2016-06-22 / Home

Local resident Jena Blum witnesses terror attack in Israel


Jena Blum is pictured at Masada during her Birthright trip. Just days later, she was an eyewitness to the terrorist attack at Sarona Market. Jena Blum is pictured at Masada during her Birthright trip. Just days later, she was an eyewitness to the terrorist attack at Sarona Market. After her 10-day Taglit Birthright Israel trip ended earlier this month, Jena Blum, 19, was looking forward to returning to Sarona Market, one of her favorite Tel Aviv haunts, with Israeli friends she had made on the excursion.

But what was supposed to be a fun night out just one day before her return trip home turned into a nightmare forever seared into her memory. The Cherry Hill teen was an eyewitness to the horrific terror attack that resulted in the death of four Israelis and injury of 16 others at the upscale shopping promenade on June 8.

As Blum recalled, the market’s outdoor restaurants and bars were packed on the beautiful Wednesday evening. She and her friends were seated at a table in front of Max Brenner Chocolate Bar & Restaurant soaking up the vibrant scene and ignoring hunger pangs when, all of a sudden, she heard explosive sounds—at least three of them in close range.

“I just knew it was gunshots and I could see all of the people running and ducking,” recalled Blum, a University of Vermont sophomore. Just minutes before the shooting, she added, her friend Yarden remarked that the two people seated next to them in suits and carrying suitcases—who turned out to be the assailants—looked sketchy. But nobody thought anything of his remark at the time, she said.

Although she could not immediately process what she saw, she later realized that she had watched as one of the victims was hit by a bullet and fell limp to the ground not more than 10 feet away from her. By the second shot, she too was running for her life—leaving behind her phone, bag and wallet.

“I ran straight in the opposite way of the shooting,” Blum said, recalling a scene of chaos, upturned tables and abandoned food. “We all assumed the gun shots would be followed by a bomb.”

With people scattering in different directions, Blum didn’t recognize right away that she had split from her friends, who had taken shelter at a nearby bar. She found herself alone in a crowd, with people running as fast as they could away from the market but still taking care not to trample others and attempting to help each other make the journey.

After hopping over a concrete barrier in the middle of the highway, she took shelter with others in a nearby café. And within a half hour, she said, she had learned that the terrorists had been apprehended and that it was safe to leave. Next, she needed to find her friends, but did not speak Hebrew and had no access to her phone.

Fortunately, people were very helpful, offering their own phones so she could track down her friends, who had returned to the market.

Only after reuniting with them did she let down her guard to react. Her friend Yarden, just recently released from his stint with the Israeli Defense Forces and a veteran of 2014’s Gaza War, cried with her.

“He was more sad for me, that I experienced something so real,” Blum said. “He said he was so sorry I had to run for my life.”

By the next night, she was on a plane, looking forward to returning to the safety of home. Sadly, there was little time to process and recover before she awoke the next day to the news of the terrorist attack at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida that took the lives of 49 innocents.

After her experience, she said, she felt deep sorrow and paid far more attention to the details than she had of such attacks in the past. It also gave her a new perspective of the way terrorism and gun control are handled domestically and in Israel.

“I realize you can’t stop crazy people from doing crazy things, but there can be some control of the way things are handled,” said Blum, who was bat mitzvahed at Temple Beth Sholom. “When you compare Tel Aviv to the Orlando situation, 50 people were killed as opposed to four. I think Israel really handled it well and is so well prepared. The fact that I was able to go back to Sarona Market in a half hour still amazes me.”

She also said that the incident made her feel more connected to Israel than ever.

“Even though this did happen, I still love Israel and hope someday to make aliyah,” she added.

In the short term, however, she is done with excitement. She recently left to be a counselor at Camp Kennybrook in Ardsley, NY and is looking forward to an uneventful rest of the summer. s

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