Bomber cuts short lives, dreams of young couple from E. Coast

NEW YORK — Soon after Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker met, it became clear to those around them that the couple would one day be married and together build a life full of love and commitment, to each other and to Judaism.

But their lives and their dreams were cut short by the suicide bomber who on Sunday annihilated the Jerusalem bus that was carrying them to Jordan.

Instead of sharing their lives together, Matt and Sara were buried side by side Wednesday at the Beth El Temple Cemetery in Avon, Conn.

At Sara's funeral Tuesday at Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck, N.J., her high school friend Tal Weinberger delivered the eulogy before a crowd of more than 1,000, according to a Reuters report. "I cannot believe I won't be going to Sara's wedding and someday we will not be watching each other's children," she said.

Matt and Sara, described by those who knew them as vibrant, intelligent and passionate, were going to visit Jordan while Matt had a break from his classes at the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary campus in Jerusalem. He was in his second year of rabbinical school.

Sara was working as a research technician in a microbiology lab at Hebrew University.

Her mother, Arline Duker, said that when her daughter died, Sara "was where she wanted to be, with people she loved, in a land she loved."

Many of their friends said the way they died is bitterly ironic, because they were both committed to peace.

"It's so ironic that because of the peace process they could go to Jordan, and because of violence by people who were against peace, they were killed," said David Seidenberg, a graduate student at JTS, where a memorial service was held Monday .

"They were into peace," said Seidenberg, tears welling up in his eyes as he remembered Sara, whom he had known since she was a student at Barnard College, located across the street from the seminary.

At the memorial service Monday, classmates of Matt's and people who had known Sara because she spent time at the seminary — including serving as a leader at High Holy Day services last September — were pale and tearful.

Matt "was a very, very special soul," said Marcy Rascoe, also a second-year rabbinical student at the seminary. "He was not only blessed with an incredible intellect and wisdom, but what drove him even more was his absolute love of humanity.

"I can't think of a bigger contrast than for Matt to die because of hate," said Rascoe, who worked with him last summer teaching at one of the Conservative movement's camps, where Matt also ran the beit midrash, or study hall, and served as the camp's kashrut supervisor.

Matt, 25, was a native of West Hartford, Conn. He attended Yale University as an undergraduate, majoring in religious studies. While there, he became involved in Young Israel House and Yale Hillel, where he inspired many students with his dedication.

"He would sit down and study Gemarah and people would want to sit and study and learn with him," said Josh Cahan, a Yale senior.

Matt was also a member of Yale's Political Union and a founder of Magevet, the university's Jewish a capella singing group.

After graduation, he spent a year in Israel at Yeshiva Himiztar in Efrat, and then returned to the United States to enroll at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Sara, 22, who grew up in Teaneck, had attended The Frisch Yeshiva High School in Paramus, N.J., and majored in environmental science at Barnard, where she graduated last May summa cum laude. She also was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Sara's high school yearbook paints a portrait of an energetic, vivacious young woman: "A lovable chocoholic who has many levels of insanity concealed beneath her seemingly quiet exterior. A true eccentric hides behind those purple sneakers."

Last year, Sara went to Siberia as a participant in an environmental studies exchange program between the United States and Russia.

Also last year, Sara won first place in an essay contest sponsored by the Israel Aliyah Center of the Jewish Agency for Israel. She won a round-trip ticket to Israel.

"Until now we have taken for granted that Israel would `put the kippah on our heads,' that Israel would do much of the work of shaping Jewish identity," wrote Sara in her essay.

"As Israel continually struggles with its own identity, it is important to be reminded of the essence of [Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua] Heschel's statement — `The state of Israel is a spiritual revolution; not a one-time event, but an ongoing revolution.' The key ideas are `spiritual' and `ongoing,'" she wrote.

Sara was the second New Jersey native and Frisch alumna to be killed within a year by Hamas terrorists in Israel. Alisa Flatow, who graduated from Frisch in 1992, a year after Sara, was killed last April.

At Monday's memorial service at the Jewish Theological Seminary, attended by more than 200 people, Rabbi William Lebeau, dean of the rabbinical school, said: "We need space to contemplate the blast that has disturbed our world. No words are necessary. In our being together, we try to find comfort."

The Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford has set up a fund in Matt's memory. Donations to the Matthew Eisenfeld Memorial Fund may be sent to the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, 333 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford, CT 06117.

The Duker family has asked that donations in Sara's memory be made to the Jewish National Fund, 870 Market St., Suite 668, S.F., CA 94102.