Ten Years Since the Towers Fell
On September 11th, 2001, our phone rang at around 6:15 a.m., waking us up. It was our daughter Aliza, who worked a few blocks from the twin towers. “Turn on your TV. Something terrible has happened.” It turned out she had come out of the subway just in time to see the second airplane hit. Then all the cell phones went down, and we didn’t hear from her for hours. It turned out she had ended up in Brooklyn, covered in dust in ashes.
Now it is 10 years later. Much has changed in the world. Osama bin Laden met a well-deserved death, but Islamist terror is still a scourge. I decided to look back at my Rosh Hashanah sermon given just days after the attack to see if anything I said then in that emotional moment just days after the event still made sense to me.
In this short article I would like to revisit one point I made then which still pertains, and this coming Shabbat morning I will reflect further.
I said that we must “know with certainty that this was a great evil: cold-blooded, methodical, and willfully indiscriminate. Yuri Yanover, who runs a Jewish internet newsletter, witnessed the destruction of the World Trade Center. He wrote,
This is what a satanic act looks like: Bright, metallic, swinging with ease across the sky, turning with complete mastery of the laws of Physics, of the laws of Life and death, of the Laws of Pain and Fear. Evil makes a few calm course corrections, to insure full impact. Evil engulfs the innocent with a ball of fire and rises in a victorious after-dance. Evil removes thousands from among the living with one ideologically-certain whoosh of flame. There is nothing that can justify such an act, and we must realize that those who do so, who tell us to “understand” the hatred that drives such deeds, are moral accomplices of the murderers.
I remembered those words just a few weeks later when I sat on panels with Christian clergy and some of them talked about forgiving bin Laden, or about the need for America to examine its own deeds which might have led to these acts. I think that I even used that term “moral accomplices” in rebuttal to one such speaker. This did not endear me to him, but I thought then and think now that I was right. Yes, the world is diverse and not everyone thinks like we do, but there is such a thing as evil. There is no way to justify using rape as a weapon of war, or the murder of children, or brothers killing their sister because she has “dishonored” the family. And there is certainly no way to justify or excuse mass murder.
As we look around at the world today, we still see evil at work. And there are still supposedly intelligent people who can’t or won’t recognize evil or condemn it. But it exists, and it must be fought. That is one enduring lesson of 9/11.