I don’t know why he knew you were an American. And I said “nobody’s come for her?” And he said “No, she’s lying by herself. They don’t know who she is”.

So, at this point we were already past midnight. Sharmaine went down to the hospital, but she couldn’t tell if it was you. It looked sorta like you (I remember what you looked like at the very beginning) but she wasn’t sure so she came back. By this point, Pearl [ed: my roommate] called. When Jonathan had been at your house, he had left a note on your door for Pearl and so Pearl went down the second time and said “yeah, that’s her”. Then she called here and we all knew…

Edith: And then I got a call, mamash (really) in the middle of the night of Motzei Shabbat, from Pearl, and she told me that you were in the hospital and that you were in the bombing and then she asked me if I could call people and I said “of course”. Then I went to call Ulpan Etzion*. And I don’t know-I called a couple other people from the Ulpan. All this in the middle of the night. It was like one, or something like that.

[* Ulpan Etzion: Intensive Hebrew program and absorption center. Edith, Yael, Debbie and I were enrolled there together for the first six months after we made aliyah.]

Yael: Edith’s the one who told me, actually. I was downstairs and she said that-you know how Edith tells things: "you’re not going to believe it", and all that and she told me. I remember that I was very shocked. I mean, obviously. I asked her to tell me when she found out something more.

Debbie: Who told me about it? Probably Edith or Yael.


Galia: So I went down to the hospital the first thing the next morning–and when I got there, you were still not listed at the hospital. When I said “I’m here for Gila Weiss” they said “No, we don’t have anybody by that name”. So I said “No, no, no, she’s the almoni, the unidentified person, in the ICU”. They let me in, and at that point I met Barbara Jacobson [ed: hospital social worker]. She said “Well, I was going to come in this morning and start looking for who she is”. And I said “How would you find her? Like, if we weren’t looking for her, no one would have looked for her-I don’t know for how long. Maybe her roommate would have noticed her missing, maybe not, but I don’t know who would come looking”. And Barbara said that they were going to try and find you from what you were wearing. I still don’t know what they would have done; how they would have solved the puzzle.

What bothered me the most out of that whole thing was the feeling that I met you over the Net, I met you a few times and I suddenly felt this responsibility for you because who else would have gone and found you? And that really, really bothered me. You could have been lying there a couple of days until somebody-and I wasn’t sure who it would be, maybe your work-came looking for you. And, it just really, really got to me. I suddenly felt that maybe everybody should have a next-of-contact that they should be calling or someone checking for them. Suddenly, people that you meet here become the replacement for your family

So I was already in the ICU and I was talking to Barbara and a nurse and then Shlomit [director of Ulpan Etzion] walked in and started yelling at me. She was very upset that I hadn’t gone looking for you on Shabbat. [ed: all of the friends mentioned or interviewed are Shabbat observant and do not travel or use the phone over Shabbat]. And I said “there’s nothing I could have done on Shabbat to help the situation”. I did not know where you lived, and no one would have answered the phone at your house until after Shabbat and none of your friends would answer their phones until after Shabbat. If anything, I knew that if something had happened to you, you were being taken care of and not lying on a street waiting for Motzei Shabbat.

What could I have contributed, aside from a whole round of calls to the hospitals to say “is she here”? Maybe they would have said “there’s someone unidentified”, but they weren’t saying that at the hospitals. It was just a total fluke that our neighbors upstairs had someone injured in the same pigua. So there was nothing I could have done. I didn’t even know what state your parents lived in, let alone do I know your blood type or are you allergic to medicine. There was nothing I could have contributed during the day…except maybe your name. And even then, I couldn’t have helped you find your father who would know your medical history, until Motzei Shabbat. That was another one of our problems. Jonathan knew friends of yours who would know where your father was, but we would have to wait till it was Motzei Shabbat chutz l’aretz (after Shabbat outside of Israel) also. It was just because of the Shabbat thing.

Anyway, by this point, they said “nobody else is looking” so they put me down as next of kin, I was like “okay, I mean, I guess I know her friends who can find her family whatever.”

Debbie: In the taxi cab over from Tel Aviv to the hospital [ed: on Sunday morning], I said “I’m going to see a friend who was in a bombing” and he knew there was an unidentified American that had been identified. And he said “is it her?” And I said “yes, I think so.” It must have been. Yeah, strange, maybe they had it on the news-I don’t know. But I wasn’t allowed in the first day.

Galia: What were they saying about your medical situation at that time? You were out. They said you had had eye surgery and we weren’t sure why they were holding you out but a guy came by and he was checking your eyes and stuff while I was there. You looked really bad. Like, your face was very, very bloated, very bloated. Like, picture your face now and add two and a half times to it. And then you had this sort of mop of hair but it was all bloody up here. And, they had these things around your eyes that were maybe holding them open or what. So you just looked…you had to look at it a couple times and say “Gila has black curly hair, so could be Gila”, but it sure didn’t look like you. At all.

Debbie: Sometimes you see something fragile and you think if you just hold it, it won’t break. And that was like, when I saw you. It was like, okay, if I just stay here, then nothing bad will happen. If I’m here, you know, then, she won’t die. You know, it won’t break. I didn’t know if you were going to live. What the doctors said was one thing. But, you know, you see somebody with tubes in them, not fully conscious and …just a mess…it, I think somewhere inside of me I just, I thought, I thought you were going to die. And I thought, okay, well, she certainly can’t die while I’m watching. Cause you know, it just doesn’t work that way.

So, it’s like…a ceramic bowl that falls to the ground and then you stick the glue on. And you’re sitting there and you’re pressing it and you’re holding it so that it sticks together and then, it’s like, you’re worried: what if you let go. Is it going to break. I had…I was being shuffled around a lot by doctors and nurses and just kinda, I felt in the way. I felt like a piece of furniture, a little bit, that people kept tripping over. But, I also felt like, you know, I can control this situation if I stay here.


Edith: Yael and I were planning on going on Sunday but something came up …

Yael: My first instinct was to go down there-but they basically told me you were in and out of surgery in intensive care so it really wasn’t like an option right away. Everybody told me what was going on, that you were in and out of surgery and… nobody was going there. They said not to and you couldn’t have visitors or something. It was not an option

Edith: So that’s why we ended up going on Monday. So Yael and I, we came and I remember that we came there and we could not enter. And I tried everything, I talked to everybody to enter because I thought, “I want to see you I want to see how you are doing, if you are all right”. I was so emotional about it and that’s why I wanted to go in because I wanted to see you. Because, like, I felt kind of close to the whole thing because like, you were not there when we were supposed to meet. And I also felt really horrible because you went to the shuk to get food for lunch also, I assumed.

Debbie: There were the ladies in the waiting area [ed: Nomi and Galia]. I didn’t like them right away. Right away I didn’t like them. Later on, you know, I found them to be very helpful and very good women who did a lot of good, especially at the beginning. But I guess I hadn’t seen them around in my life before …I had heard of Galia but I don’t think I had ever met her. So there was these two strangers and I think it was Nomi that was like, trying to comfort me or make me relax. And I wanted to bite her. Cause Edith was there with me and we wanted to see you and they wouldn’t let us in and the other woman, she was trying to soothe us and I wanted to bite her. It’s bad when nurses and people are not letting you in and then to have somebody else try and smooth you over…it’s not going to work. Its funny, because I know these people now and they’re lovely.

Yael: You and I had been fighting, so basically…people were telling me not to go to the hospital. One of the people was Debbie--she told me I shouldn’t go. I decided to go anyway. It wasn’t an issue at first because you were not receiving visitors. I was talking to Debbie and she more or less said that you probably weren’t going to understand I was there anyway. It didn’t become an issue until ...Yom Haatzmaut, Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Independence Day and Memorial Day, respectively).

Edith: Eventually we got in. I didn’t stop asking and requesting and that kind of stuff and at some point they had enough of me and they let me in. I went over to you-I went alone first-because they didn’t let three people in at the time. So, it was really weird because I was a little shocked to see you because your face was really swollen and it was really a little scary. I didn’t know what to expect but like, I really saw that it hit you. But the funny thing was, when I started to talk to you, you were like, making jokes-jokes about the nurses, jokes about your dad.

Debbie: My first memories of you are of you twisting and writhing as if you were uncomfortable and asking for water, which the nurses said you wouldn’t be able to swallow. I think you told me later that you had the sensation of being tied up, and you looked terribly uncomfortable. I held your hand. I asked if you could have a drink, cause you kept saying you were so thirsty and I brought you the drink with a straw and I think I spilled on you. It was not good. It just didn’t go well. You took a sip from the straw and then spit it out, or something like that. You asked if your eyes were going to be okay. I lied. I had no clue. I said yes. I am pretty sure I said yes, and I had no idea if you would see. But yeah, I guess it’s just fortunate that they did work out because when you asked I said: “yes, yes, they will. You’ll be okay”. Everything’s going to be just fine sweetie. Don’t you worry. (Laughs).

Yael: You were pretty heavily drugged. I remember your eye was covered with a bandage, you were covered with various bandages and you were very, very high. You were kinda, really not all there. So basically, I more or less sat there with…I am pretty sure Deb was there…

Debbie: She recognized you.

Yael: Yeah, of course.

Debbie: No stupid-I mean Gila recognized you.

Yael: Oh really?

Debbie: Oh my God-before she was fully conscious she held your hand and was like: “I’m sorry”. And “it’s okay”.

Yael: No, no, I remember, the next day, on Yom HaZikaron over the phone you told me that…I remember actually…you told me that one of the things she said when she regained consciousness was “Is Yael still mad at me”. Which, like, didn’t make sense, you know. I thought at the time “well, she’s clearly all fucked up” because that’s not something that Gila would normally say. (Laughter). Normally it would go: “where’s that little bitch”. It was clearly a kinder, gentler Gila.


Debbie: I put you on the cell phone with Yael because she wanted to talk to you and I was gonna tell her “Sweetie, it’s really not c’dai (worthwhile). Gila's barely making any sense. She’s not gonna know what the heck your saying”. But you took the phone, You knew exactly who Yael was and you were like: “I’m sorry, everything’s okay between us”. You know, and you hadn’t spoken to Yael in like weeks before. And like, you were like, so clear that everything was okay. And I was like, “Huh, Oh my God, all right”.

I’m sorry …what was I going to say when Yael said “put Gila on the cell phone”? You know, I was like “all right, fine”. It was like, I put the cat on the cell phone with my parents. Whatever, okay. But then you were just really lucid about it.

Galia: We tried to make it to visit you every day. There was nothing we could do for you because you were out at first. You have the article from Haaretz, right? The reason the article appeared is that David had helped us that night trying to find you. And the next day he spoke to us, his wife spoke to us and when she heard your eyes were injured she spoke to us more. So he put a reporter to write the article because he thought that it was a human interest story. Oleh (immigrant) injured. Lots of people contacted me from the article. One was Rachael Risby from the iryah (municipality). She was working with One Family, I think, and she said “Is there anything we can do for her?" And I said “Get her phone replaced”. I hadn’t asked you but I knew that, if you are sitting in the hospital and you didn’t have a phone…its real tachlis (basic)-you want a phone. I said “if you can help get her phone replaced, that would be a big deal. Here’s her old phone number.” And she said “done”.


The weirdest thing was Yom Haatzmaut. It was just such a bizarre day. We came by in the afternoon and because the article had appeared, all these people started coming and saying “we’re here to see Gila”. You were in the ICU and they don’t let more than two people in at once so they were all in the waiting room. (I could get in no problem because I was listed as your family. Your Dad wasn’t there yet). So, I come in, there was somebody I didn’t know saying tehilim (psalms) by your bed and davening (praying). Some of the people were friends from Ulpan, there was Yael and that Israeli guy, there was Edith, there was the Dutch peace volunteers who live in Ramalla, and then all these people kept on calling me from the press-"can we get your story, can we interview Gila?" I told them “No, she’s not talking. Not that she has no comment, she can’t talk yet.”

And it was just sort of festive on Yom Haatzmaut in sort of a macabre environment. Because remember, you weren’t the only injured person. There was Ruchama’s family sitting just outside the ICU waiting room which is the operating room waiting room as well-there are benches there. And they’re all sitting there, and instead of having their mangal (barbeque) in the park, they’re having salatim and sandwichim and they’re all bringing food. That is what all Israelis do-they all huddle in a family and eat. So they were all eating.

And it was just very, very very crazy. I brought Tzvi [ed: her two-year old son] and he added to the melee. Tzvi was stealing all the pelephones (cell phones). People sit there for days and so the hospital has electric sockets where people can recharge their phones. So Tzvi was going from recharger to recharger, stealing people’s pelephones and they were all going “aize hamud! (what a darling!)” So he walked off with the phones!

Debbie: I hated everybody. It was tense and it was horrible and everybody who was trying to talk “and how do you know Gila” and you know…and I was just this little ball of hate. I wasn’t in the mood to chat about how I knew you. Or to talk about anything. I just, you know, was in a state. Just angry and nervous.

Galia: Your dad wasn’t there yet on Yom Haatzmaut. I remember calling him. I don’t remember if I spoke to your dad or his wife. But I do remember calling them, because I knew when he was coming in. I left a package for him in ICU because I knew he would probably get there first. I had left him stuff like my spare telephone. I felt like, without a phone, you are totally dead in the water, in this country.

Edith: I was the one that told you that your father was on his way. I told you a couple of times. I expected you to be happy that your father was coming, right? You said: “You know what, I’m not going back to America. Maybe they think that I’m going to go back but no way, I’m going to stay in Israel”. And I was so surprised because it felt like you were in a coma, you were drugged mamash, so I didn’t feel like you were so clear in your head. But here you were completely clear and you said “if my Dad asks me to go back with him to America, I’m not going to do it, I’m going to stay in Israel no matter what”. That’s it. That was so cool. Yeah, I told you like five times or something. And you said like two times that you really wanted to stay in Israel. I told you, “No, of course you can stay, you don’t have to worry, you can stay in Israel. You don’t have to go back to America. Don’t be afraid of that. He won’t take you back.”

Gila: The first thing I remember is feeling like a mummy, twisting about so I could get out of bed and go to work. I dimly remembered that there had been a pigua. The next thing I remember is someone telling me, over and over “it’s alright, you’re going to be okay, you’re father is on his way”. The next thing I remember is my father coming. From that moment I was awake. He brought me a stuffed puppy (who is sitting on top of my computer screen as I type this), a bunch of Big Band CD’s and a Dave Barry book, which was the first thing I read once my eyes improved.

My father arrived and he asked me if I wanted to go home. I told him “I am home”.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to go off topic, (didn't read this post yet, I'm saving it).
But, are you really left wing? Are there many left wing olim from the U.S.
And if you are, I find that thrilling, because I had a few questions I would like to ask a real-life Israeli left winger.
Can I ask?

Anonymous said...


I know this is after the fact, but I hope other new olim without 'immediate' family will take an important lesson from your experience--be sure to have your emergency contact information posted somewhere that is easy to find! Very , very important!

All the best, and Shabbat Shalom!



Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting your stories and bringing your story (and the story of too many others) into a clearer perspective.

(It makes it even closer when my daughter-in-law's maiden name was Jennifer Weis and one of my daughter's is Gila.)

Gila said...

Anon-as for my politics, that is private; I prefer not to discuss my my political leanings and opinions outside of my "real-life" circle of friends. This is especially true in respect to this blog. As soon as one declares that one is left or right or whatever, one automatically gives others a "reason" why you somehow deserved to be blown up.

My message (to the extent that I can be said to have one): there is no reason for suicide bombings. Not here. Not in Iraq. Not in Pakistan. Not in the US. Not in Spain. Not in England. No reason, and politics be damned.

As for left-wing US bloggers--there are any number of Israeli bloggers. Start jumping around (start with my blogroll) and you will find someone sooner or later.

Miri--I would be happy to say that I have influenced all of my friends to take such precautions. However, the reality seems to be that they look at me and say "well, Gila got blown up, so we are safe" and forget about it. :)

Sona--glad you are...enjoying? Not sure if that is the best term to apply but for lack of a better one....

Anonymous said...

Gila, thank you so much for sharing your story. (I found your blog via Esther's link on MyUrbanKvetch.) I cannot imagine what it was like for you then or what it's like for you now. When my sister lived in Israel for 6 years (1994 to 2000) I lived in constant fear of a phone call like the one your Dad must have gotten...

Btw, I have a feeling that your friend Jonathan from D.C. is the same Jonathan who married my best friend a year and a half ago. If so - small world...

Gila said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gila said...


Is your Jonathan in DC married to a rabbi? If so, yes! I don't know her well, but had the chance to chat with her a few times; she is really a lovely person.

And to make things even smaller, I believe that she is working at my brother's synagogue!

Hmmmm....I still have to get them a wedding gift.

Gila said...

Oh, I should point out that Jonathan and other friends from Adas really saved the day--they were the ones who managed to track down my Dad.

Otherwise, I might not have gotten the big band CD's, the Dave Barry book and the lovely stuffed puppy. And that would have sucked.


Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

It's amazing how much people remember so many years down the road. I don't mean you, Gila, I'm sure that whatever you DO remember is totally engraved on your synapses. But Galia and Steven, for example. Amazing.

I remember feeling really guilty that I wasn't going out to the hospital to visit you. Poor lonely olah!


Gila said...

Actually, the interviews were done a number of years ago--two years after the bombing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing. I am reading.

Anonymous said...

Gila - Yes, that's the one! They're both such wonderful people. I miss them very much - they were here in LA until she got ordained last spring.

Anonymous said...

Every post of yours evokes very strong emotions in me. You are incredibly talented and I am very grateful that you're sharing your story with us.

Ralphie said...

"And I wanted to bite her."

I literally lol'd at this, startling my cubicle neighbors.

Gila said...

The great thing is that my friend comes out with these types of comments ALL the time. In some respects, she reacts to the world like a child. One of the reasons that she is such a successful teacher.

As for her friends, it makes for amusing conversations....

Sandy said...

Hi Gila,
I am reading. Thank you for your story.