It is still dark in the early morning hours of Wednesday, April 8, 1981, as I slip quietly out of the house to travel to New York City, where I will daven atop the World Trade Center and watch the daily miracle of the sun slowly rising over the city in all its glory. But this particular sunrise is special: This morning, I will be joining Jews all over the world in reciting Birkat Hachamah, the most infrequent of all Jewish prayers. It is recited only once every 28 years, on the day when the sun completes a 28-year solar cycle and returns to the precise position in the firmament where it was initially established by G-d on the fourth day of Creation.
I take the elevator up to the Observation Deck with my fellow Jews, each silently carrying his tallit and tefillin and lost in thought. It is almost impossible not to be deeply moved by both the wonder and the rarity of this mitzvah. When we step out on the deck, there is just the glimmer of light appearing over the East River, but no sight of the sun yet.
The davening began at 6:30 a.m. sharp, and it remains one of those tefillot that I will never forget. It turned out to be a remarkably beautiful day, with the guest of honor making its appearance right on schedule and dazzling one and all. My only regret is that I forgot to take my camera, so the sights of that day will have to live on only in my memory. Fortunately, however, I did manage to hold on to what has become a remarkable keepsake of that morning: displayed here is what may well be the only surviving admission ticket to the 1981 Birkat Hachamah services atop the World Trade Center, sponsored by the Wall Street Synagogue. I still get a chill whenever I look at it.
After the service, nobody seemed to want to leave. Some of the older men were telling grand tales of where they were and what it was like attending previous Birkat Hachamah ceremonies. But the story that I will never forget was told by a 92-year-old white-bearded rabbi, who merited to attend his fourth (!) such service. He described in detail how, as an eight-year-old, he was awakened in the middle of the night to join his family and all the Jews in his little town in Czechoslovakia as they walked together in the dark down to the river, where they stood in the morning chill waiting for the sun. As he shut his piercing grey eyes and began chanting a portion of the service from memory, we could all sense that he was actually transported back there through time and space . . . and the best part was that he was taking us with him.
Before leaving for my office, I pondered the famous thought expressed by the Aruch La-ner, Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger, upon reciting Birkat Hachamah in 1841: “How much the world has changed since I pronounced this praise for G-d’s creation 28 years ago, and how will it look another 28 years from now?” I remember thinking, “With G-d’s help, wherever in the world I happen to be in April 2009, I will do anything and everything within my power to return here to experience this again. Then, I will be the “senior citizen” (well, almost) who can tell the others what it was like to stand atop the World Trade Center 28 years ago, and I will tell them the story of the grey-eyed rabbi from Czechoslovakia . . .
As we now all know, it was not to be. And the world did, indeed, look a lot different in 2009. For one thing, the World Trade Center was gone.
Israel’s reaction to the events of September 11, 2001, was immediate, unambiguous, and precisely what one would expect from a close friend: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared a national day of mourning in solidarity with the United States. Shown here is a lovely and remarkable rarity, the artist’s original drawing for Israel’s “World Trade Center Memorial” stamp (issued February 11, 2003) and signed by its designer, Michael Gross.
Israel went on to build the 9-11 Living Memorial Plaza Cenotaph, which is the only monument outside of the United States to list the names of all the victims of the 9-11 attacks, to remember and honor America and the victims of the attack. Designed by award-winning artist Eliezer Weishoff, the monument was commissioned by the Jewish National Fund at a cost of $2 million.
Attendees at the poignant inauguration ceremony, which was held on November 12, 2009, included The U.S. Ambassador to Israel, James B. Cunningham; members of Congress; former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; members of the Israeli Cabinet and legislature and other dignitaries; and family members of the murdered victims. A delegation from the Israel Fire and Rescue Services attended to pay respect to their New York City counterparts who perished as heroes on that tragic day. The monument stands as a testament to Israel’s kinship with the United States and its sense of shared pain with the American people.
Strategically located within view of Jerusalem’s main cemetery, Har HaMenuchot, it was constructed on the slopes of Cedar Valley Park in the Arazim Valley of Ramot, Jerusalem. Made of granite, bronze and aluminum and measuring 30 feet, it takes the form of an American flag, waving and transforming into a flame at the tip. The folded part of the flag was designed to evoke memories of the collapse of the towers in a cloud of dust, and the flag morphs into a six-meter-high memorial flame representative of a torch. An actual shard of molten steel from the ruins of the Twin Towers forms part of the base on which the monument rests, and a glass pane over the metal facilitates viewing. The names of the victims are embedded on the metal plate and placed on the circular wall, including the five Israeli citizens who were murdered that day: Alona Avraham, Daniel Mark Lewin, Hagay Shefi, Leon Libor, and Shai Levinhar, a”h.
On April 14, 2010, Israel issued a postage stamp depicting the 9-11 Living Memorial Plaza as a further tribute to the World Trade Center victims. Shown here is an Israel First Day Cover franked with the stamp, which is inscribed, in both English and Hebrew: “Jerusalem’s tribute to New York World Trade Center Victims.” As the official flyer issued by the Israeli postage authorities accompanying the release of the stamp so beautifully concludes: “The dust has settled and we have survived, we live, we remember.”
Following the October 27, 2018, Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the JNF erected a stone plaque listing the names of the 11 victims of that attack adjacent to the 9-11 Memorial Plaza.
The most prevalent anti-Semitic 9-11 conspiracy theory at the time was that 4,000 Israelis received advance warning not to report for work at the World Trade Center on September 11. One of the best-known public leaders promulgating this hateful drivel was then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who announced in an August 2010 speech that not a single Zionist had been killed in the attacks because, he claimed, they had been advised a day earlier not to report to work on 9-11.
The origins of this “4,000” figure is believed to be a September 12, 2001, on-line edition of the Jerusalem Post, which stated that “The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has so far received the names of 4,000 Israelis believed to have been in the areas of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon at the time of the attacks.” Conspiracy theorists disingenuously transformed this unambiguous statement regarding Jews in the area of the attacks into Jews who did not report to work on 9-11 and Syria’s government-owned newspaper, Al Thawra, is believed to be the first to make the “4,000 Jews” claim.
In fact, a substantial number of Jews died on 9-11. A survey of the 1,700 victims whose religion was listed found that approximately 170 were Jewish which, interestingly, tracks closely with the percentage of Jews amongst the population living in the New York area (10 percent). A survey of 390 Cantor Fitzgerald employees for whom public memorials were held (out of the 658 who died) found that 49 were Jewish, and one Manhattan synagogue alone lost six of its members in the attacks.
Moreover, not only was Israel not behind the deadly assault, but it provided valuable advance intelligence to the United States about the impending attack. In July 2001, the Mossad provided the CIA with a list of 19 terrorists living in the United States and warned that they appear to be planning an imminent attack against the U.S.
Snopes, regarded (deservedly or not) as perhaps the most trusted debunkers of conspiracy theories on the Internet, published a piece in which it methodically debunked the “4,000 Jews” or “4,000 Israelis” claim. Apoplectic haters took particular umbrage at Snopes’s conclusion that the claim “scarcely merits the dignity of a rebuttal” and that “plenty of anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, and anti-Israeli groups are eager to use the horrors of September 11 as fodder for propaganda to serve their own political ends.”
In Decade of Deceit: Antisemitic 9/11 Conspiracy Theories 10 Years Later, the ADL analyzed the conspiracy theories that continue to circulate regarding Israel’s alleged role in the 9-11 attacks. It found that the most strident of these continuing conspiracists are not white supremacists and anti-Semitic leftists, as one might have expected, but rather the vociferous opponents of “Israel’s war against Muslims.” What has remained constant, however, are claims that Jews and Israel were responsible for planning and implementing the attacks. As the theory now goes, Jewish-American officials in the Bush administration conspired with the Mossad well before 9-11 to orchestrate the invasion of Iraq and to facilitate the ability of the United States and Israel to seize control of the important resources there.
The great irony, of course, is that on September 11, 2001, there were sensational celebrations taking place in the Palestinian territories and even in the U.S. For years, the media bitterly attacked President Trump for his declaration that he watched a television broadcast of Palestinians/Arabs in Jersey City, with a population of 15,000 Muslims, celebrating as the World Trade Center came down. In fact, the president was correct, although he may have been mistaken about the number of celebrants. For example, in a September 18, 2001, article, the Washington Post wrote that “law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.” The Jewish Press, meanwhile, published a photograph on its front page showing one such celebration in New Jersey.
Footage of the Palestinian celebration in East Jerusalem was aired by several news sources, including CNN and Reuters. Palestinian, leftist and other media outlets quickly circulated the false claim that the footage, which they claimed had been filmed ten years earlier, actually depicted Palestinians celebrating the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. However, that widely disseminated claim was emphatically debunked by CNN and Reuters, who guaranteed the authenticity of the films.
On September 12, 2001, Fox News reported that some 3,000 Palestinians had celebrated the 9/11 attacks by parading through the streets of Nablus in the West Bank, which was filmed by an Associated Press freelance cameraman but – surprise! – was never published because the Palestinian Authority detained the videographer and threatened his life. On NBC, Katie Couric – no friend of Israel, to say the least – said, “These are Palestinian celebrations in the wake of the terror attacks in the United States. Palestinians took to the streets saying [Allah] is great. People were throwing candy and distributing candy to passers-by.”
In describing the video, Fox News reported that “The V sign for victory being displayed in East Jerusalem today among jubilant Palestinians that the United States had been subject to this attack. We’re seeing people applauding, clapping, smiling, happy to know that thousands of Americans have died in this sneak attack.”
Although, 20 years later, the media still refuse to air those clips of Palestinian rapture regarding the murder of 2,977 Americans, here is the television ad that I have always wanted to produce using those powerful images:
THE SCENE: There is joyous pandemonium in the streets. People of all ages are screaming and yelling with joy, children are dancing in wild circles, women are ululating, expressions of sheer ecstasy on their faces.
VOICE OVER (dryly): “These people are happy.”
As the scene continues, adults are shown giving candy to children, makeshift musicians pick up a happy tune, guns are fired into the air, and the revelry continues.
VOICE OVER: These people are very happy.”
The scene continues with more of the same, as the camera pulls back and pans the entire town, and now many thousands of celebrants may be seen.
VOICE OVER: “But what are they celebrating? Why are they so joyous?”
As the festivities continue, the following blurry words appear at the top of the screen, which slowly come into sharp focus and crystal clarity: “Palestinian Territories, September 11, 2001.”
The scene then morphs into a shot of a plane slamming into the World Trade Center.
FADE TO BLACK.