Today, on September 11, Patriots Day, we remember the victims of the terrorist attacks that forever changed our country on September 11, 2001.
I personally could not believe that planes hijacked by terrorists would crash into the World Trade Centers, the pentagon in DC, and that a fourth plane was taken down in a field in Pennsylvania by the passengers trying to avoid additional bloodshed. So many lives were tragically lost, families thrown into upheaval, and our country had to wrestle with a new level of growing security concerns. Xenophobia became a new word in my vocabulary and drove my thinking as a Program Director at the time on types of programs that could bring people together–especially the American Muslim community–as divisiveness was growing at an alarming pace.
I can remember that morning around 8:30am getting ready to leave for work with my oldest son Jacob who was then 21 months old. Cory and I were living in our town home in Huntington Station located on Long Island–one hour from New York City. It was the usual morning hustle to get Jacob to pre school at the Suffolk Y JCC in Commack, NY. Cory called for me to come back upstairs to see the breaking television news of a plane crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Centers. We had friends or siblings of friends who worked in these buildings and we were immediately filled with anxiety. I left for the JCC and recall the incredible fear as I listened to the radio and heard of additional terrorist attacks happening elsewhere. While many of my Israeli family and friends have lived though years of bombing and attacks, we as Americans have never felt this vulnerable.
I learned the word Xenophobia means the dislike of people from another country or religion. The days following 9/11, hate and anger were immediately escalated throughout the country in profiling, security issues, and everyday relationships and conversations. I was stunned. It was clear that racism, racial intolerance, and people’s new or suppressed bigotry was playing out. What do I do? What does the JCC do? What will our country do?
These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. Even with all of inequality and pain that still exists, eighteen years later we still have a great nation.
We can do our part to remember the lives that were lost on 9/11 by each making our community more welcoming and inclusive of others. The value that comes to mind is Derech Eretz… that all people deserve to live with respect and dignity.
Today marks eighteen years since 9/11. Eighteen in Jewish tradition means “Life.”
May the memories of those who perished be always remembered and be for a blessing. May we be inspired to combat xenophobia.