On September 11, 2001, I was at work in my office on Cape Cod in Massachusetts with my co-worker Beth, starting the day as usual: coffee, boot computer, emails, and calendar review. One of us, I don’t remember who, checked CNN.com for the morning news and there it was.
My mother, who was 85 at the time, called asking me to remind her where my brother’s office was. I assured her that it was many blocks away and that he would be safe; he was safe, but clearly jarred as all New York City residents were. That night, on my weekly community radio call in program, my co-host contacted a friend who had been on the train headed to Jersey City just minutes before the attack and had witnessed the first plane hit from his office across the harbor during his morning routine which included looking out the window at the glorious view and pouring a cup of coffee. We spoke on the air with him, still not understanding, but believing that life in the United States would never be the same. We were right, and we were wrong.
In the small town I then lived in, there was (as in many cities and towns in America) a memorial service held in the old town hall with members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars speaking and patriotic songs. Great Jewish American writers Stanley Kunitz and Norman Mailer read from their works, both long time residents of Provincetown who were both aging but strong voiced. Most people had learned by then that a resident of a neighboring town, Berry Berenson Perkins has died in one of the planes as she headed to California for the winter. In subsequent years, every September 11th, the local fire and police departments held a ceremony. The last one I attended was just before I made aliyah two years ago. There were only a handful of people there. A short time later, I left for Israel and have not been back since.
This will be my second September 11th since making aliyah and finding a true home in Jerusalem. Last year, I attended the U.S. Embassy’s memorial service at the beautiful memorial built in the Jerusalem Forest that includes the names of all who died that day. There were other dual Israeli/American citizens there who I know, but only a few. The crowd was filled with embassy workers (from the embassy in Tel Aviv, but that is a whole other lengthy piece, more a diatribe about the insult of not having our capital recognized) and US consulate workers, as well as the US military personnel assigned to the wrongly placed embassy. It was there, at that moment, that I realized that I felt more Israeli than American; when the Star Spangled Banner was sung, I felt empty. The Israeli anthem was not played. What was comforting was that I was able to take a photo of Berry Berenson’s name engraved on the memorial wall. I had seen her on the street just two or three weeks prior to September 11th and we spoke fleetingly. This year, I will not attend the Embassy’s memorial service.
It is fifteen years later and the United States has been rocked by a series of attacks written off as being perpetrated by lone wolf lunatics, who oddly have one thing in common: an extraordinary interest in jihadist groups and beliefs. This past week, the administration of the present President of the United States actually sent the Director of Homeland Security to a conference attended by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the inspiration for Al Qaeda and its evil twin ISIS (yes, I am simplifying this to the basics). When the heinous attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando occurred, Americans were quick to say that the perpetrator was a self-loathing gay mentally ill individual and not a jihadist at all, despite the evidence. GLBT groups were quick to deny that Islamist tendencies had anything to do with the attack. This was infuriating because it is dangerous to minimize terrorism. It will always embolden those who would do harm.
When did it become fashionable in the United States to make excuses for terrorists? The Tsarnaevs were misguided youth, the Fort Hood murderer was mentally ill, etc. Recruiters for terrorist organizations often target impressionable, troubled youth who are looking for a sense of community. Or who might have suicidal tendencies or a desire for martyrdom. Being mentally ill and being a jihadist terrorist are not mutually exclusive traits.
Among all the ceremonies, the commemorations, the sad songs, the tracing of names on memorials, is there a real effort in the United States to face the true meaning of September 11, 2001? Or will it continue to be viewed as an isolated incident perpetrated by a bunch of unaffiliated Muslims? Will the new president refer to the next incarnation of an Al Qaeda or ISIS type group as the “JV team”? Will the next president continue to flirt with Islamic jihadists? Will the next president continue to ignore Jew hate on campuses introduced by those who blame terrorism perpetrated in Israel on Israelis? And will denial be so strong that the American people will again be shocked when the next attack occurs? And it will.
On this September 11th, I will have a regular day with a meeting in the morning and maybe a walk to the Old City in the afternoon. All around Jerusalem, there are plaques at the locations of terrorist attacks, to remind us of the lives lost. They are numerous. My wish for the United States is that the deaths and the plaques and the memorials do not become as numerous as they are in Israel. And that more people, like lovely Berry Berenson, do not have to die because no one was listening to the truth.