18 Years Later

Yesterday, 18 years ago, the most murderous terror attack in history took place. 2996 souls went to work, and never returned home.

There is a cruel and bitter irony in the tragedy of 9/11 uniquely reserved for us Middle-Eastern Jews and immigrants. We who turned our back on the political barbarism of the Middle-East, a region which knows not democracy and civil right, but which is plagued with terrorism and atrocities, it was precisely here, in these blissful shores of the Western Hemisphere, thousands of miles away from the Middle East, that we got to witness first-hand the most murderous terror attack in history.

From the corner of my Manhattan street on the Upper East Side, I saw the smoke arising from the debris. Like millions of other New Yorkers at the time, I was under curfew during these hours of eschatological uncertainty and apocalyptic dread. On 9/12, Le Monde, one of France’s leading daily newspapers, had as its headline four words: “Nous Sommes Tous Americains,” (“We are All Americans”).

For what is the United States, if not a magnificent, spectacular and sacred collage of every conceivable ethnicity, culture and religion under the sun? America is the wealthiest political entity in world history, precisely because it is also the most ethnically and culturally diverse society in the history of human civilization.

America, as the apt concluding line of its national anthem proclaims, is the “land of the free, and the home of the brave.” But to be sure, to be free, also entails being free of hate, and also – being free of fear. Free of fear of those who are different than you – whether ethnically, religiously, politically, or sexually. If you hate, or if you fear, then you cannot be free, and you cannot be brave. In order to be truly free you have to let go of hate, like many Holocaust survivors, some of whom I was personally blessed to know and to love and to admire. Survivors who went on to affirm life and to sanctify life, rather than to remain soulful prisoners who are consumed by the intoxicating and foreign fire of hate and vengefulness. If you hate, then you also fear. And when paralyzed by fear, you cannot summon courage. You cannot be brave.

As Jewish-Americans, we are the most politically privileged group in Jewish history. We Jewish-Americans are blessed to enjoy unprecedented geo-political bliss and good fortune. We are the sole generation in all of Jewish history, which enjoys both Jewish sovereignty in Israel, and, at the same time, full-fledged equality and opportunity in America. We are truly blessed, and we better do something really good with that blessing, namely – be a blessing to others.

I leave you today with one additional and vital lesson to be derived from the tragedy of 9/11. It has been claimed that 9/11 occurred, also due to bureaucratic inefficacy, and popular complacency. Maybe, just maybe, had someone seen and reported suspicious or criminal activities in the weeks and months preceding the calamity, it could have been avoided. As Jews and as Americans, it is our sacred religious obligation not to shy away from reporting crimes and illegalities to the relevant authorities. As the Rabbinic dictum goes: “Dina de Malchuta Dina,” (“The law of the land is the law”.)

We no longer reside, thank G-d, in Nazi Germany, or Stalinist Russia, or Khomeini’s Iran, or Nasser’s Egypt, or Castro’s Cuba. If we see illegalities, be it within the domain of terrorism or more mundane matters, it is our civic, moral, legal and religious obligation to report these illegal activities to the relevant governmental and legal authorities. It’s part and parcel of being a good Jew, a good American, and a G-d fearing person. To do that, is to sanctify G-d’s name. And to desist from doing that – is akin to desecrating G-d’s image (chilul Hashem), reflecting badly on the Jewish people. “If you see something, say something.” And make sure you also report it, so that everyone, especially the relevant authorities, are in the know.


Shabbat Shalom, with love and blessings, faithfully yours,
Rabbi Sessler

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