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Hate and Heroism on 9/11

by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

RYESeptember 10, 2009

Dear Friend of Israel,

Eight years ago, the U.S. experienced the worst terrorist attack ever on its soil when Islamic fundamentalist terrorists hijacked commercial jetliners and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Another plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania after passengers on the doomed flight launched a heroic effort to foil the hijackers.

I will never forget that morning. The beauty of a crystal clear early fall Tuesday in Chicago stood in jarring contrast to the horrific events we saw unfolding on our television screens. Prior to closing the Fellowship office, staff gathered in our conference room for prayers. Afterward I recall telling them that Americans could now understand why Israelis, who live daily with the possibility of terrorist attacks, carry cell phones with them at all times (such a thing was far less common eight years ago than it is today)—they never know when they may need to call a friend or relative to ask, "are you alright?"

Ironically, this wanton act of cruelty brought out the best in Americans. I cannot think of this day without thinking of the hundreds of firefighters and paramedics who died after going into the burning buildings to try to save more victims. Nor can I forget the countless individuals—whose selfless acts of heroism and compassion will remain forever untold—who died trying to save others, or while staying behind to comfort someone too injured to escape the conflagration. It brings to mind Winston Churchill's stirring words during World War II: "You do your worst," he said defiantly to the Nazis, "and we will do our best." Emboldened by courage, faith, and conviction, that is just how Americans responded to the atrocities committed on September 11, 2001—by showing the world their best.

Since that fateful day, the U.S. has, thank God, been spared further terrorist attacks. But around the world—in Spain, London, Bali, India, Africa, and particularly in Israel—fundamentalist Islamists have continued a relentless campaign of terror against innocent people whose only crime is not subscribing to the Islamist's beliefs. If this tells us anything, it is that the U.S. has been spared such attacks not because the enemy has lost the will to carry them out, but because it is geographically separated from the source of Islamist terror in a way these other countries are not, and because we have become more adept at and determined to protect ourselves from it.

It is a sobering fact to consider, one that calls us to be always vigilant and aware. But, even as we do, let us keep in mind this biblical wisdom: I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:20-23) As we pause tomorrow to remember one of the darkest days in our nation's history, let us always remember the courage and heroism of ordinary Americans on that day—and rest in the assurance offered in this passage, that God's love and faithfulness to us endures even amid our trials and tribulations.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews

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