Rebecca Spilke walked slowly to the lectern at Sutton Place Synagogue. Taking a deep breath, the petite, brown-haired 26-year-old spoke of her love for Benjamin Blutstein.
"I was almost excited to come here; I was expecting to see Ben," she confided to the audience of about 200.
But Ben would not be at the East Side synagogue. Nor would eight others who were killed with him on July 31when a terrorist bomb exploded in the Frank Sinatra cafeteria at Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus.
Spilke, a staffer at Columbia University’s Hillel, read a love letter to Blutstein she wrote after his death.
She was among the friends and relatives of the victims who spoke at an intensely emotional memorial last Thursday sponsored by the American Friends of the Hebrew University.
Photos of the nine victims were displayed behind small yahrzeit candles.
Robert Coulter came from his Massachusetts home to deliver a moving tribute to his oldest daughter, Janis, 36, the university’s assistant director of academic affairs.
Janis Ruth Coulter, a convert to Judaism who had been living in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, had been chaperoning a group of American overseas students when the bomb, attributed to Hamas, went off.
Coulter talked about a loving, generous, thoughtful daughter who, after his wife died of cancer, "adopted me."
Right before she left for Israel, "I told her to stay in the hotel or on campus where it’s safe," Coulter said.
Younger sister Dianne, who called her sister her best friend and tower of strength, said Janis fell in love with Jewish history "and was hooked."
She quoted a recent e-mail in which Janis noted that "life goes on, with us or without us."
Israel’s consul general in New York, Alon Pinkas, said he spent the best years of his life at Hebrew University.
He said the terrorist attack there was in some ways more excruciating than others because it was also an attack on the values of tolerance and friendship espoused by the multinational Mount Scopus campus, which includes Arab students and professors from 55 nations.
"This was done by people who don’t have a Hebrew University because they choose not to have [it]," Pinkas declared.
Ira Lee Sorkin, president of American Friends of Hebrew University, announced the establishment of scholarships "in perpetuity" in the names of the victims. He read letters of condolence from President George W. Bush and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Cantor Dov Keren chanted the prayer of healing, and Rabbi Schranz read the Mourner’s Kaddish.