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New book explores ’96 bombing that killed alum Matt Eisenfeld

Matt Eisenfeld ’93 died next to the woman he hoped to marry.

In February 1996, a Palestinian terrrorist boarded a bus in Jerusalem and set off a massive bomb. Eisenfeld, a 25-year-old rabbinical student, and Sara Duker, a recent Barnard College graduate, were among the 26 people killed. A paramedic found their bodies side by side, still in their seats, Mike Kelly reports in his new book, The Bus on Jaffa Road.

The story of Eisenfeld and Duker—who were also buried side by side in Connecticut—hit hard at Yale and elsewhere. “They were in love with their faith and with each other, and they died together as the victims of hate,” the New York Times wrote in a front-page article. At Yale, Jewish students named a songbook in memory of Eisenfeld, who cofounded the Jewish a cappella group Magevet. At the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he was studying to be a rabbi, a beit midrash—a study room that’s also a gathering place for students—bears the couple’s names.

As a Yale undergradaute, Eisenfeld taught Hebrew school, led a prayer group, was a member of the ski team, and chaired the Political Union’s Progressive Party, the Yale Herald reported. A Saybrook College friend, David Teten ’93, told the newspaper: “[Matthew was] a very gentle and spiritual man. His loss is severe for both the Jewish and gentile world.”

The Bus on Jaffa Road, to be released October 7 by Globe Pequot Press, is not a biography. Subtitled A Story of Middle East Terrorism and the Search for Justice, it weaves sketches of the Eisenfeld and Duker families into a broader story of Palestinian terror, US diplomacy, and legal efforts by victims—including the Eisenfelds and Dukers—to inflict punitive damages on Iran. That’s where Hamas operative Hassan Salameh learned how to build the bomb that blew up the bus on Jaffa Road, and where the government provided annual budget allotments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

Kelly, a New Jersey journalist who began covering the bombing because Duker grew up there, does not provide a happy ending. The families won their lawsuit against the government of Iran, were stymied by their own goverment in trying to collect their $327 million dollar verdict, and eventually settled for a fraction of the amount—which, Kelly reports, apparently did not come from frozen Iranian assests after all, but from the US treasury. Iran continues to fund terrorism throughout the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no closer to resolution.

But at the beginning of this Jewish New Year, we can recall the words that Eisenfeld posted on the wall of his Jerusalem apartment back in 5756.

“Above all,” he wrote at the bottom of a list of goals, “we need to be happy. There is not enough time allotted to us to waste time in misery.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Matt Eisenfeld, Magevet, terrorism
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