June 18, 2002

We arrived at Har Hamenuchot (Mountain of Rest) cemetery, our hearts heavy with grief. "Our beloved Shiri," our thoughts screamed!

Nestled in the majestic hills of Jerusalem, we saw neat rows of rectangular headstones stretching endlessly below. They looked like a miniature city made of stone. In the distance stood a group of apartment buildings, made of the same beige Jerusalem stone as the headstones. For a moment it looked as if the headstones were a mirrored reflection of those tall buildings. An eerie city of the dead below, reflecting the city of the living above.

Jerusalem was on high alert, leaving us to wonder, whose time was up now?

The past few days, we kept hearing warnings of a suicide bomber that had entered the city. Jerusalem was on high alert, leaving each of us to deal with our feelings of dread and apprehension. "Whose time was up now?" we wondered. "Keep safe" we told each other as we went about our daily lives.

In the morning, when I learned that the bus of death had started out from Gilo, the first thought that came to mind was Shiri. I calmed myself, reasoning that it was highly unlikely that the one person I knew from Gilo would be on that bus. What were the odds?

As news came in of the terrible carnage, I grew restless and called my daughter Sarah, Shiri's friend. There was no answer. Around noon, the second I heard Sarah's choked voice on the phone, I cried out "No! Not Shiri! Please tell me it isn't Shiri!"

We both sobbed in piercing pain and disbelief.

NO ONE AS SPECIAL AS SHIRI

The first thing anyone noticed about Shiri was her long, thick, blond braid reaching her calves, adorning her beautiful, lively face. Her disarming smile, her kind and intelligent eyes, and her delicate, lovely frame belied her inner strength.

Over a year ago, after serving in the army as a teacher who prepared soldiers for their high school matriculation exams, she told her family and friends that she was going on a trip to South America for a year on her own. The reaction was one of misgiving. How would such an innocent girl fair in the big wide world on her own? Who will watch over her? Though she had shown maturity, responsibility and caring beyond her years, she was still Shiri the beautiful girl with the longest hair, who looked like a teen rather than age 20.

Shiri proved these concerns misplaced. She visited far-flung places, absorbing the culture and lovingly connecting with those around her. She sent home exciting, insightful emails, keeping people breathless for more, and signing them "Shiri, world traveler."

Shiri was blossoming, and her mother told her there was no rush in coming back home to Gilo.

When the year was up, realizing how Shiri was blossoming, her mother told her there was no rush in coming back home to Gilo. After all, times were stressful in Israel, and a little more enjoyment couldn't hurt. She could stay longer if she wished, but Shiri missed home. She returned right before Passover and fell right into shouldering the pre-Passover chores without skipping a beat. She reunited with her friends, tended the garden, painted her room, and planned to go to dental school -- all with the enthusiasm, joy and love that so characterized her.

Sarah, my daughter, met Shiri several weeks ago and was so happy to reconnect with her. Just this past Shabbat, Sarah spoke about Shiri with such warmth. "Of all the girls from our high school, there's no one as special as Shiri," she said. "Her goodness, her caring, her intelligence and her sense of humor is unmatched. I'm so lucky to be her friend."

YOUNG LIVES CUT DOWN

I'm told that Shiri once playfully contemplated her slight "obsession" about her refusal to cut her hair since birth. It was a curious anomaly in this day and age. She wondered what this meant about herself, and what it may symbolize, if anything.

Some years back, when she visited a concentration camp in Poland with her high school class, one of the exhibits had a display of human hair. One of the girls pointed to a long, blond, thick braid, just like Shiri's. They always thought of her as the girl with the longest hair... yet here in the concentration camp she had met her match.

Perhaps her long hair was connected to the tragedy of the Holocaust.

A strange thought struck Shiri. Perhaps her obsession was somehow connected to the terrible tragedy that befell her people and family in the Holocaust? Maybe in some crazy, symbolic way, she was connecting with those innocent girls with the long braids, whose young lives were cut down so brutally during the most tragic time of our people?

Yesterday, hundreds of weeping people followed ‘Shiri, world traveler" on her last journey to her eternal resting place in the Jerusalem hills. We stood there unable to say goodbye. "We cast our eyes to the mountains, from where will our salvation come?" we prayed.

We asked how this could have happened to one so pure and young.

It was the same question Shiri had asked when she visited Poland.

Please, God, we wept, help us find a way to stop these hate-filled, murderous suicide bombers.

"How much more can we take?" we cried as we slowly made our way back down the hill.

Strangely, somehow, we felt Shiri's presence with us. As we hugged each other for comfort, we were slowly filled with renewed strength and hope, knowing that more than ever, Am Yisrael Chai -- the people of Israel live.

Visit www.shiri.us