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Upper East Sider Leona Zeplin (r.) and Nava Laham of Haifa, Israel, hold pictures of sons, who were killed in separate acts of terrorism. Marc Zeplin died at World Trade Center on 9/11. Eli Laham died in 2003 on bus targeted by suicide bomber.

9/11 victims’ kin find solace among Israelis


EIN GEDI, Israel — Leona Zeplin has struggled since her son was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, so the upper East Sider, along with other bereaved New Yorkers, traveled to the Dead Sea last week to spend time with Israelis who also have endured senseless personal losses.

“I feel like there’s a bond with the people here in Israel,” Zeplin said. “You speak to people, and you realize you’re not alone in your sorrow.” Leona and Leonard Zeplin’s son Marc, a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, died on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower. He was 33 years old and left a wife and two young sons.

His mother said she found some comfort talking to bereaved Israelis — “people who inspire you by seeing how they have not only put their lives together and have moved forward, but still are living here and dealing with an atrocity that could happen at any moment.”

Leonard Zeplin, a principal at the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, said he had received a lot of support at the school and thought he didn’t need to talk with anyone else. But, he said, “when I heard the Israelis talk about their children being killed, that threw me totally.”

The encounter was organized by the Koby Mandell Foundation, which helps the families of terror victims. The foundation was established by the American-Israeli parents of a 13-year-old boy battered to death in 2002 in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa.

“For those of us who have lost a family member to terror, the sharing and expression of feelings is an effective way to cope with the pain of our loss,” said poet and book author Sherri Mandell, who set up the foundation with her husband, Seth, in honor of their son Koby.

The New Yorkers who gathered at the Dead Sea workshop attend regular therapy sessions for 9/11 families in Brooklyn, run by Rabbi Simkha Weintraub of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services.

“It’s an ongoing process. You are never unbereaved. But the United States is a death-denying, bereavement-constraining society,” Weintraub said.

On the shores of the Dead Sea, at the desert oasis of Ein Gedi, Shira Chernoble, a therapist from Washington Heights in upper Manhattan who now lives in Israel, asked the group to find an object that reminded them of their lost loved one.

Nava Laham of Haifa, whose son Eli, 21, was killed in a suicide-bomber bus attack in 2003, chose a stone. “It’s like a gravestone, not moving, but the water flows over it like life, which keeps on going. It symbolizes the life and sorrow which we have to deal with together,” Laham said.

Leona Zeplin also chose a rock, which symbolized for her the rocklike strength of her son. “It reminds me of Marc’s strength of mind, character and personality — and the fact that we have to be like rocks to help care for his wife and children,” she said.