Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Home from Beirut, Student Recounts Escape; A Woman from Jacksonville Was among Thousands Who Evacuated to Stay Safe

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Home from Beirut, Student Recounts Escape; A Woman from Jacksonville Was among Thousands Who Evacuated to Stay Safe

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA

Jacksonville attorney David Wiesenfeld once heard someone depicted as having proper wit and an adventurous spirit. He hoped one day it would be a description used for his children.

After his 21-year-old daughter Sarah Wiesenfeld spent six days in Lebanon during the deadly Israel-Hezbollah conflict trying to determine her best route to safety, David Wiesenfeld just smiles when asked if she fits the bill.

As Sarah Wiesenfeld told the story of how she escaped from a land she has grown to love, it's that humor, sense of adventure, calm demeanor and empathy for others that came through most.

What she wants people to know is that she's thrilled to be home, grateful to the Norwegian government for seeing her to safety and amazed by the strength of her friends and professors in Lebanon. She said she never panicked or ever felt an immediate fear for her safety, but she's well aware that with just one bad decision, her story could have a less-happy ending.

Wiesenfeld has always had a love of languages. To her, language is like an art, whether she's studying French, Latin or German. She was a junior at Bishop Kenny High School when Islamist terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Her interest in Arabic began then.

She's a senior at Florida State University. But when her school chose not to sponsor Arabic courses in the Middle East this summer, 10 students opted to take six weeks of classes through Lebanese American University.

Wiesenfeld had left the United States in January for an internship in Switzerland with the U.S. State Department. Between her internship and classes, her travels took her to France and Portugal.

Three weeks into her classes on a Beirut university campus about the size of her high school, bombs started falling nearby. It was July 13.

As she started to tell her story Saturday, a plane flew over her father's home not far from where Craven and Baymeadows roads meet.

"That's the one thing that still makes me nervous," she said.

In Lebanon, the sound of jets was usually followed by bombs.

The plan was for the group to leave Beirut the next day. But before the buses could leave, reports came in of roads leading from the city being bombed.

"That's the one point when I first became very scared," she said.

It was nerve-racking because she knew people who were arranging for an organization to escort them out of Beirut. She didn't know whether she should go with them.

She called her father several times during the trip to get advice.

He told her she had to make the decision, but it should be based on facts, not emotion. He thought she would be best off staying with her group, which she did. She said she has no regrets about her time abroad or the choices she made on her escape.

The group made it to Byblos, about a 30-minute bus trip north from Beirut on a normal day. …

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