SAN DIEGO – Marla Bennett knew that every day she stayed in Jerusalem, the simple choice of whether to turn left or right each morning could make the difference between life or death.
"This question may seem inconsequential, but the events of the past few months in Israel have led me to believe that each small decision I make -- by which route to walk to school, whether or not to go out to dinner -- may have life-threatening consequences," Bennett wrote in a May 10 column in a newspaper in her hometown of San Diego.
Bennett, 24, was one of five Americans killed Wednesday when a bomb ripped through a cafeteria at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. Two Israelis were killed and four other Americans were wounded.
Bennett had been doing joint graduate work at Pardes Institute and Hebrew University in Judaic Studies. She was due to return home on Friday, said family spokesman Norman Greene.
"Marla was incredibly bright, top of her class. She was extremely outgoing, bubbling young lady, very seriously involved in investigating her Judaism. She was interested in human beings, and finding a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict," Greene said.
Also among the dead was Benjamin Blutstein, 25, of Susquehanna Township, Pa., who was on a two-year study program to be a teacher of Jewish studies. He had planned to return to Pennsylvania on Thursday.
"We are shocked and deeply saddened to hear this news," said Ted Bernstein, president of the United Jewish Community of Greater Harrisburg. "His life was taken for an inexplicable reason."
Another victim, Janis Ruth Coulter, 36, was an assistant director of graduate studies for the university's Rothberg International School in New York. She had been escorting American students when the attack occurred.
"Janis Ruth was a wonderful, loving, caring person," said Harry King, a family spokesman. "We, her family, are devastated. Her death is such a pointless thing to have happened."
A fourth victim, David Gritz, 24, of Peru, Mass., held dual American-French citizenship.
The son of a Croatian mother and an American father, Gritz grew up in Paris, but spent his summers at his parents' house in the small town of Peru in the Berkshires. Family friends said he was to begin a graduate course in Jewish thought.
"It's a very sad thing," said longtime family friend Nancy Kreger. "He was a great kid. He wasn't even supposed to be there. His classes didn't start until tomorrow (Thursday)."
A fifth person with Israeli and American citizenship was not identified.
Bennett was in the second year of a three-year master's program in Judaic Studies, and had been at the university to take a final exam in her sole Hebrew University class of the semester, Hebrew language.
Bennett had long rejected pleas from friends and family to leave the country, spelling out her love for Israel in a column for the weekly San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage.
"My friends and family in San Diego are right when they call and ask me to come home -- it is dangerous here," she wrote. "I appreciate their concern. But there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be right now.
"I have a front-row seat for the history of the Jewish people. I am a part of the struggle for Israel's survival. Paying for my groceries is the same as contributing money to my favorite cause."
The explosion occurred at the university's Mount Scopus campus, a Jewish enclave surrounded by Palestinian neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city. The university said 23,000 students attend the school, about 5,000 of them Arabs and 1,500 from abroad.
Spencer Dew, 26, an American student from Owensboro, Ky., was lightly wounded by flying glass. He said he had worried about such attacks in Israel, "but it didn't deter me from coming. I assume I'll come back next year."