The Jerusalem Post – June 1, 2001 (page B3)

Sara’s Way

Earlier this year, Aryeh Dean Cohen talked with Sara Blaustein about her family’s decision to leave America and move to Efrat – a personal journey that ended this week with her murder by Palestinian terrorists

When I walked into Sara Blaustein’s kitchen in Efrat in March, the first thing I noticed was the stove. Stuck to the shiny new appliance was the hand-written word “kirayim” spelled out in English, with the Hebrew just beneath it.

After I realized that the woman killed in the drive-by shooting near Neveh Daniel on Tuesday was Sara, I thought of that Hebrew-leaming sticker, and how strong a commitment to her family’s new life in Israel it signalled to me.

I had come to Efrat to interview Atara, Sara and Norman Blaustein’s 14-year-old daughter, for an article about children immigrating to Israel for a US-based publication. The Blausteins (both 53) readily agreed to the interview, anxious to let everyone and anyone know that immigrating to Israel was something that everyone should consider. Sara was part of the silent minority of American Jews who were making aliya, and she wanted others to hear about it.

The small, unassuming house in Efrat was full of family mementos and modest furnishings. Mostly, it seemed like home, reflecting the Blausteins’ determination to make Efrat as much a part of themselves as the comfortable life they had left behind in Lawrence, New York.

An affluent Long Island suburb home to many wealthy Orthodox Jews, the material comfort and safety of Lawrence is worlds away from the now harsh reality of Gush Etzion. According to Rabbi Kenneth Hain of Congregation Beth Sholem in Lawrence, the Blausteins’ former congregation, the community was in shock on hearing of Sara’s death.

“This woman was a role model for us here,” says Hain. “Sara was a remarkable student of Torah and Judaism, who had the most incredible smile and was always volunteering for causes on behalf Israel. She visited back here a few months ago, when her fourth grandchild was born, and she was still ecstatic about living there.

“She was undeterred; Sara was the closest thing I've seen to the original Zionist pioneers, the halutzim, of 80 years ago. She didn't just believe in the Zionist dream, she lived it – which is a rarity these days.”

THAT dream came to an end for her when Palestinian terrorists pumped a volley of bullets into the car carrying Sara and six other passengers.

Also killed was Esther Alvan, 20, also from Efrat. Among the wounded was Norman Blaustein and 27-year old Samuel Berg, one of Sara's three children by her first marriage, who was visiting the Blausteins from the US. Also staying with them at the time was Sara's mother, Rebecca Unterberg; several years ago one of Sara's brothers died of cancer, and since then her mother visited Efrat for several months every year.

Ironically, the Blausteins were killed heading for the funeral of Gilad Zar of Itamar, security officer Samaria Regional Council, who was gunned down, on the roads earlier in the day by terrorists. Sara had made a point of trying to attend the funerals of the victims of the Palestinian violence in the past few months. (Note: The author was misinformed, as were many others. The Blaustein’s were on their way to the Kotel. Esther Alvan, though, was on her way to the funeral. S.B.)

Earlier in the day, she had also visited Rachel's Tomb together with Rachel Schwartz, one of her neighbors in Efrat. The women had made a ritual of going every Tuesday to visit the site. “We went because we felt we have to make sure there is a Jewish presence there,” Schwartz says.

Last March, when I interviewed Atara (who was not in the car with her parents when her mother was killed), she spoke of missing her four siblings, and how her uncle's arrival in Israel had set the plan in motion for the family to move there. Sara's brother, David Unterberg, and his wife Cheryl, had earlier already moved to Efrat.

“We came once a year, sometimes twice,” she said, surrounded by bat mitzva gifts she'd received when the family had a big celebration to mark both her big event and the family's upcoming move to Israel.

Then I went downstairs, sat at the comfortable kitchen table, and shmoozed with Sara and Norman. Sara filled in background of how the family started out in Staten Island and moved to Lawrence about a decade ago, where her husband ran a computer maintenance company. Throughout those years, they had always contemplated aliya.

“My brother was always trying to get us to move to Israel,” Sara said, offering her guest more coffee. “We had talked since we got married about coming here when we retired, More and more people we knew were commuting [between Israel and the US] or managing to make their living in the States before living here.

“That was the issue. We didn't see a way to make a living here. My husband had started a business when he was middle-aged, and got really burned out. But when we came to visit we started seriously speaking to people about living here.”

“We had a plan,” said Norman, explaining how the family had chosen Efrat because they thought it would be easier to integrate first into an English-speaking environment before trying a Hebrew-speaking one.

As we talked, I noticed Norman's New York Giants mug, and we talked some football. I told them how much I respected them for coming, even in hard times, and they spoke of their disappointment at not having more guests because of “the situation.”

But they assured me they were not scared to drive on the roads. Nonetheless, they were convinced they’d made the right move, living down the block from Sara's brother, where Atara had cousins to play with. Says Rabbi Hain: “Sara wasn't an extremist; Norman and her saw themselves as moving to a suburb in Efrat, not a ‘settlement.’”

 "It's like a bungalow colony outside for the kids,” said Norman, looking out the window at some children playing. He said he looked forward to cleaning up their yard after shmitta.

Sara worried about Atara's acclimation in school, but not about the violence. “I send her by herself to the Old City,” said Sara, “She had a 10-year-old showing her the way. In New York, you don't send a kid unless there's an adult taking them.”

Talking about their decision to come, Sara put down her coffee cup for a moment, looked up and said: “There is definitely the Zionist aspect – we were raised that way. We came from a community with a very small number of Jews, and so many are living here. All my life, the ideal was to move to Israel.”

Yossi Baumel, director of the Old City's Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva, was both a workmate of Sara (she managed the yeshiva's New York office for five years) and her neighbor in Efrat. Asked how Sara should be remembered, he responds: “As someone who left behind a very comfortable life in one of the richest Jewish communities – and even some of her children and grandchildren – in order to find, fulfillment living in the Land of Israel. And just on the morning of her death I was talking with her mother, who said that Sara really did look like she had found herself here.

Sadly, her death may only rein- force the fears of some of those she left behind when she made aliya, and possibly discourage others from following in her path. “Yes, this kind of incident naturally raises concerns here,”says Hain. “And I think that would have been her only regret. Sara wouldn't have wanted that. She believed that Jews should live in Israel.

(With reporting by Kelly Hartog, Calev Ben-David, and agencies)