September 8, 2016
Dear Friend of Israel
Fifteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, the world changed. On this crisp, clear, early fall day, terrorists flew three hijacked airliners into the two World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth plane, United flight 93, was hijacked but crashed in rural Pennsylvania due to the heroic efforts of passengers to divert it from its intended target. Nearly 3,000 people died, and life in the U.S. was thrown into turmoil. The skies were eerily quiet as all commercial air traffic was suspended for three days.
9/11 was, for thousands of Americans, a catastrophic personal tragedy. It was also the foremost national tragedy of our time. But it marked an awakening of sorts. Prior to it, we might have assumed that earlier acts of terror against American targets – Hezbollah’s devastating 1983 attack on U.S. servicemen in Beirut, the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, attacks against U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, and others – were unrelated events. After 9/11, the extent of organized efforts by Islamist terrorists to undermine and destroy all things American became clear. America’s war on terror had begun.
No country grasped the situation better than Israel, which was among the first to offer assistance and express solidarity with America on September 11. This did not surprise me – the Jewish state has been fighting a war on terror since the day she declared her independence in 1948. Israel understands the nature of terrorist evil, and is all too familiar with its human cost.
Time has a way of making events, no matter how horrible, slip from memory, and in some ways that fateful morning of September 11, 2001 seems very distant. While Americans have seen a disturbing surge in terror attacks on U.S. soil, there has been nothing approaching the scale of the 9/11 attacks.
With this in mind, perhaps it is time for all Americans, whatever their faith, country of origin, or political beliefs, to adopt a phrase that has become the watchword of the Jewish people since the Holocaust: “Never forget.” Never forget those innocent victims of hateful fanaticism who, on the morning of September 11, had their lives extinguished in an instant, or those who struggled mightily to survive but perished. Never forget the firemen, policemen, and ordinary civilians who, in their urge to save others, heroically walked toward the flames rather than away. Never forget those on United Flight 93 who fought back rather than allow their plane to become another weapon for terrorists.
And, through it all, never forget the words of the psalmist, who spoke so eloquently of God’s faithfulness to His children: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:7-8). Just as God was present comforting those in trouble during the attacks of September 11, so He is with us today through our triumphs, our tragedies, and the day-to-day routines of our lives. That, more than anything, is a fact worth remembering.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President