JERUSALEM — Separated by thousands of miles, students at high schools in Jerusalem and Oklahoma City have both been deeply affected by terrorism.
Located just a few miles from the site of the April 1995 Oklahoma City bomb blast that killed 169 and injured scores more, the Northwest Clausen and U.S. Grant high schools are still reeling from the year-old attack. Some of their students were injured in the blast, and one U.S. Grant student lost two of his brothers.
In Jerusalem, nearly every student at the Beit Hinuch high school has been personally touched by terrorism. During the past 18 months, six of the school's alumni have been killed in terrorist incidents and another two have fallen in the line of duty.
This week, the teen-agers in Oklahoma, as well as students from the FDR High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., — a school whose pupils have experienced more than their fair share of violence — sent letters of condolence and support to their counterparts in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The letter-writing campaign, initiated by the America-Israel Friendship League, is the first step in what teachers in both countries hope will be an ongoing exchange through the mail or possibly the Internet.
Distributed at a ceremony attended by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, the handwritten letters revealed that despite their cultural differences, Israeli and American teen-agers have much in common.
"It's kind of strange how we can live halfway around the world and still have some of the same problems," wrote Lance Reece, a student at U.S. Grant.
"All we ask for you is hang tight and pray every night. We all feel your pain here in Oklahoma," wrote Glennisa Fitzgerald, also of U.S. Grant. "Our prayers are with you,"
Hoping to convince the Israelis that they are not alone, Margarita Heras of Brooklyn wrote, "I hope that after this letter you will feel better, knowing that other people care about your safety."
Evelina Markman, another Brooklyn youth, said in her letter: "I can imagine how you must feel because I have many relatives living in Israel and I worry night and day how they are, and if they will make it through this horrible ordeal."
Others expressed feelings similar to those of the Brooklyn student who did not sign his name, who wrote, "I can't imagine what I would do if there was such a bombing in Brooklyn, where I live."
While most of the Israeli students seemed to welcome the letters and said such expressions of empathy give them strength, some were less than enthusiastic about the letter-writing project.
"I don't know if they really care about what happens here in Israel," said 17-year-old Eitan Pe'er. "I think it's a nice gesture, but from what I read in the newspapers, I get the impression that some Americans aren't all that concerned about events in the Middle East."
Yael Tzivona, 17, thought that the letters had been addressed to the wrong people.
"I think it was very nice of them, it's very nice that people care, but I'm not the one who is really suffering," she said.
"The students are hurting, but the ones who are really suffering are the families directly affected by the attacks. They're the ones who should be getting these letters, not us."