The two elderly Israeli women, Elsa Cohen, 70, and Bianca Shachrur, 63, had so much in common.
Both were born in Europe, survived World War II and came to Israel as adults, just a year apart. Both lost their husbands years ago. But the strongest bond was that each had a mentally disabled son living at the same group home in suburban Jerusalem.
Last weekend, the two women and their sons all went together to a cottage outside Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, the two women got on the 14/A bus, apparently at different stops, and a few moments later were among the 16 civilians killed when a Hamas suicide bomber, dressed as an Orthodox Jew, stepped aboard and blew himself up. A 17th victim died today.
Their disabled sons, Roni Cohen, 30, and Shmuel Shachrur, 24, did not learn of the deaths until today. They were devastated.
“It was a terrible task to tell them,” said Reuven Feuerstein, a retired professor of psychology who is responsible for the group home, called the Azriely Dedcher Hadassah Wizo Canada Center. “It was so stunning to lose the mothers of two young men at the same time.”
It was not clear whether the two women had been planning to meet each other or were on the same bus by coincidence. Workers at the group home, who happened to be passing by shortly before the blast, said they had seen the women at two different bus stops on Jaffa Street.
Rivka Bedein, who works at the group home, was only 50 yards from the explosion. “I wanted to help but people were yelling, `Go away,’ because they thought there might be a second bomb,” she said.
She headed to the group home, and having no knowledge of the identities of the victims, took the young men and women for a regular Wednesday night outing to the Israel Museum.
Because of the bombing, the group decided to walk rather than take a bus. When they returned to the home at 10 p.m., reports of the bombing were on the news, but the names of Mrs. Cohen and Mrs. Shachrur were not announced.
Still, such bombings often trouble the 30 men and women who spend the night at the home, and Mr. Shachrur called his mother.
When he could not reach her, he had trouble going to sleep. He put his mattress on the floor and slept there, in line with a Jewish tradition of sitting close to the floor during the mourning period for a relative, Mr. Feuerstein said.
Ms. Bedein said Mr. Shachrur kept saying: “Sixteen people were killed on the bus. It’s a terrible thing.”
She added, “I told him, It’s O.K., God is with us.”
This morning, the Israeli authorities were still trying to positively identify the remains of Mrs. Shachrur, and they went to the home to take a blood sample from Mr. Shachrur to compare DNA. When the results proved positive, they told him of his mother’s death this evening.
Earlier in the day, he sobbed intensely when he learned of Mrs. Cohen’s death, but he just kept blinking when he was told that his mother had died, Mr. Feuerstein said.
Mr. Shachrur is among the more functional men at the home and has been studying for a high school equivalency exam. Like many of the young men, he works part time at an army base doing odd jobs.
When he arrived at the home three years ago, he would walk around all day eating from a bag of cornflakes. He was frequently depressed, something he gradually overcame.
“Your mother has left this world knowing you have achieved so much,” Mr. Feuerstein told him.
Mrs. Shachrur was born in Italy, and came to Israel in 1969. Her husband, Immanuel, died 18 years ago, leaving her to raise her son and a daughter, Rachel, who is Mr. Shachrur’s one close surviving relative.
Mrs. Cohen was born in Germany in 1933 and lost her family in the Holocaust. She was smuggled into Britain, moving from one foster family to another.
She came to Israel in 1970 and married Hananya Cohen, who became the chief rabbi in a suburb of Haifa. He died of cancer, leaving her with Roni and a daughter, Margalit, who is also mentally disabled.
Her son has been spending mornings working a in gum-making factory where he packed boxes. He lived for the weekends, when he could visit his mother.
When told of his mother’s death this morning, he had difficulty comprehending it.
“She promised to be with me on the Sabbath,” he kept repeating. “Why did this man bomb my mother? What did she do to bother him?”
This piece ran in the June 13th, 2003 issue of the New York Times