JERUSALEM – Dina Carter converted from Christianity to Judaism, cut contact with her parents and moved to Israel, where she learned Hebrew, delved into sculpting and drawing, and created a new life.
On Friday, she was buried on a Jerusalem hilltop, one of five American victims of the bomb attack at Hebrew University, and the only American victim to be buried in Israel.
Carter, 38, was born and raised in Greensboro, N.C., but she rarely discussed her past with friends, co-workers or the Israeli family who befriended her after she immigrated here in 1990.
"I think she wanted to cut roots to the states and open a new life in Israel. I never asked why. She didn't want contact with her family. It's something you don't ask about," said Rafael Weiser, 58, Carter's boss at the Hebrew University library.
Carter worked at the university's west Jerusalem campus in the archived manuscripts department but was killed while making a rare visit to the university's campus on Mt. Scopus, in the eastern part of the city, when a bomb exploded in a crowded cafeteria on Wednesday. The militant Palestinian Hamas group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Speaking beside Carter's grave Friday, Weiser recalled her attachment to Israel: "She said to me, 'I don't have another home. Israel is my home."'
U.S. officials were not able to locate her parents in North Carolina until Friday, and no relatives from the United States were at the funeral.
Carter's father, Larry Carter, 64, a retired veterinarian, said after she left for Israel 12 years ago, she never contacted him, her mother or an older sister.
"We are at somewhat of a loss to know why," he said in a telephone interview from Greensboro. "Once she did immigrate and did convert, it was like she started her separate life."
He said his daughter became interested in Judaism while studying at Duke University in the mid-1980s. "Beyond that I really don't know what prompted it. It was so long ago," he said.
The family had argued over her decision to convert and the move to Israel, he said. "But like any family, we worked through that and thought that everything was OK."
His last contact with his daughter was in a phone call, which he described as pleasant, from California, before she flew to Israel in 1990.
The four other American victims of Wednesday's bomb attack were Benjamin Blutstein, 25, of Susquehanna Township, Pa.; Marla Bennett, 24, of San Diego; Janis Ruth Coulter, 36, who worked for the university in New York; and David Gritz, 24, who held dual American-French citizenship.
Two victims' bodies were flown to the United States on Friday and another was to be flown back Saturday night. Gritz's body was to be transported to France on Monday.
At Carter's funeral, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer said her life offered lessons.
"This was an extraordinary woman who made choices for herself about what she stood for, where she wanted to be, what she wanted to be and how she wanted to live her life," Kurtzer said. "We have the ability to make choices to live our lives as we see fit."
Pinchas Bar-Efrat, whose large family befriended Carter, said she became like a daughter and joined them every Friday evening for a meal at the start of the Jewish Sabbath.
"She became part of our family. To my grandchildren, she was like an aunt," said Bar-Efrat, 71, as one of his grandchildren, 12-year-old Sivan Meir, buried a tearful face against his shoulder.
Carter, a vegetarian, took up art, drawing landscapes and sculpting faces from wood, friends said. She also made abstract sculptures from tree bark, leaves and paper.
If her past was little known, her love for Israel was plainly visible to friends.
"There was the question of whether she should be buried in the states," Bar-Efrat said. "We all said her wish would be to be here. That was 100 percent clear. She loved Israel very much."