This week, Pia Levine returns to Jerusalem to celebrate her survival of last year’s bombing by running in the Jerusalem Marathon for Team OneFamily.
On March 23rd 2011, Pia Levine and her friend Sara were on their way home from an enjoyable day in downtown Jerusalem. As they discussed what they should bring in their carry-on luggage for their trip back to the US that Saturday night, a bomb exploded at the bus stop by Binyanei Ha’umah, the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
Three days later, and still suffering the effects of the attack, Pia participated in the Jerusalem Marathon. She ran the half-marathon that Friday morning, in memory of her father who had passed away the year before from cancer. Her friends and family thought she was crazy for participating in the marathon so soon after the attack – but it felt like something she needed to do.
This week she has returned to Jerusalem to celebrate her survival by running in the Jerusalem Marathon on March 16, 2012.
“Last year, after the terror attack, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was asked if he would be canceling the marathon – to which he responded, ‘Of course not. The city has to move on and continue with life.’
“When I heard this, I thought, that even though I was in the attack I would still run. I would not let these terrorists stop my life and accomplish their goals.
“OneFamily Fund became my rock. I had no physical injuries, only shock , and I was diagnosed with PTSD.
“OneFamily started my recovery process. Chantal Belzberg picked me up the day after the attack, took me to Shaarei Tzedek hospital to be treated for shock, and then brought me back to the hotel where I was staying with my Marathon team. She and others were cheering for me when I passed the OneFamily center during the marathon.
“Days after I returned to America, I received a phone call from Michelle Napell of OneFamily US , who continued helping me. She was there to teach me how to cope. She revealed to me that talking about it would really make me feel better – and it did. She also suggested I sign up for the NYC triathlon in August, because the exercise in the direction of accomplishing something so major was bound to help. She was right.
“My first marathon was the Jerusalem Marathon last March. I never thought of myself as much of a runner even though I loved the idea of it. I followed it by participating in the TD 5 Boro Bike Tour in May (which I had partially completed the previous year) and then the Nautica NYC triathlon in August.
“When I reflect on the terror attack I realize there must be a reason I didn’t get off the bus like I normally did, which would have put me right in the middle of the explosion. There must be a reason that sitting directly across from the shattering glass, I didn’t get even a scratch. There must be a reason that someone was killed and it wasn’t me. I’ve focused most of my brain power on these what ifs, trying to figure out why it wasn’t me, but in truth I will never know.
“So I want to try and make a difference, spread awareness, tell my story. I want to let the terrorists know that they can’t stop me from living life. My story is a story of strength and inspiration, empowerment to keep on returning to our land and to not be afraid.
“Because I left Israel so abruptly, only 3 days after the attack, I never got the chance to deal with my fears. I didn’t have to go back to Binyanei Hauma bus stop (where the attack was) or take a bus. I was on a plane back to America.
“I know I will not be able to truly let go of the emotional baggage until I am there, in Jerusalem, to face it. Going back to Jerusalem for the same event those terrorist tried to prevent me from attending is my way of showing them that I will not let them terrorize me. I will rise above and win.
“Returning is my way of continuing this. Not letting them prevent me from living life to the fullest while also providing inspiration to other victims showing them that life does go on and we can’t stop living it.
“I am still experiencing PTSD. The effects have definitely decreased over the year but there are times when it gets out of hand. When I returned from Israel I was still in shock. I would shy away from loud noises, hide from crowded areas, avoid public transportation. I was convinced someone was going to blow up Penn Station or Port Authority (the main hubs of transportation in Manhattan). I dreaded driving because of when the little pebbles would hit the windshield. To me it sounded like shrapnel hitting the side of the bus and the glass shattering. I have flashbacks. I picture the attack happening again. I relive it with sounds and feelings.
“Aside from that I also experience my PTSD when I cannot get in touch with someone over the phone. It frightens me because right after I ran off the bus, I called my mother. The thought of not being able to reach her then, or if something bad happens in the future, still scares me.
This week, as Pia made her final preparations for the race, she began to close the circle of her experiences.
“Today was my first day back in Jerusalem since I left a year ago. By the end of the week I hope to be able to go over to that bus stop, to where the explosion actually was and perhaps speak with the man at the kiosk who saved many lives.”