by Lou Balcher
With the High Holidays around the corner, remembrance and reflection are part of our Jewish DNA. So what is the significance of 9/11 for us as American Jews?
Prominently placed on my suit jacket lapel is a 9/11 pin that is worn while speaking about Israel at community events. It always is a conversation starter. After the talk, unfailingly someone asks, “Why the 9/11 pin?” My answer is that on 9/11, our Christian neighbors and friends finally began to understand what it means to be Jewish and supportive of Israel.
Fifteen years ago, terrorism hit home to America. Nearly 3,000 souls taken in one day. America, shaken, woke up and unified against a very real threat of international terrorism. Our non-Jewish next door neighbors went into military service, police and rescue services, and scores realized that Israel is the bulwark of American defense against a common threat. The daily terror victims of Israel at the beginning of this millennium were no longer so remote.
Remembrance — “Zecher L’Tziat Mitzrayim” — the call to “Remember the Exodus from Egypt” is a common thread of our Jewish heritage and identity. After 15 years, 9/11 is still a cause for Americans to stop, remember, pay homage to the victims, appreciate our American way of life, and unfortunately realize that a common threat of radical Islam still exists. Remembrance of 9/11 is this generation’s American “Zecher L’Tziat Mitzrayim.”
What were the outcomes of 9/11? America unified in a manner not seen in decades, perhaps since Pearl Harbor. A paradigm shift occurred in grass roots understanding of Israel’s position in the world.
Most in America “get it” about Israel, being the sole real democracy in the Middle East and America’s true friend. This understanding excludes those on the radical left and the anti-Semites taking hold of Europe, … and American campuses. Those in league with BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) and its “soft terrorism” cannot see Israel in terms other than the failed Communist understandings of colonialism and class war. Listening to the chants on the streets of Europe, and college commons, you can hear the echoes of the training of Arafat and Abbas, by the KGB.
A second outcome of 9/11 affected the American Jewish community. A new focus was placed on campus and training young adults, and devoting precious resources to the effort. It saw the creation and development of a score of organizations, like Hasbara Fellowships, StandWithUs, the David Project, the growth of CAMERA, and many other organizations who took it upon themselves to train the next generation of Jewish leadership.
On this, the 15th anniversary of 9/11, an effort is being made to cast light on real work for peace in the Middle East. There are Arab Palestinian leaders who know that the only way to Peace is economic development, true human rights and building relationships with Israel and America.
One of these Palestinian human rights activists with a true peace agenda is Bassem Eid. Mr. Eid came to Bucks County, PA on 9/11. He visited the suburb that serves as the bedroom community to New York City and Philadelphia, and which saw eighteen of its residents consumed in an American one-day Holocaust by overseas radical Islamic terror.
During the official State of Pennsylvania 9/11 Commemoration, beginning at 8:30 a.m., Bassem Eid gave a short perspective at Bucks County’s Garden of Reflection. At 1:30 p.m., he gave a major community address at Congregation Brothers of Israel, also in Newtown, PA.
Prior to the community presentation, in the same manner of young adult leadership development which was a major Jewish outcome of 9/11, Bassem Eid had a “Meet and Greet” with post-college young professionals nearby the synagogue, organized by Young Jewish Leadership Concepts, a nonprofit young professionals network, celebrating three decades of connecting young adults.
The message of remembrance this 9/11 is accompanied by focusing on true paths to peace. It also is a reflection and awareness that when terrorism hit America’s shores, in a matter of common defense and understanding, all Americans became Jewish.
Lou Balcher served from 2004 – 2013 as Director of Academic Affairs to Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region. He also served as Education Director for Congregation Tifereth Israel in Bensalem, PA, and as administrator and teacher for Gratz College’s Jewish Community High School. He is a former Membership Director for the Philadelphia and Cincinnati regions of B’nai B’rith International. For three decades, he has coordinated post-college young leadership programs for Young Jewish Leadership Concepts. Additionally, he consults as National Director of the American Friends of the Kaplan Medical Center, Rehovot, Israel which serves more than one million Israeli citizens.