Senator’s daughter victim of Israel terrorist attack
from injuries sustained
in June 11 bus bombing
Senator’s daughter victim
of Israel terrorist attack
Sarri Singer recovering
from injuries sustained
in June 11 bus bombing
By joyce blay
LAKEWOOD — The face in the photo that sits on a bureau in Judy Singer’s home is that of her daughter, a pretty, dark-haired young woman, her lips curved in an enigmatic smile that hints of happier times.
Those times came to a crashing halt on June 11 when Sarri Singer, 29, en route to dinner with a friend, sat down in the back of a red-and-white No. 14 bus in Jerusalem, Israel. Moments later a disguised terrorist seated up front touched off the explosives that were strapped to his body, blowing up himself and those around him.
At least 17 people and the suicide bomber, a Palestinian teenager whom police said was dressed as a devout Jew, were killed in a blast so powerful that it blew a side panel of the bus at least 100 yards away.
Amid the carnage of twisted metal, severed body parts, splattered blood and the expressions of horror etched on the faces of passersby witnessing the devastation near the city’s main Mahane Yehuda marketplace on Jaffa Road, Singer escaped death but not injury — deadly shrapnel packed inside the explosive for maximum effect became embedded in one shoulder, while the thunderous noise of the explosion punctured one of her ear drums. Bruises covered her face in photos and film coverage taken after the attack.
Despite the temporarily disfiguring marks left in the wake of the accident, Israeli doctors were optimistic that Singer, a former Lakewood resident, would recover with little more than minor scarring, according to her mother. It is news for which Judy Singer is grateful.
"She’ll probably have some little scar on her shoulder, but that’s OK," said Singer, who is a basic skills instructor at the Crawford-Rodriguez Elementary School in Jackson. "I’m so grateful my daughter’s still alive."
Sarri is also the daughter of state Sen. Robert Singer (R-Ocean-Monmouth-Mercer-Burlington), who is a member of the Lakewood Township Committee.Elaine Zaveloff of Lakewood, the mother of Sarri’s closest friend, Sarah Zaveloff, who now lives in New York City, had her own thoughts about why Sarri survived when 17 people on the bus did not.
"Because she was kind to so many people along the way, God did her a good turn," said Elaine Zaveloff. "When you hear of a bus blowing up [in Israel], you think of everyone dying."
Judy Singer said she learned that Sarri had been on the bus that was bombed when her son, Eric, 27, called her at her teaching job and told her what had happened.
"He called to speak to my principal, Marcia Inzelbuch," said Judy Singer. "She had a son in Israel, so [my son knew] she would understand what I would be going through."
Sarri is expected to recover her hearing, but she cannot travel to the United States on a plane until doctors are confident that her damaged eardrum will not be affected by the difference in pressure at such high altitudes, said her mother.
Despite Sarri’s narrow escape from death, Singer said her daughter is determined to return to Israel after coming back to her mother’s home in Lakewood to recuperate.
"She said, ‘Mom, they’re not going to keep me out,’ " said Judy Singer, referring to Palestinian militants in Israel who are waging a fight for statehood.
Sarri’s determination to stay in the land she loves did not surprise Elaine Zaveloff.
"She’s the type of person who feels she has a job to do," Zaveloff said. "She doesn’t do anything in half measures. She puts her all into everything she does."
Sarri’s attitude toward her adopted homeland was evident to her longtime friend Debbie Bielory, 27, who grew up with Sarri in Lakewood.
"Sarri strongly believes that Israel is the Jewish homeland and she belongs there," said Bielory, who visited Israel with Sarri on a previous trip. "It’s scary when you’re there; it takes a while to adjust to seeing 18-year-old soldiers with machine guns on their backs. It’s not for me, but Sarri just felt a strong tie to the land. She strongly believes that Israel is the Jewish homeland and she belongs there."
Judy Singer is more philosophical than defiant when speaking of the Palestinian residents of the strife-torn land that her daughter had in recent years made her home.
"I know there’s never been peace there ... [but] life is sacred. How sad that it meant nothing to [the bomber]," she said.
Sarri’s best friend Sarah Zaveloff, 30, a fraud investigator with the city of New York, had considered moving to Israel, too. She said Sarri tried to avoid bus routes known to be targets of terrorism, but noted that incidents of violence had become a way of life there.
"Terrorism can happen anywhere, but Americans only woke up to that fact after 9/11," she said. "Palestinians are not looking for peace. They don’t want to share the land, they want to claim it."
Judy Singer said Sarri was not angry with the Palestinians despite the injuries she suffered at the hands of one. She said her daughter did not believe President George W. Bush had done enough to protect Americans in Israel.
"And I even voted for him," Singer said Sarri had told her.
That statement of disaffection is no surprise to her mother, despite the fact that Sarri is the daughter of a Republican state senator.Robert Singer, from whom Judy is divorced, and Eric Singer are currently in Israel visiting the recuperating Sarri while her mother waits for permission to bring her daughter home.
"Sarri is her own person," Singer said. "She’s not afraid to say what she feels. She feels very strongly toward Israel and Judaism. My house is kosher, but Sarri is shomer shabbos — orthodox."
Born in Perth Amboy on Sept. 7, 1973, Sarri Singer’s devotion to her religion and its spiritual home, Israel, is a lifelong commitment, said her mother.
"I sent her to religious school when I was married to her father and she took to it like a duck to water," Singer said. "If that makes her happy, that makes me happy."
Although Sarri attended the Bezalel Hebrew Day School/Hammer Junior High School in Lakewood, she graduated from Lakewood High School.
"I think it’s important that we all live together and that’s why I wanted her to also go to a public school," Singer said.
After graduation in 1992, Sarri Singer attended Kean College in Union, majoring in psychology. She left after one year to pursue religious studies at Neve College in Jerusalem. The following year, she returned to the United States and graduated from Touro College in New York City in 1995, completing her major in psychology.
"She stayed in Manhattan while working at the Orthodox Union, [where] she was in charge of the summer youth program," said Judy Singer. "She would recruit kids to go on [camping and rafting] tours to Israel."
While still living in New York City, Sarri Singer also led a National Council of Synagogue Youth group that visited nursing homes in Lakewood, as well as the Eleanor Levovitz Apartments, an adult community in town.
"Sarri’s just a role model for anybody and that’s why she was perfect to run the group," Bielory said.
In addition to local charity work, the group took trips to Washington, D.C., where they would visit New Jersey’s U.S. senators and Congressman Chris Smith, with whom they would discuss Israeli and Jewish issues, said her mother.
Three years ago, Sarri was recognized for her scholarly work in her religious studies when she was inducted into a Jewish honor society. Her mother proudly displays a photo in her home taken of the night that Sarri was honored with the distinction.
Shortly afterward, Sarri decided to move to Israel permanently.
"She always loved Israel," said Judy Singer. "She had been there 14 times. She just decided she wanted to make a change and move there."
Once in Israel, Sarri ran a bone marrow drive, an activity in which she had volunteered while living in New York.
"And I might add, she didn’t have a job at the time either," said Judy Singer. "She’s very low-key. She doesn’t talk about what she’s doing. That’s my daughter."
Through perseverance, Judy said, Sarri finally found a job as an administrator at the Be’er Miriam girls school. But in spite her daughter’s good fortune, Singer was wary.
Her concern for her daughter’s safety turned out to be prescient.
"When I talked to Sarri once a week — I would e-mail her twice a week — I would say, ‘Be careful,’ " Singer said. "She said, ‘Don’t worry, Mom.’ "