Cartoon: The third tower


Iran calls $10 billion ruling over 9/11 ‘ridiculous’


Iran said a U.S. court ruling last week ordering it to pay more than $10 billion for its alleged role in the 9/11 attacks is “ridiculous.”

“This judgement is so ridiculous … more than ever before it damages the credibility of the U.S. judicial system,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said, according to Agence France Press.

U.S. District Judge George Daniels in New York issued a default judgment Wednesday against Iran for $7.5 billion to the estates and families of people who died at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It includes $2 million to each estate for the victims’ pain and suffering, plus $6.88 million in punitive damages.

Daniels also awarded $3 billion to insurers including Chubb Ltd. that paid property damage, business interruption and other claims.

In his ruling, Daniels said Iran had failed to defend itself against claims that it had aided the 9/11 hijackers.

Iran, which is Shia Muslim, has consistently denied any involvement in the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, which are widely believed to have been the work not of Iran but of the Sunni Islamic fundamentalist group al-Qaida, which took credit for them.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, said, “If they [the United States] want to prosecute anyone over the September 11 incident, it should be their allies in the region who created al-Qaida and funded it,” presumably referring to Iran’s Sunni enemy Saudi Arabia.

Farrakhan praises Trump for not taking Jewish money, repeats claim that Jews behind 9/11


Donald Trump won praise from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan for not taking Jewish money in his quest for the White House.

Farrakhan, who has made frequent anti-Semitic comments, lauded Trump during a sermon Sunday in Chicago, according to the Anti-Defamation League website the following day.

The praise from Farrakhan comes on the heels of a controversy in which the Republican presidential front-runner failed to immediately disavow the endorsement of David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader.

According to the ADL, Farrakhan said the billionaire Trump is “the only mem­ber who has stood in front of Jew­ish com­mu­nity and said I don’t want your money. Anytime a man can say to those who con­trol the politics of Amer­ica, ‘I don’t want your money,’ that means you can’t con­trol me. And they can­not afford to give up con­trol of the pres­i­dents of the United States.”

Farrakhan, 82, stopped short of a full endorsement, however, stating: “Not that I’m for Mr. Trump, but I like what I’m look­ing at.”

The ADL said Farrakhan’s sermon also blamed Jews, whom he referred to as the “Synagogue of Satan,” for the Iraq War and 9/11 terror attacks.

Referring to former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Farrakhan said, “These are people sitting in the Pentagon, planning the destruction of Muslim nations.”

“Wolfowitz had 10 years now, to plan how they’re gonna clean out the Mid­dle East and take over those Mus­lim nations. They needed another Pearl Har­bor,” Farrakhan said, according to the ADL. “They needed some event that was cataclysmic, that would make the Amer­i­can peo­ple rise up, ready for war … they plot­ted a false flag oper­a­tion, and when a gov­ern­ment is so rot­ten that they will kill inno­cent peo­ple to accom­plish a polit­i­cal objec­tive, you are not deal­ing with a human …”

Farrakhan continued, “George Bush, and those devils, Satans around him. They plot­ted 9/11. Ain’t no Mus­lim took con­trol of no plane.”

Blaming the Jews for 9/11 was nothing new for Farrakhan, who said in a 2015 sermon that “it is now becoming apparent that there were many Israelis and Zionist Jews in key roles in the 9/11 attacks.”

Gun control and mass shootings: A conversation with a Second Amendment expert


Since 9/11, for every American killed by terrorism in the United States and worldwide, more than 1,000 died from firearms inside the U.S., according to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Including the attacks of 9/11, 3,380 died between 2001 and 2013, the most recent data available, while 406,496 died from gun violence.

If facts mean anything in a debate quickly being overtaken by hysteria, the facts show that we have a problem in this country with extremism, and we have a problem with the tools these extremists and other murderers use to kill—guns. Adam Winkler, the nation’s pre-eminent expert on the Second Amendment, is a professor of law at UCLA School of Law and author of “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America” (W. W. Norton). After the shooting in San Bernardino, Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman spoke with Winkler by phone. The following is an edited and condensed transcript of their conversation. 

Rob Eshman: We spoke after the shooting in Aurora, Colo., and you predicted that mass shootings would not lead to more gun control. It turns out you were right.

Adam Winkler: Not yet. In thinking back over the last few years, I don’t know that I would use such a strong statement. Newtown [Conn., school shooting] really did change the gun debate in a variety of ways. We’re seeing much more forceful political mobilization on the gun control issue than we had seen in decades. In retrospect, I would say I don’t know that mass shootings will lead toward gun control, but they can invigorate the gun control movement, and that, in the long run, will lead to more gun control.

RE: After the San Bernardino shooting, President Barack Obama’s main proposal is to ban people on the terrorist no-fly list from purchasing handguns.  

AW: It sounds like a common-sense proposal, but it’s somewhat troublesome. Because, generally, we believe in America that you have to have due process of law before you’re stripped of your rights, and the no-fly list is sort of notorious for having the wrong people on it. When the president says, “Well, how can anyone oppose this?” he is not taking seriously his opponents.  

RE: You mean their constitutional arguments or their power?

AW: The no-fly list denies a right to get onto a plane to travel. The court had said that there’s a constitutional right to travel. You can’t just tell someone you can’t exercise a fundamental right and we’re not going to tell you why, and we’re not going to give you an opportunity to challenge that in a court of law, and if we do get to a court of law, we’re basically going to say we don’t have to tell you anything. It’s a profoundly illiberal idea. I know it’s popular to think about it in terms of terrorism. Of course we don’t want terrorists to buy guns. The question is, what about the other 398,000 people on the list?

RE: So you’re saying that the main proposal in the president’s post-San Bernardino speech is a nonstarter?

AW: I’d say the main proposal in the Obama speech needs more work. I think you could devise the system where people who are suspected of terrorism can’t buy a firearm, but you need to think seriously about what kind of procedures or protections they’re going to have. 

RE: So what are some doable, workable solutions for readers who are just sick and tired of gun violence?  What about Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal for mandatory background checks for ammunition purchase? 

AW: I think it makes sense to require background checks for people who are purchasing ammunition in the same way that it makes sense to require people who buy a gun to go through the background checks. Do I think it’s going to make a difference with regard to mass shootings? No. I mean, largely because most of the mass shooters that we know about obtain their guns legally; that means they’ve been able to legally obtain ammunition as well. 

RE: What about requiring that guns be insured? Forcing people who have guns to get liability and personal damage insurance?

AW: You could do that, but, you know, there is always the question, does that create more hazard? Does that lead more gun owners to be less careful with their guns because they can get insurance now? 

RE: But wouldn’t it lead insurance companies to make the gun industry build more safety mechanisms into guns, like they have with automobiles?

AW: It’s possible. That might be a way of getting around what is a stalemate over safety advancements in guns. Right now, gun makers are avoiding putting new features in that would make a gun safer because gun owners don’t want them. 

RE: So, if I’m sickened every time I read the stories of the innocent people who have been killed in mass shootings, and I finally want to do something about it, what do I do?

AW: Become more politically active. I do think that the reason why the NRA’s been so strong in recent years is because they can mobilize voters on Election Day. There’s a lot of money on the gun rights side that goes into election campaigns; there’s a lot of intense passion on their side. Historically we haven’t seen that same passion on the gun control side.

RE: Which organizations are the most effective?

AW: There are three organizations that seem to be the leading gun control organizations right now. Everytown for Gun Safety, the Brady Campaign and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 

RE: Every time I interview you, I inevitably get a letter from somebody saying, “If you take away our guns, we’re going to be as defenseless as the Jews were in Nazi Germany.”

AW: My response is, “Who is talking about taking away all the guns? Where is that proposal in universal background check? Where is that proposal in an insurance requirement like the one that you mentioned?”

RE: So you think gun confiscation is not the right way to go?

AW:  No, absolutely not. 

RE: And do you still think that improving criminal background checks and making it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns are the two best legislative solutions?

AW: They’re the best legislative solutions to try to bring down the daily death toll from violence. They’re not necessarily the best solutions to stop mass shootings problems, because, like I said, mass shooters tend to get their guns legally and because they generally don’t have a criminal record. 

RE: So what do you think is the gun control answer to mass shootings?

AW: I don’t know if there is a gun control answer to mass shootings. People are lawfully getting their guns. We made the decision that we’re going to have guns in our society, with the Second Amendment. If you’re really determined to shoot a lot of people, you’re probably going to be able to get your hands on a gun. That’s why I’d say we work on the universal background check and other ways to reduce the daily death toll with guns. That’s where our reform efforts should be focused. That’s where we can make some headway, and that’s the real problem.

Hillary, Jeb and 9/11


Of all the places to be when Donald Trump said George W. Bush bore some responsibility for 9/11, I happened to be at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in Manhattan.

It’s pretty hard to stand beside a wall marked by 2,983 tiles — each painted a different shade of blue to symbolize the number of victims lost both in the 2001 attacks and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing — and understand what Jeb Bush meant when he said his brother “kept us safe.”

The concrete wall serves as a repository for some 8,000 victims’ remains. Spelled out across its face, in letters made from metal recovered from the site, is a line from Virgil’s “Aenaid”: “No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time.”

Jeb wasn’t trying to erase the victims’ names, God forbid, from memory. But he was trying to erase our memory of time itself. His brother had been president for nine months before Sept. 11, 2001. He did not keep us safe.

How much responsibility does George W. Bush bear for what happened that day? We still can’t be sure. But the answer is more than what his brother and defenders think — which is none — and less than what his critics would like to believe — 100 percent. The same is true for Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations passed up opportunities to take more forceful action against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

Their lapses, failures, screw-ups and neglect have been well documented by intelligence officials, journalists and historians. The 9/11 Commission Report itself includes an implicit criticism of the former presidents. 

“Given the character and pace of their policy efforts,” wrote the authors, “we do not believe they fully understood just how many people al-Qaeda might kill, and how soon it might do it.”

This is what the commission was referring to when it gently termed 9/11 a result of inadequate imagination, policy and planning.

The 9/11 museum organizers had to thread a similar political needle, but they stuck it into the wall. As you go through the exhibition hall, the first displays are of the massive loss and damage: severed columns, a length of I-beam twisted back on itself as if it were a willow twig. If that’s what happens to steel, your mind is forced to ponder the fate of human flesh. 

Just as the carnage pushes you to ask how and why, the exhibition focuses on the perpetrators, al-Qaeda, and the American government. Against one wall, at about shin level, is a reproduction of the Aug. 6, 2001, memo Bush received, titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States.”

The description of the redacted memo takes pains to indicate that it is just one of dozens of such warnings and memos a president receives, and it contained no specifics as to a time and place. To some people, that earns Bush a pass. To others, it begs the question: Isn’t leadership about setting priorities and knowing where to focus? The No. 1 job of the federal government is the security of the United States. Bush didn’t make the al-Qaeda threat a priority.

We’ll never know what the results would have been if Bush had told the State Department official who carried the Aug. 6 memo to his Texas ranch, “I’m gonna get on this.” Instead, he took the memo, infamously said, “All right, you’ve covered your ass, now,” and carried on with business as usual.

But let’s do a thought experiment: If 9/11 happened nine months into an Obama administration, does anyone really think Jeb Bush would be saying, in that case, “Obama kept us safe?” And does anyone think Obama wouldn’t acknowledge, as George W. Bush never has, his share of responsibility? Our nation’s toxic political discourse poisons the chance for an honest, dispassionate assessment of our failures. 

Why this all matters becomes achingly apparent as you walk through the 9/11 memorial. The individual names inscribed in the reverse fountains that mark the footprint where the Twin Towers stood are haunting. But what stopped me in my tracks was a firefighter’s hatchet on display. Recovered under the rubble, it was scarred by fire, twisted, the metal deeply pitted by debris. It told the whole story of the unfathomable courage of the 411 first responders who died in the collapse. We owe the dead a full accounting.

And this, too, is the lesson of the memorial: If it happened once, it could happen again.

Suicide terrorism is a part of modern life. It happened again in Israel this week, last week in Iraq, before that in Turkey. Whether it is a woman with a knife, a boy with a vest or 19 men on four jumbo jets, the threat is not going away anytime soon. We now live in a world where we can’t afford, not for a second, for our imagination to fail us. 

If Hillary and Jeb can’t discuss how Bill and George could have done a better job keeping us safe, then how can we trust them to do better? And how can Jeb imagine the next attack if he can’t even imagine his brother saying, “I’m sorry”?


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Jon Stewart lobbies for 9/11 first responder benefits on Capitol Hill


Jon Stewart lobbied members of Congress to extend benefits to workers and first responders who were injured or sickened by the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The former host of “The Daily Show” spoke to Ground Zero first responders, advocates and other Sept. 11 survivors at a rally outside the Capitol building on Wednesday. Later in the day he joined them in going door to door to talk to individual lawmakers about the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which allotted federal funds for the care of rescue workers but is set to expire at the end of the month.

“I want to apologize to all the men and women, first responders, that you had to come down here today,” Stewart said at the rally. “I’m embarrassed that you, after serving so selflessly with such heroism, have to come down here and convince people to do what’s right for the illnesses and difficulties that you suffered because of your heroism and because of your selflessness.”

The health care law, which provides medical monitoring and treatment to the first responders, was passed in 2011 but was limited to five years as part of a compromise with Senate Republicans.

Republican leaders are considering an extension of the law but have not been specific as to when they plan to address it.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who voted againstpassing the law in 2010, told USA Today that “Congress intends to extend [the law], and the committees of jurisdiction are already at work on that.”

Stewart left “The Daily Show” last month. Comedian Trevor Noah takes over as host on Sept. 28.

Personal grief, national grief and how we remember


It’s that time of year again, when I feel less like a citizen of Los Angeles and more like the New Yorker I was before my Western migration seven years ago. A look at the calendar, a clear blue sky, a helicopter circling overhead all cause an idiopathic pang that transports me back to a Tuesday in New York City, in September 2001. 

Even though I was on the Upper West Side, “safe” from the carnage at ground zero, life throughout the city was torn apart, as if we’d fractured the space-time continuum — “Back to the Future”-style — transported into a post-9/11 reality no one could have imagined. I remember watching buildings collapse on live TV while I was on the phone with my mother. I remember the days that followed in Manhattan, how garbage pickup and transportation took a noticeable hit, and how we cried more, made more eye contact and were more neighborly — all as the faces of the “lost” smiled out at us from posters on buildings and lampposts. 

In the years since the twin towers were felled by planes (and another two planes crashed, one into a field in Pennsylvania and the other into the Pentagon), I have created my own ritual of remembrance. I wake up early every Sept. 11. I listen as the names are recited on CNN. I read reflections from friends and family members who still post about the day, five, 10, now 14 years afterward. I repost my own story for anyone who still hasn’t heard it or who wants to again. If I have new reflections — like I did the year I lost my mother — I write them down and share them on social media.

But since I’ve lived in L.A., I’ve also felt a growing distance. There is now an expanse of time, as well as a massive physical space, between the incident and my here and now. In Los Angeles, I’m far from the geography that is the most affected by memory. And I know that distance from a loss can cause detachment. 

When we grieve a loss that’s close to us, we are part of a small circle of bereavement. Within the circle, life is interrupted, irrevocably altered; outside, the world continues to turn, seemingly un-, or  minimally, affected. At those people, we want to shout, “What is wrong with you? Don’t you understand that everything’s different now?” But we don’t, because we know that though emotionally true, acting out isn’t socially helpful: Railing against personal tragedy helps nothing. As we learn to absorb the grief, to dull its most dangerously sharp edges and begin to coexist with it, we find ways to remember that seem more constructive than painful. But it’s still personal. And it’s still with us, even as we return to what seems — to others — like normal.

There are certainly smaller circles of mourners for whom national grief is also personal. But the vast majority of us are — though concentric to the loss — more remote from the epicenter. Our sadness is more general; our depression feels more external, happening to us instead of emerging from within us. Quickly, we harness that feeling in the service of creating communal memory; being more removed from the loss enables us to be functional and pragmatic. And once we’ve attended a memorial event, erected a museum or instituted an annual day of remembrance, we go back to our lives. 

Unless we’re talking about the Holocaust. As Jewish children, we are exposed to the images, facts, figures and stories from a young age. As a community, we invoke the vigilance of memory, shout that we should “never forget,” and that if we assimilate, we’re “finishing what Hitler started.” Even if our immediate family members aren’t technically Holocaust survivors, and even while 70 years have passed, the Holocaust still feels omnipresent and personal. And we’re told over and over again to resist the complacency of our comfortable American lives, reminded to believe that “it can happen here.”

Recently, when Natalie Portman said she believes American Jews put too much educational emphasis on the Holocaust, headlines trumpeted this as a betrayal. But what her remarks really indicate is that, to her, the Holocaust is not important only as a memory, but also as a cause to action, an impetus to speak up for all of the oppressed. “We need it to serve as something that makes us empathetic to people rather than paranoid,” Portman said in a number of the many articles reporting her comments. She wasn’t saying, “Don’t study the Holocaust,” or “The Holocaust is just like any other instance of genocide, ethnic cleansing or persecution.” She was calling for us to import the lessons of the Holocaust, to take stands on other terrifying world events that are still happening, where we maybe still can make a difference. 

With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 now a year away, I find myself asking questions about time, grief and memory. Personal grief, at least in Jewish life, has a defined halachic duration, although the emotional impact is far more longitudinal. When it comes to the Holocaust, we’ve been charged to “never forget.” But how long are we supposed to dwell in a national tragic memory like 9/11, which involves Jews, but isn’t about Jewish persecution? 

Like Portman, I, too, wish to qualify that I’m not drawing an equal sign between two tragedies — the Holocaust and 9/11 are both immense, but very different events in scope, origin and duration. But I do want to suggest that we examine the way we remember the Holocaust while considering how we choose to remember things, especially if we weren’t there ourselves. 

Can we look to our tradition, our liturgy or our history to find precedents of how to remember? Do we bentsch gomel, thanking God for the distance between us and the tragedy? Is there a special El Male Rachamim prayer for the souls of those who died? Do we create memorials and art installations and official days of remembrance with ceremonies? Do we light yahrzeit candles, say Kaddish and seek out stories so that those personal memories become a shared responsibility? Is it important for Jews specifically to connect to the trauma of 9/11, to use it as another catalyst to pursue global justice, or separate from it and move on with our lives — and if we do, do “the terrorists win”? 

Because 9/11 is not Jewishly specific, some might resist the application of Holocaust-associated mourning rituals to this remembrance. Or people might feel that 9/11 happened to America, and it’s up to America to create the spaces for memorializing it. Or maybe, because 14 years is not 70-plus years, it’s still “too soon” for us — as people who were or weren’t there 14 years ago — to determine how we will remember 9/11. I imagine that back in the late 1950s, the educators of the world were still determining the best way to teach and remember World War II, and that their contemporary equivalents are engaged in a similar process regarding 9/11. 

As a writer, I’m thinking about grief and memory. As, until recently, a longtime Jewish nonprofit professional, I heard and read vows of “never again” on a regular basis: On Holocaust Remembrance days and at Iran rallies, in fundraising letters and op-ed columns and High Holy Days sermons. As someone who was in New York City on 9/11 and remembers how close it was to Rosh Hashanah that year, I hear the names of the murdered people as shofar blasts piercing the long moment of silence. As someone who lost her mother back in 2011, I think more than many about how to remember in a way that’s constructive and doesn’t rip out your heart. 

And as someone who thinks and overthinks things, I wonder how tragedies belonging mostly to the collective become personal; how a historic event can become a cause for action; and how stories, memory and media shape the way we share it all.


Esther D. Kustanowitz, a contributing writer to the Jewish Journal, is a writer, editor and consultant with nearly two decades of experience as a Jewish nonprofit professional. She is currently the editorial director of

CIA used Israel to justify torture


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

The newly-released report by the US Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA’s use of torture says that CIA lawyers used Israel as a justification for building a legal case for torture of Al-Qaeda suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

Most of the 6000 page-report remains classified. But according to the 528 pages that were released, in November 2001 CIA officers said they wanted legal justification for the interrogation methods they had begun using. The report cites the “Israeli example” that “torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.” 

Israeli government spokesmen chose not to comment on the report. But an official at the Public Committee against Torture in Israel explained the “necessity defense” which is used against Palestinian suspects.

In 1987, the Landau Commission recommended that interrogators be allowed to use “moderate physical pressure” in cases where psychological pressure was not effective. That ruling was overturned in 1999 by the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that torture is unacceptable in Israel and then went on to detail various things that fall under the purview of torture,” Rachel Stroumsa, project manager at the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel told The Media Line. “The ruling left a loophole in what it called the “ticking bomb” situation.”

A “ticking bomb” means that a suspect knows where a bomb has been planted that is set to explode. In those cases, torture can be used to discover the place of the bomb.

“It means that if an interrogator feels compelled to use torture by necessity, he will be covered legally,” Stroumsa said. “You can’t get approval in advance for these cases.”

She said her organization deals with 100 – 150 cases per year, although she believes there are many more instances. Many Palestinians are afraid to come forward, afraid they or their family members will be arrested and tortured again.

Israeli officials say that intelligence interrogators are given clear instructions not to use torture, and that it is only used in extreme cases. However, Palestinian rights groups have claimed that some elements of what they call torture such as sleep deprivation are routinely used. Much of the evidence against a Palestinian prisoner is sealed and not presented in open court for security reasons.

The report also quotes the CIA attorney who referred to the “ticking bomb” scenario and said that “enhanced techniques could not be pre-approved for such situations, but if worst comes to worst, an officer who engaged in such activities could assert a common-law necessity defense if he were every prosecuted.”

Israel is also mentioned in another context. According to the report, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qa’ida official who planned the 9/11 attacks reportedly told his interrogators abut plans to carry out attacks on various targets including “an Israeli embassy in the Middle East.” Israel has peace treaties and embassies with two countries – Egypt and Jordan.

The legacy of 9/11 hero Danny Lewin


At the center of the 9/11 attacks against the United States by Islamofascist terror, an unlikely hero played a largely unknown role. He sacrificed his life in an attempt to stop the hijacking of one of the planes that later crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He was an Israeli-American and his role has remained largely ignored and unacknowledged.

Danny Lewin was an American-Israeli, a world-class Internet entrepreneur, and the very first person to be murdered by the al-Qaeda barbarians on Sept. 11, 2001. He was aboard the American Airlines Flight 11 plane out of Boston headed for Los Angeles when it was hijacked by the terrorists. A veteran of the special forces in the Israeli army, Lewin quickly understood what was going down. He spoke fluent Arabic and knew what the terrorists were saying. He single-handedly attempted to attack and subdue the terrorists. He was stabbed to death on the plane by terrorist Satam al-Suqami, a Saudi law student. Lewin was 31 years old when he was murdered.

A new biography of the hero of 9/11, written by Molly Knight Raskin, is now in book stores; it is titled “No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet.” 

Lewin grew up in Denver and immigrated to Israel with his family in 1984, three years after I did the same. His parents were devoted Zionists and passionate about their Jewishness. While exempt from military service in Israel on grounds that he had recently immigrated, Danny insisted on serving anyhow, and in the country’s most challenging military unit at that. He served in the ultra-elite special forces combat unit called Sayeret Matkal. 

Lewin attended the Technion in Haifa, where in 1995 he was named the year’s Outstanding Student in Computer Engineering. He then worked for IBM in developing high-tech products, later doing graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There he became the protégé of the legendary MIT professor F. Thomson Leighton. According to Raskin, “The more Lewin got to know Leighton, the more professionally enamored he became, routinely telling friends he’d met the ‘smartest man in the world.’ ” The two developed mathematical algorithms for optimizing Internet traffic. These became the basis for Akamai Technologies, which the two founded in 1998. Lewin served as the company’s chief technology officer and a board member. The company went public in 1999 and its stock market valuation rose rapidly to $345 billion. Lewin was posthumously named one of the most influential high-tech figures in the world. Much of Raskin’s book details his career in advanced high technology. He was not only the first victim of the 9/11 terror — he was also its wealthiest and most successful victim. Raskin writes:

“An executive summary mistakenly leaked by the Federal Aviation Administration to the press stated that terrorist Satam al-Suqami shot and killed Lewin with a single bullet around 9:20 a.m. (obviously a typo, as the plane crashed at 8:46 a.m.). But almost as soon as the memo was leaked, FAA officials claimed it was written in error, and that Lewin was more than likely stabbed, not shot. The 9/11 Commission concurred, offering a more detailed summary: based on dozens of interviews with those who spoke with flight attendants Madeline Sweeney and Betty Ong, the commission determined that al-Suqami most likely killed Lewin by slashing him in the throat from behind as he attempted to stop the hijacking. The time of his death was reported to be somewhere between 8:15 and 8:20 a.m., which — if fact — would make Lewin the first victim of the 9/11 attacks.”

After his death, the intersection of Main and Vassar streets in Cambridge, Mass., was renamed Danny Lewin Square in his honor. He left behind a widow and two sons.

Lewin’s life captures everything positive about the American-Israeli collaboration in education, high technology and military strategy. He also epitomizes the world struggle against barbarism.

This column first appeared in FrontPage Magazine and is reprinted with the permission of Steven Plaut.


Steven Plaut is a native Philadelphian who teaches business finance and economics at the University of Haifa in Israel. He holds a doctorate in economics from Princeton. He is author of the David Horowitz Freedom Center booklets about Hamas and “Jewish Enablers of the War Against Israel.”

U.N. official pins blame for Boston Marathon bombing on ‘Tel Aviv’


Richard Falk, an official for the U.N. Human Rights Council, in an online commentary blamed the Boston Marathon bombing on “Tel Aviv.”

“(A)s long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment, those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy,” Falk, the council's special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, wrote in an Op-Ed posted to the online Foreign Policy Journal on Tuesday.

Falk, who has said the George W. Bush administration was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, also called the Boston attack “retribution” for the actions of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

“The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world,” Falk wrote. “In some respects, the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks, and these may yet happen, especially if there is no disposition to rethink US relations to others in the world, starting with the Middle East.”

In recent months, Falk published an anti-Semitic cartoon on his blog and called for a boycott of Israel.

B'nai B'rith International called for Falk's removal from the Human Rights Council, saying that his ” latest string of inflammatory remarks — whether it be on the Internet or in one of his 'reports' to the council — has no place in the United Nations and his continued presence at the UNHRC further undermines the credibility of the system.”

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, calling on them to condemn Falk's “odious and preposterous” remarks.

Criticism is not Islamophobia


Criticism is the oxygen of journalism. Here at the Jewish Journal, we will criticize anything that we believe deserves criticism, including religion. We will criticize preachers who use Christianity to express hatred and bigotry toward gays as much as we will criticize religious Jews who use the Torah to humiliate women rabbis wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall.

Personally, I’ve shown my revulsion at some of the stuff written in the Torah — like the admonition to stone your son to death if he desecrates the Sabbath—and I’ve railed against missionary Christians who twist the Torah in order to convert Jews.

But I have to confess — like most of the mainstream media in America, I’ve been very reluctant to criticize Islam.

When, several years ago, virtually every American paper refused to publish satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, I should have criticized that response. I understood that fear and intimidation probably played a role, given the riots that followed their publication in a Danish paper.

But it’s not as if the media has ever been afraid to publish cartoons that make fun of Jesus or Moses or Buddha — so why should they single out Muhammad for special treatment?

If you ask me, I think it’s time we stop walking on eggshells with Islam.

It’s not healthy. This notion that any critique of Islam equates to Islamophobia is absurd and patronizing. It says to Muslims: “We criticize Judaism and Christianity because we think they can handle it, but we don’t think you can.” That’s insulting to Islam and to Muslims.

Every religion needs a good dose of criticism. That’s how they improve and become more human. That’s how they shed their outdated and immoral layers, like slavery and oppression of women. Where would Judaism be today without the centuries of relentless self-reflection and self-criticism that goes on to this day?

How could it be wrong or Islamophobic to criticize a religious text that might justify the stoning to death of women or the killing of infidels?

After terror attacks that appear to have an Islamic connection, such as last week’s Boston massacre, we often hear defensive talk about how Islam is a “religion of peace.” To back this up, Muslim commentators like to quote a verse in the Koran (Surah 5, verse 32) that mentions the Talmudic idea that if you kill one human being, it is as if you have killed an entire world.

The problem, though, is that commentators usually fail to mention the verse that immediately follows, which is anything but peaceful: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.”

Verse 32 works for me. Verse 33 turns my stomach.

The way I see it, the future of Islam and its reputation in the world will hinge on which verse will win out—verse 32 or verse 33.

So far, it looks like the wrong verse is winning. Since 9/11, close to 20,000 acts of terrorism have been recorded throughout the world under the name of Islam, many of those against Muslims themselves.

It’s suicidal and counterproductive for the world to pretend that violence-prone religious texts like verse 33 do not exist, especially if those texts are used to instigate violence against “infidels” and other mischief-makers.

Religions shouldn’t get an automatic pass at respect. They have to earn it. If you’re a member of a religion where some members use the religion as an excuse to kill people, your job is not to convince me that you’re a religion of peace, but to convince your co-religionists who are actually doing the killing.

It’s ironic that verse 32 borrows from Jewish texts. Muslims who believe in that peaceful verse might want to borrow something else from the Jews: a big mouth.

These Muslims of verse 32 have been too quiet for too long. If they want the world to show more respect for their cherished religion, they must rise up and make more noise against their violent minority who believe in verse 33.

There’s no dishonor in self-criticism. Jews do it all the time. Maybe that’s why you don’t see much criticism of Islam in Jewish papers—we’re too busy criticizing ourselves.

But criticism is not an end in itself– it must lead to results. The Muslims of verse 32 must win the moral battle against the Muslims of verse 33, even if it takes a century. And they must not recoil at criticism that may come from outsiders who have good intentions. In fact, they must use it to shame their violent cohorts.

Constructive criticism of violent texts is not Islamophobia. It’s the beginning of positive change. Painting all criticism of Islam with the Islamophobic brush is just as wrong as painting all Muslims with a violent brush. It suffocates debate and the very process of evolution.

To borrow from another Jewish mantra, constructive criticism is good for the Jews, good for the Muslims and good for the world.

‘Zero Dark’ writer faces the controversy


The time: 2003. The place: Black Site — Undisclosed Location. A battered man strung up by his wrists is being questioned by an interrogator. When he refuses to answer, he is forced to the ground and held down by three men wearing ski masks. A black towel is wrapped around his face, and the interrogator pours water from a pitcher over the towel while shouting questions at his prisoner: “Who is in the Saudi group? What’s the target? When is the last time you saw bin Laden?”  

This is the act of torture that is known as water boarding. And in an Oscar season filled with controversies, it is this scene — which takes place early in the multiple-nominated film “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the hunt for Osama bin Laden — that has created the most heated debates and angry protests, from the halls of the motion picture academy in Beverly Hills to the chambers of Congress in Washington, D.C. At the center of the controversy stands the film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, and its screenwriter, Mark Boal, the same creative team who produced the 2009 Academy Award winner for best picture, “The Hurt Locker.”  

Boal, who also won the best original screenplay Oscar for “The Hurt Locker,” is nominated again this year for his “Zero Dark Thirty” script, while Bigelow was snubbed in the best-director category. The omission, many believe, may be at least in part due to the film’s appearance of supporting the efficacy of torture.  

Boal, who worked as a journalist for 20 years, moved into the film business when an article he wrote became the basis of the 2007 Iraq War-related film “In the Valley of Elah.” During his time as an embedded reporter in Iraq, he said, he also gained firsthand insights for his work on “The Hurt Locker.” For “Zero Dark Thirty,” however, Boal relied on information from people closely involved in the bin Laden operation, who supplied him with “firsthand accounts of actual events,” as stated at the opening of the film.

A scene from “Zero Dark Thirty.”  Photo by Jonathan Olley/©2012 Zero Dark Thirty

When he began the project, Boal’s script was about the failed hunt for bin Laden in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, but that version was shelved when the terrorist leader was killed by Navy SEALs on May 2, 2011. As a result of the news, Boal started fresh, telling the story that led up to that day.  

As with all feature films based on fact, Boal struggled with the delicate balancing act of staying true to the story while having to create a workable screenplay. “Storytelling is kind of universal, but screenwriting is its own craft,” he explained. “ ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ was based on some research that I did, but it’s also a written document; it’s not a documentary, it’s a screenplay. I talked to a lot of people who were involved in the mission and double-sourced information, but I approached it as a screenwriter. There’s homework and research to do, but I’m writing parts for actors, and, in this case, a story that follows one main character over 10 years.

“There are over 100 speaking parts in the film,” he added. “But, at the same time, it’s doubly challenging because it has to be honest and faithful to what actually happened. In some ways, this story would probably be easier to tell if it was pure fiction.”

Even so, Boal said, “I found it an exciting story to work on because of the dedication and the complexity and the morality and immorality and the excitement of the hunt. All that makes for good drama.” 

The torture scenes depicted in the film have been aggressively attacked from two sides: Some claim the film endorses the efficacy of torture, while others complain that the scenes are presented as more brutal than what actually occurred. 

But Boal thinks both miss the point. “The political point is that this work was carried out by people without regard to politics one way or another. It was carried out by civil servants, not by Republicans or Democrats,” he said. “But of course that’s the last thing they want to talk about in Washington. And the real point is that the country and Washington have to face that they’re culpable for what they did. Rather than bash the movie for depicting the policies that they implemented, they should have a frank discussion about it. The torture that’s in the film is still relevant. To see that these kinds of harsh punishments are still going on — not in the exact same way, but it’s always convenient to bash Hollywood instead of actually doing the hard policy work of going down the hall and seeing what could be done, for example, to stop doing business with countries that torture people.”

The fact that “Zero Dark Thirty” has been the subject of both public and secret investigations by Congress does not surprise Boal, who also believes the attention has helped bring audiences out to see the film. “That’s what they do in Washington. They use things to create publicity platforms for themselves. They’re politicians,” Boal said. “I think at the end of the day I find it gratifying that people go out and see the movie and have a solid or moving movie experience. I can’t change Washington, and I wouldn’t ever begin to try.” 

So far, Boal’s three films — “In the Valley of Elah,” “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” — all have focused on events surrounding the war on terror. And though he said he has no definite plans to continue exploring that subject matter, he hopes others will continue down that road. 

“I think all three of these movies are important subjects for Hollywood to explore, and I hope there are other movies about them. But what movies can do that other mediums cannot do, is reach a broad public audience, and Hollywood has a responsibility to make films about tough subjects and not just superheroes.”

Kenneth Feinberg: The 9/11 mediator who listens


When massive tragedy strikes in the United States, when half a dozen or a score or thousands of people are killed in a single incident, when disaster hits a region, Kenneth Feinberg often gets a call.

The Washington attorney is perhaps best known for his work as the administrator of the fund that paid restitution to the families of 9/11 victims and the one that compensated individuals and businesses harmed by the BP Oil spill in 2010, but his phone rings on all sorts of unhappy occasions, most recently in the wake of the shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple in August.

They call Feinberg because he has made a career in mediation, dealing with particularly complicated situations involving death, environmental disaster and financial upheaval. They call him because he’s been called “Solomonic” on more than a few occasions — a label that Feinberg rejects — and because he has demonstrated an ability to exercise and implement good, fair judgments.

But as Jews around the world, Feinberg included, prepare for another season of holidays centered on the theme of judgment, it’s notable that a major element of Feinberg’s process is something deceptively simple: He listens.

“When you have face-to-face meetings, you give victims an opportunity to vent, and they welcome that opportunity to vent,” Feinberg said, speaking to the Journal by phone from his Washington, D.C., office in August. “I find that these one-on-one meetings are very important in convincing claimants in grief about the bona fides of the program that you’re trying to run.”

Feinberg was referring to the more than 900 meetings he had in the aftermath of 9/11 with families of victims, a process he repeated in administering a much smaller fund compensating the victims injured and families of victims killed in the 2007 shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech. In both cases, Feinberg remembered that most of the people who chose to meet with him did not talk about dollars and cents, but came to tell stories, sometimes with photo albums and mementos in hand, “in order to validate — on the record, in writing, face-to-face — the memory, the good works of a lost loved one.”

In compensating individuals in the wake of tragedy, Feinberg has found the meetings to be essential, because they show that somebody is listening.

“There is an individual — not a bureaucratic device, but there is an actual human being listening to what I have to say about my dead wife or husband or brother or sister, son or daughter,” he said.

Individual meetings aren’t always possible, particularly when dealing with large numbers of claimants who have all suffered different kinds of damages, as Feinberg did when he administered the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which paid out more than $6.14 billion from BP to more than 500,000 claimants from all 50 states and 38 foreign countries.

But in many instances, direct listening in face-to-face meetings can have a strategic purpose, as well. In his role as the U.S. Treasury Department’s “pay czar,” tasked with setting the compensation of 175 high-ranking executives at the largest of the financial firms bailed out by the American taxpayers in 2009, Feinberg heard petitions from CEOs, CFOs and their lawyers.

That role was a distinct reversal for Feinberg. “There I was fixing the compensation of alleged, not victims, but perpetrators, who had caused the 2009 financial meltdown,” Feinberg said.

Which is why, as he wrote in his book “Who Gets What: Fair Compensation After Tragedy and Financial Upheaval,” published by Public Affairs earlier this year, one of the ground rules Feinberg set for the meetings with the executives of bailed-out companies was that they had to take place in Washington, D.C.

The Tribute in Light is illuminated marking the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, on Sept. 10. Photo by REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

“As an experienced mediator, I knew the importance of conducting meetings in the most effective venue,” Feinberg wrote. The “lavish and imposing” Treasury Building fit his aim perfectly, making immediately clear to the corporate officials “that they were up against a formidable negotiating partner — the federal government.”

In their own ways, the meetings Feinberg had with the companies’ officials didn’t focus on money — or at least not the immediate exchange value of money.

As the “special master” of an office in the Treasury Department overseeing executive compensation, Feinberg and his staff were dictating to these seven companies the exact amount they could pay their top employees. The goal was to balance the interests of the executives and the firms, who wanted to be able to compete on hiring with other corporations, against those of the taxpayers and congress, who had loaned these companies billions of dollars and wanted that money repaid as quickly as possible and in full but who also wouldn’t tolerate excessively lavish compensation.

In the meetings with executives, Feinberg said that the conversations were never about money or material gain — “I need money to buy another summer home, I need money to send my kinds to private school” — but instead were about compensation as a “litmus test of self-worth or integrity or contribution to society.”

“ ‘Look, Mr. Feinberg,’ ” Feinberg said, recalling the executives’ emotional pleas, “ ‘what you’re paying me demeans my value to society, it demeans my value to the community, to my family. You are getting very personal; you are reducing my compensation, thereby diminishing my overall self worth.’ ”

Feinberg’s ultimate decisions were, in his words, “very cold and calculating.”

“I looked at statistics governing compensation — what is a CFO worth, or a CEO worth — studied the competitive pay scale of others similarly situated, looked at what incentives should be incorporated into a compensation package, and calculated the actual awards,” he said.

In administering the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund — which Feinberg said is still the most challenging assignment he’s ever faced — Feinberg’s meetings were very different. They took place all over the country, often in the offices of law firms. And while the meetings were essential to convincing some of the families of victims (particularly those of the wealthier victims) to join the fund and not litigate their claims in court, it’s clear that the emotional tenor made them difficult for Feinberg.

“Unless you have a heart of stone, you can’t remain dispassionate,” he said. “You try and … limit the impact of that emotion, but you cannot help but be affected by the death and tragedy involved.”

And, Feinberg learned, people react differently — unpredictably, even — to tragedy. The group meetings he held for victims’ families in California, Feinberg said, were “very touchy-feely,” particularly in contrast to the meetings he’d held in New York and Virginia.

“Everybody wanted to hold hands and pray collectively and to reinforce each other,” Feinberg recalled.

And if half of the families of 9/11 victims decided that the tragedy had “ended, once and for all, any belief they may have had in God or religion or an afterlife,” the other half, Feinberg said, told him that “the tragedies reinforced their religion and their beliefs.”

“Do not attempt to predict human nature,” Feinberg said.

Feinberg doesn’t keep in touch with the families of victims, nor does he have a particular way of commemorating the anniversary of 9/11. This year, on the 11th anniversary of the attacks, Feinberg was scheduled to speak at a conference organized by an insurance group in Canada.

On Rosh Hashanah, Feinberg said, he would be thinking about the future, not the past.

“I think about the year to come, in hopes that I and my family can enjoy health and happiness,” Feinberg said. “And on Yom Kippur, I sort of muse and reflect on the year gone by and what I could’ve done differently, or better.”

Feinberg described himself as “a believer,” so it seemed fair to ask him whether he feels that there is a listener to his prayers.

“I don’t put it in those terms, is someone listening,” Feinberg replied. “I’m hoping that — by raising the level of thought to a conscious level, so that I’m actually reflecting on the past and the future — I’m listening. And I think that’s what’s important.”

Shapiro at 9/11 ceremony: U.S. won’t allow Iran to have nuclear weapon


U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said that the United States “would not permit Iran to be armed with a nuclear weapon.”

He made his remarks Tuesday during a ceremony near Jerusalem to remember the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The ceremony by the U.S. Embassy in Israel and the KKL-Jewish National Fund was held at the Living Memorial monument in the Arazim Park outside of Jerusalem. The memorial contains all the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attack, including the five Israeli victims.

Shapiro called the attacks “a pain that perhaps dulls with time but never truly leaves us.”

“There is no nation that better understands our pain, and there is no nation that better identifies with our experience than Israel,” Shapiro said.

He also said that: “An Iran armed with a nuclear weapon is an unacceptable threat, and we will not permit it to be realized.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a joint press conference Tuesday with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, also marked the Sept. 11 attack.

“Today is Sept. 11th. So we commemorate the greatest terror attack of all time. We know that this malignancy threatens the entire world. And we know that the free countries and the principled countries have to stand together to defeat it. And we know that we have, with you, such a partnership, and I have no doubt that we shall prevail,” he said.

Five Israeli tourists and the tour bus driver were killed on July 18 when a suicide bomber attacked the bus shortly after the group's arrival at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria.

Religious groups urge understanding following Sikh Temple shooting


Religious groups are calling for tolerance after six people were killed in a shooting attack at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism have joined with Shoulder to Shoulder, a national religious, faith-based and interfaith organization, to encourage Americans to join special services with their local Sikh communities in the wake of Sunday’s shooting outside of Milwaukee.

“As we wait for further information regarding the motive of the shooter, we reiterate our deep commitment to a United States that is able to tolerate and respect the many religious traditions that live together in this great country,” Christina Warner, campaign director for Shoulder to Shoulder, said in a statement. “The tragedy in Milwaukee shows painfully the need for Americans of all faiths to learn about one another and embrace the diverse religious tapestry of the United States.”

Along with the deaths, at least three people, including a police officer, were injured in the attack.

The Anti-Defamation League condemned the violence and reached out to the Sikh community at a national level to express concern, condolences and solidarity, as well as offer its resources and guidance on institutional security and response in the aftermath of a hate crime.

“Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, ADL and law enforcement officials have documented many apparent ‘backlash crimes’ directed at Muslim, Sikh, and Arab Americans,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. “We have raised concern about a spike in bigotry against Muslims and others perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin. This attack is another gruesome reminder that bigotry and hate against those whose religion makes them ‘different’ or ‘other’ can have deadly consequences.”

The U.S. Department of Justice has investigated more than 800 incidents since 9/11 involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson against Arab Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, South-Asian Americans and other individuals perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin.

Iran, Taliban and al-Qaida owe $6 billion to 9/11 victims’ families, U.S. court says


A U.S. district court recommended that Iran, the Taliban and al-Qaida pay $6 billion in compensation to the families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The symbolic decision came Monday in New York as a recommendation in response to a lawsuit brought by relatives of 47 victims that was decided in the relatives’ favor last year, according to The Associated Press.

“It’s hard being happy, but I am happy about it,” plaintiff Ellen Saracini, wife of one of the captains of a plane that hit the World Trade Center, told the AP. “But it opens up old wounds. We were never in it for a lawsuit. I wanted to know what happened to my husband.”

Iran repeatedly has denied any connection to the attacks but gave several of the terrorists passage through the country, according to AP.

Up close and personal with the TSA


Recent days have been full of continually unfolding reports about a new intercepted underwear bomb intended to be carried aboard a U.S.-bound plane by an al-Qaida agent. That agent, said to be British, turned out to be working simultaneously with Saudi and U.S. intelligence, and the bomb never got near a plane. But as I prepared last week to board a flight to Alaska, where I would be participating in a conference devoted to the ethical work of Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, I couldn’t help but wonder what role this newly acquired knowledge will play in upcoming discussions about airport security and the effectiveness of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Even though the TSA’s screening program played no part in thwarting this potential terrorist attack, the question of whether the existence of this bomb will help justify continuing the enormous sums of taxpayer money being poured into body-scanning technology has already begun to haunt me.

Over the past decade, something new has come to define the American ethos: fear. It isn’t as if fear had no part of our impulses until this moment, but the heightened fear that the world is a dangerous place has come to characterize the 21st century American mindset. It is a fear upon which we have allowed institutions to prey, so much that, since the events of 9/11, we have stopped asking many questions that still matter.

Jews are taught to question, and I have found that asking the right questions often leads to taking action. I have made a decision not to allow fear to lead my life, and I am committed to questioning any behavior that seems to have its basis in post-9/11 fear mongering. And that is how I came to find myself earlier this year in a face-off with a TSA agent at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). In that moment, I became achingly aware of just how critical — and difficult — it can be not only to ask the right questions, but also to do so even when asking those questions causes inconvenience. Still, simply doing what one is told, for me, is more transgressive and more destructive than inconvenience.

I was traveling from Los Angeles to Boston. My companion and I had made a decision not to submit to the virtual strip-searches routinely conducted by body-scanner machines. We had two reasons: First, the images of nude bodies transmitted by the machines are indecent and immodest. Even the newest auto imaging technology software that claims to obscure the image of the nude body only presents the machine operator with an edited version of the image, while the machine captures the entire image, which can then be stored by governmental and private agencies.

Second, while TSA and creators of the machines tout the safety of body-scanner technology, the truth is that there is no long-term data to confirm these claims. Researchers have challenged these findings, claiming that the amount of radiation is higher than suggested because the doses were calculated as if distributed throughout the entire body, whereas the radiation emitted is focused only on the skin and surrounding tissues. (This also means that if a bomb were carried inside the body, these scanners would not detect it.) The verdict on the safety of body-scanning technology has yet to be delivered. Rather than walk through a machine that may cause harm to my body, I prefer to ask questions. When told to walk through the body scanner, I informed the TSA agent that I could not submit to that form of screening, but that I would walk through a metal detector and have all of my items searched. The next step would be the infamous pat-down. I knew of one man who successfully opted out, and so we decided to see if we, too, could opt out of both.

Image from a full body scanner now used in airports

We could not. As soon as we explained that we could submit to neither the pat down nor the body-scan, the TSA shut down the entire line behind us, effectively decreasing the efficiency of their overall screening procedures and doubling the wait time for other travelers. Members of the LAPD arrived to deal with the “issue”: two people standing shoeless, respectfully asking questions.

The TSA Web site states that travelers are entitled to ask questions about the process, but the more questions we asked, the more we felt we were being penalized. It was an absurd situation in which to find ourselves — I a Jewish Studies professor and my companion a nice Jewish comedy director — and my emotions bordered simultaneously on laughter and tears as I realized with horror that we had created a spectacle. We were being used to create a spectacle of fear in what amounts to little more than the TSA security theater. I shuddered as I realized I was flanked by apathy and fear. People all around us continued to thoughtlessly walk through body-scanners and receive pat-downs. Those who were not altogether apathetic watched us with expressions of fear.

A revelation: It was not security that was being peddled, but rather fear and paranoia, all to create for the public an illusion of security. Do what we say, give us your trust, refrain from questioning us, and you will be safe. But are we safe? Are we safer than we were before the implementation of invasive searches?

In January 2012, the TSA published online a list of the top 10 finds for 2011. Some of these “good catches” include snakes, birds and reptiles; a graduate student’s science experiment that contained a device that looked like it could be an explosive device (it was harmless); inert landmines; a ninja book with two throwing knives (the passenger surrendered the book at the checkpoint because he had forgotten that it was in the carry-on bag); small chunks of inert C4 explosives found in the checked bag of a member of our armed forces who was taking them home as souvenirs; a pistol strapped to the ankle of a 76-year-old man; a flare gun along with seven flares; a stun gun disguised as a smartphone; and a non-metallic martial arts device called a “tactical spike” found in a passenger’s sock.

If it sounds like a list created by The Onion, it was not. This was published by the TSA in support of the strength of its security screening procedures. So let’s break this list down. With the exception of the “tactical spike,” not one of these “top finds” was discovered by a body-scanning device. The pistol would have been easily detected by a metal detector. Further, it is not illegal to travel with firearms, as long as they are declared and not carried on the plane. Typically, passengers carrying undeclared firearms were not arrested, but rather fined. That is, such passengers are suspected not of having terrorist impulses, but of forgetfulness or unintelligent decisions. In the words of the TSA: “Just because we find a prohibited item on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions, that’s for the law enforcement officer to decide. In many cases, people simply forgot they had these items in their bag.”

Now, the landmines: They were, well, inert. They were harmless, as were the small chunks of C4 explosives found in the checked bag of a member of our military. Without a detonator — and it is virtually impossible to carry a functioning detonator through a metal detector — there is nothing that could have been accomplished with the chunks of C4. As for the ninja book with the throwing knives, which the passenger himself surrendered after realizing that it was not in his checked bag, I’m not sure it should be on the list. And while I do not prefer to fly on an airplane with reptilian and avian stowaways, I’m also not sure that doing so would put me in the line of terrorist fire. The intense TSA security screening procedures have been implemented to protect us from the threat of terrorism, not to discover illegal but non-threatening items. I remain unimpressed with the effectiveness of the body-scanning devices and pat-downs. Apparently the experts are equally unimpressed. Rafi Sela, an Israeli airport security expert who helped design security at Ben Gurion International Airport, has said: “I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747. … That’s why we haven’t put them in our airport.”

One brash commenter on the TSA Web site suggests that he would rather the TSA prevent passengers with antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis from flying than confiscate birds, science experiments, unloaded guns, toothpaste and cupcakes. As always, the threat here remains unclear. Given the recent debacles over confiscated toiletries and baked goods, it seems that the greatest fear is that passengers will clean their teeth or develop Type 2 diabetes. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the threat was terrorism. As a result, we allowed many of our rights to be violated in the name of justice and in the hope of preventing another terrorist attack. But what has materialized is the realization that the cost of these procedures to our dignity — not to mention the monetary cost, hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase the machines and maintain them each year — is not worth the mountains of confiscated items.

We all want to fly on safe airplanes. The fallacy is that this must be accomplished by violating our privacy.

In my case, we had to make a decision: insist on ethics and dignity and miss our flight; or accept the pat-down, board our flight, and reclaim our dignity on another day. I opted to fly and found myself standing before a line of 12 to 15 men and one female terminal manager. A female TSA agent began to explain the procedure. I asked her if she would be touching my genitals, and she confirmed that she would be touching my “labia.” I was told to raise my arms, and standing in front of multiple men, my long blouse (which I had worn over black footless tights) was pulled up, exposing my entire bare midriff as well as the bottom portion of my bra. I forced myself to look into the faces of all the men who stood there, bearing witness to my humiliation. I continued to look, as the TSA agent pulled my tights away from my body and ran her fingers around my bare waistline.

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The TSA Web site states: “You should neither be asked to nor agree to lift, remove, or raise any article of clothing to reveal a sensitive area of the body,” and, “Bare or exposed skin should not be touched by the security officer.” Both of these regulations were violated in full view of those in charge. Surely, I thought, this must be an anomaly. Driving home to Pico-Robertson from LAX later that week, I experienced a clash of emotions: anger, sadness, shame, humiliation, regret, fear. I was confused. I had a deep sense of having insisted on the “right” thing, but it had gone unrewarded. I felt punished. I asked myself: What, as both a Jew and a human being, is my responsibility? The simple but complex answer is that I am simply responsible. And as I accepted that responsibility, I became a repository for stories more distressing than my own.

A colleague, his wife and their 7-month-old daughter, Hazel, were flying from Charlotte, N.C., to Providence, R.I., for Thanksgiving in 2010. My friend and his wife discussed refusing the scanner, but considering the difficulty of making a 14-hour car ride with a baby, his wife insisted that they “comply.” Out of respect for his wife’s desire to get home for her first Thanksgiving with her new baby, my friend agreed to undergo whatever invasion of privacy the TSA insisted on. He went through the metal detector after disassembling his daughter’s stroller. While he reassembled it on the other side, the agents asked his wife to remove their daughter’s pink cardigan sweater-vest. The mother complied, and the agent felt Hazel’s little torso, presumably for an explosive device.

When asked how he felt about the pat-down of his baby girl, my friend responded: “I don’t know. I’m still telling the story, which probably gives some indication of how I feel. It’s an unnamed feeling, and I have nothing to compare it to — something having to do with violation of what makes me, and all of us, human. I would prefer to put my daughter on a hundred flights that involved no security check at all to even dreaming about a stranger patting her down for explosives again.”

The next time the family flew, they passed through the metal detectors unmolested. But my colleague will never forget watching the family in front of them: “I watched the passive father, who was watching his 14-year-old daughter with her arms extended and her feet shoulders width apart while a TSA agent, a woman, with disposable plastic gloves felt around the young girl’s waistband. Needless to say, I wish I hadn’t seen it, and I’m glad I didn’t make eye contact with that father.”

It occurs to me that it is one thing to allow one’s own dignity to be violated. It is quite another to watch that dignity being stripped from our children. My friend cannot stop saying to himself: It’s not just another policy. He continues: “I disagree with 90 percent of what the American government turns into law, but I always felt myself emotionally tied to my country — that was never a question for me. Until the thing with Hazel. Now I’m indifferent. I’m a husband, a father, a pseudo-Buddhist-Gnostic-Christian — but the America that my grandpas fought for in World War II — that’s a thing of the past, to me. I’m over it. When the revolutionaries come looking for support, they can count me in.”

I recently taught a class on post-9/11 fiction at Loyola Marymount University, and I took the opportunity to initiate a dialogue about terrorism, security, fear, human rights and ethical responsibility. I recounted my own experience as a starting point. One student, an Orthodox Jewish woman from the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, explained that, because of her modest clothing, each time she flies, she and her children must go through the body-scanner as well as receive pat-downs. She was told once that her skirt was not tight enough. As I listened to her story of being penalized for modesty, my distress was reignited. I realized that with regard to the level of indecency of which the TSA is capable, I had only touched the surface.

Ouriel and Gabrielle Hassan (a Canadian citizen with a green card) are Orthodox Jews living in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Ouriel’s family is from Egypt. Years ago, Ouriel’s grandfather changed the family’s name from “Hazan” to “Hassan” in an effort to avoid persecution in Egypt. In 2002, Ouriel arrived at LAX on a flight from New York. To his surprise, he was met by two machine-gun-toting soldiers who instructed Ouriel to accompany them. Once in a private room, Ouriel was strip-searched and held for three hours. The items he carried — clothing, Hebrew books, tefillin — were searched meticulously, and he was asked to open his tefillin, which would have destroyed them. When he explained that to the officers, they retracted the order, and, finding no reason to detain him, they released Ouriel with neither apologies nor explanation. He is subjected to scrutiny each time he travels.

Last year before Pesach, he and his wife and their 3-year-old son traveled from Los Angeles to Vancouver. As Ouriel prepared to enter the body-scanner, TSA agents approached Gabrielle and told her that her son, Eliyahu Yosef Hassan, would need to undergo additional screening procedures. She was told to point out Eliyahu’s bags and personal items; being only 3 years old, however, he had no personal items. Eliyahu was then taken from his mother and brought to a special screening area where a large woman roughly “patted” him down, grasping at his genitals and demonstrating indifference to his fearful and hysterical sobs. Gabrielle was prohibited from holding her son’s little hand. Despite TSA regulations that do not permit children to be separated from parents, she was forbidden from standing near him because he might “pass” something to her.

The TSA claimed that “Eliyahu Yosef Hassan” was on a no-fly list. It turns out that the name of the person on the no-fly list is “Yusef Hasan.” Yet little Eliyahu has experienced the traumatizing security screening two additional times. Although the TSA allows people with names similar to those on no-fly lists to apply for special numbers that will alert agents to these similarities and simplify screening processes, Eliyahu is not eligible for this number because he is under 16 years old. Instead, they must be prepared to submit their son to this humiliation. Additionally, TSA agents have withheld from Gabrielle the offer of a private screening room and patted her down in public by putting their hands underneath her skirt and against her legs, as well as lifting her clothing and running their hands underneath the underwire of her bra. Women, particularly those who dress modestly for religious reasons, are being publically humiliated, and their fathers, husbands and brothers must often deal with guilt stemming from their inability to protect their loved ones from degradation.

These are not the experiences of all travelers. But it is difficult to justify even one small child being violated by procedures implemented on the basis of their capacity to protect us from acts of terrorism. Children are being touched in a way that would be illegal anywhere outside of the gray zone of the TSA screening area. In a society that has, given the countless sexual abuse scandals involving priests, coaches and others in positions of authority, we are obsessed with protecting our children from physical and sexual abuse. Yet we give random people in TSA uniforms the authority to touch our children in any way they see fit — all in the name of safer skies. The past years have shown us that people in positions of power often violate children. But our fear of terrorism has become greater than our fear of child abuse, and we have offered up the dignity of our children in exchange for the illusion that we are safer because of it.

Some suggest that if one finds pat-downs to be inappropriate, he or she should not resist the technology that is designed to detect the materials sought through pat-downs. But a number of experts in the field remind us that these machines make mistakes. Agents testing the system have successfully passed through body-scanners with weapons. And they have warned of the possibility of overdose. One glitch could cause a body-scanner to emit an overdose of radiation. But just how common are errors? Apparently the TSA screeners at LAX have grown accustomed to them.

Jaime Eliezer Karas recently declined the body-scan at LAX, chose the pat-down, and watched the agent insert the piece of fabric into the machine that detects traces of explosive material. According to Karas: “We stood there in silence, both knowing everything was almost over. Suddenly, the machine displayed a message: ‘EXPLOSIVES DETECTED.’  The TSA agent did not flinch. As if in a previously choreographed sequence, he glided over to the next machine and was replaced by another agent.” Karas decided to inquire about what was wrong, and the second TSA employee replied that the cloth came up as having detected explosives, and that he was scanning it again at the next machine. The agent — who works for the same organization that terrorizes little Eliyahu Hassan every time he flies — was unconcerned by this information. The second machine did not think that Karas was carrying explosives, and he was given clearance to proceed toward the gates. Indeed, Karas carried no explosives. But the point is the inability of the technology to accurately assess the situation 100 percent of the time.

Many of us have forgotten how to be mindful. Are the deep costs to human dignity worth the ambiguous outcomes — piles of confiscated toothpaste and cupcakes amid optimistic claims that we are now safer? I continue to ask myself what, exactly, is my responsibility? How can I contribute to making a positive and meaningful change?

Much like the inconsistency in how TSA regulations are carried out, the attitudes of TSA members vary. Some TSA agents are snide and aggressive.  One woman, who recently conducted my pat-down in Seattle, was different. As she asked me if I had ever experienced the procedure, the look on my face told her I had. I opened my mouth to speak, but I had no words and I knew somehow that my face was telling the stories I could not speak in that moment. She looked at me intently, lowered her gaze and said, “I know. I’m sorry. It’s awful. You shouldn’t have to …  “ Her voice trailed off and she looked back up at me, as if asking for a pardon for what she was about to do.

Perhaps I was more of a revolutionary in this moment, when I smiled and said, “Thank you. Thank you for saying that.” There was something in her acknowledgment of her complicity in something indecent and undeserved that moved me. Her acknowledgment of how we were both, in that moment, being shamed as women, as citizens, and as human beings was an opening: an unspoken dialogue.

Responsibility begins with awareness and, one day, hopefully, ends with action.

The TSA claims that “since imaging technology has been deployed at airports, more than 99 percent of passengers choose to be screened by this technology over alternative screening procedures.” Perhaps we should think carefully about why people “choose” radiation over public humiliation — or perhaps there’s not much to think about there.

Monica Osborne is a professor of Jewish literature and culture and has written for The New Republic, Tikkun, Jewcy.com and other publications.

Iowa Jewish Federation pulls out of 9/11 event over flag


A Jewish organization in Iowa pulled out of a multifaith prayer service commemorating the 9/11 attacks because the event did not display an American flag.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines withdrew from the Sept. 11 event sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa when representatives arrived at the program at Drake University and discovered that there was no Stars and Stripes on the stage, the Des Moines Register reported.

Federation spokesman Mark Finkelstein told the newspaper that he offered a small flag to the Alliance’s executive director, who declined to display it.

Connie Ryan Terrell told the newspaper that she did not accept the offer because the service was a worship service and not a memorial service, and because she was not willing to make last-minute changes to an event that had been in the planning for three months.

Other Jewish leaders participated in the event.

Letters to the Editor: America, George Bush, Israel


How Did We Get Here?

Marty Kaplan’s “How Did This Happen to America?” (Sept. 9) is a searing piece of journalism. Money has clearly infected our democratic system of government. What Kaplan does is articulate when the line was crossed when cynicism became the norm. Somehow we have to find our way back when, once again, civility rules, and negotiation is a recognized requirement for a functioning government.

Harry Wiland
Santa Monica


Criticizing America, Marty Kaplan writes: “[T]he gap between the rich and the rest [is] growing so extreme that the U.S. is now the 42nd most unequal country in the world, below Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, and only just above Uganda and Jamaica.” This is the most misleading and irrelevant statistic to the success of a country and the well-being of its citizens that I can imagine. In America, the “poor” have it better than most people in the world. Furthermore, the reason the gap between the rich and the poor is so high in America is because there are so many rich and successful people! But this is a problem for Mr. Kaplan, who would rather us be more like Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Egypt and Kenya — all countries ahead of America in income distribution equality because everyone is poor!

Sammy Levine
via e-mail


Thanks for [Marty Kaplan’s] well-stated and appropriately qualified insights. I am a liberal chaplain at a women’s penitentiary and teach a Building Your Own Theology class as an alternative to fundamentalist doctrine. The basic question our inquiry always returns to is, “What is the nature of human nature?” Some days it’s very hard for me to justify jumping off the fence on the side of love — but on some level, even the most broken and battered women understand the layers and layers of pure BS that our culture piles on. In the end, it boils down to how you choose to respond. Even if you are one of the herd, you are ultimately responsible for the integrity of your own heart and mind and that has to be the bedrock. Period. Only then can you figure out your level of engagement, which in my opinion should be as subversive as possible. P.S. A good read: “Blessed Unrest,” by Paul Hawken.

Leslie Kee
via e-mail


 
Bushphobia

It is the persistence of Bushphobia (or W-phobia) that blinds rational people to be irrational, as evidenced by the three articles in the Sept. 9 issue of The Jewish Journal.

Rob Eshman, in his column, wrote,

“[T]he Iraq war was one of those blunders … [and, quoting Brian Michael Jenkins,] ‘gave al-Qaeda a lift’ in the Arab world.” Professor Rabbi Michael Berenbaum opined, “The war in Iraq was completely unrelated to 9/11, and it was started for reasons now proven to be invalid. There were no weapons of mass destruction.” The Pakistani journalist Aaatekah A. Mir-Khan wrote, “Then we heard that President Bush was ready to invade Iraq. That fueled the theory that 9/11 had been staged, that not only was the invasion of Iraq personal, but also it was driven by America’s wish to secure control over oil.”

Let us state the facts, not politics. The Iraq Resolution War was a joint resolution passed by the U.S. Congress (both Republicans and Democrats voted for its passage) in October 2002 authorizing President George W. Bush to use military action against Iraq, as had been the stated policy of the United States for regime change in Iraq since the Clinton administration. The resolution cited at least 17 factors to justify the use of force against Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was just one factor; connection to al-Qaeda, use of WMD by Saddam on his own people (Kurds and Shia), payment of bounty to families of suicide bombers, aggression by Saddam on his neighbors such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran were among the others factors.

I was born in Libya, spent my youth there and attended the University of Tripoli until I left in 1974. Because of President George W. Bush’s leadership and courage, the recent Arab uprisings, including the democratic creation of the country of South Sudan, are the rewards for our success on executing the global war on terror and the liberation of Iraq. Tyrants and dictators around the world such as Saddam, Gadhafi, Assad of Syria, Iranian mullahs and others are no longer able to terrorize their citizens and innocent people as well and without severe consequences.

Ed Elhaderi
Los Angeles


A Country Divided

A divided community is not the way forward for Israel today, yesterday or tomorrow. Although he seems to promote a unified Israel for all (“Salon Nation,” Aug. 26), Mr. Suissa’s tone belies his words.

With his statements to the religious Israelis, “It is dishonoring your religion” and “religion you promote,” Mr. Suissa displays contempt for all Jews, and our ideals.

“[Y]our religion” — but not the author’s? Is he no longer a Jew? Is Judaism so fractured that modern-thinking Jewish voices distance themselves from any kinship and connection to religious brethren? 

It’s been 2,000 years since the Temple was destroyed, and somehow we’re still fostering hate and divisiveness among ourselves. Frankly, it’s beneath us, and beneath what I expect from our community’s published voices.

Cheryl Yifrach
via e-mail

ADL supports World Trade Center cross


The Anti-Defamation League said it supports the inclusion of the World Trade Center cross in the permanent memorial to 9/11 victims at Ground Zero.

The American Atheists organization, which advocates an “absolute separation” of government and religion, filed a lawsuit last month against including the cross-shaped steel beams in the permanent memorial to the victims of 9/11 in lower Manhattan.

The lawsuit claims the cross is unconstitutional and is a “mingling of church and state.”

The cross-shaped beams were found in the rubble at the site of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 attacks and were moved last month to a permanent location in the eight-square-acre memorial.

“Allowing this cross to be included in the memorial along with other artifacts found at the site does not constitute government endorsement of a religious message,” the ADL said in a statement. “Rather, it is an acknowledgement that these beams — part of the infrastructure of one of the towers — acquired historical significance by giving comfort to many who lost loved ones in the attacks, as well as those who spent days and weeks sifting through the ash and debris.

How can we be better humans?


I spent the long Sunday of 9/11 at events that had nothing to do with 9/11, but there was no way to avoid that day’s ominous shadow. All three events I attended were connected to Judaism in some way, and they showed me how much Jews can teach the world about how to react to the tragedy of 9/11.

At each place I went, Jews were confronting Jews.

The first event was on a hilly landscape in Santa Barbara, where I was invited to speak — along with local community leader Rabbi Ira Youdovin —  to the reform Congregation B’nai B’rith, the oldest and largest synagogue in Santa Barbara, founded in 1927. As my car wound up the mountain, it occurred to me how different this “neighborhood” was from my Pico-Robertson ’hood of old shuls, kosher markets, butchers and tailors.

And yet, I was about to meet a few hundred Jews who look exactly like the Jews I see every day in my neighborhood.

This group of Jews was ready to tackle one of today’s toughest issues for supporters of Israel: the upcoming Palestinian initiative to get the United Nations to declare a Palestinian state. This was a serious, engaged crowd of people who wanted to better understand the many angles and consequences of this issue.

The morning session was full of lively and spirited moments, but what stood out for me was the mood of self-reflection: What can we do better?

The crowd was appreciative but not overly swayed by my passionate presentation that put most of the blame for the failure of the peace process on Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership. While they recognized the hard realities facing Israel, for most people in this audience, the bigger question was always: What can we do better?

They seemed to have internalized their rabbi Steven Cohen’s call to try to look at things from the perspective of the “other.” There was a deep love for Israel in the room — but it was a love that expressed itself in a desire to push ourselves to find solutions and be better people.

This idea of pushing ourselves resonated later in the day, when I saw a presentation by the Jerusalem artist and activist Andi Arnovitz at the Beverly Hills home of Jean and Jerry Friedman. Arnovitz is a “protest artist.” She sees things in Israel that drive her nuts and then creates stark and haunting artworks about those things, using symbolic materials like discarded Talmuds and remnants of old prayer books.

To protest the vexing issue of agunot — women who are “chained” to ex-husbands who refuse to give them a “get” (religious divorce) — she shredded a ketubah (religious marriage contract) and reassembled the tiny pieces into what she calls “flat and lifeless paper coats with hanging threads” to symbolize the tragic state of limbo inflicted on these women.

To protest a little-known religious Jewish sect outside Jerusalem called Keren Buria — who cover their girls in head-to-toe black burqas — she created a print of Adam and Eve and covered Eve completely with green leaves to symbolize the humiliation of physical nullification.

Arnovitz says that the goal of her art (which is on exhibit at the George Billis Gallery in Culver City until Oct. 8) is to use aesthetic beauty to reveal a message of protest — usually against extremist trends in religious Orthodoxy. As an Orthodox Jew herself, she sees her mission as challenging her own religious group to reaffirm the human and compassionate side of Torah.

The notion of moral challenge came up again at the third event I attended on 9/11 — this one the launch party of Tom Fields-Meyer’s new book, “Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love From His Extraordinary Son.”

Fields-Meyer had a difficult decision to make: Which section of the book should he pick to read to his family, friends and colleagues at the party?

Instead of going the shmaltzy route, he picked a painful and almost embarrassing chapter in which his autistic son, Ezra, violates (twice) one of the Ten Commandments. The section is a great read on the ideals of moral improvement — I will only tease you with the ending: “For the moment, I forget about the stealing and the punishment, and savor the realization that my son is developing something new: a conscience.”

This was a perfect word to cap a long day: conscience. What I savored personally was that on one of our country’s most emotional days, I had spent my time with Jews pushing their consciences to make things better.

In an odd way, I’m glad I didn’t attend one of those “interfaith” sessions with other religious groups, where we show the world how much we all have in common. I do love that as humans, we have a lot in common — and I do have a soft spot in my heart for those interfaith moments.

But on this day, I must say, I was more moved by my “inner-faith” moments.

There’s something powerful about a people self-reflecting and working on itself. I can only wish that this great Jewish tradition will become a 9/11 tradition; that on this singular day, every religious group in the world — including the one under whose name the 9/11 murderers committed their atrocity — will gather and ask one another this simple question: How can we be better humans?

For Jon Stewart, 9/11 ‘commemoration’ more about 9/13


While perusing my Facebook wall this summer, I got word that a bunch of tickets to a taping of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” was available for the taking. Fingers be nimble, I snapped them up.

It wasn’t just any taping but the one for Sept. 12, the post-apocalyptic “day after yesterday.”

The date, the guest and Stewart’s poignant monologue after 9/11 would make this show one to remember, I figured.

Stewart had opened his first show after the attacks with a monologue that offered a heartfelt lamentation while lauding Americans for their resolve in the face of “unendurable pain.” Stewart never ceased to be an advocate for the 9/11 responders, tirelessly promoting a law to compensate those affected by the acrid smoke at Ground Zero that eventually won approval by Congress in 2010.

The guest was to be Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the highest ranking officer in the U.S. armed forces and a man uniquely qualified to reflect on the two wars that constituted America’s response to the 9/11 attacks.

So certain was I about the stars being aligned for a memorable show that I sweet-talked our editor in chief into giving three colleagues half a day off to witness the historic program—and to wait in line for an hour-and-a-half.

During the Q&A in the studio before the show, I asked Stewart, “Are you going to give another post-9/11—?”

“Won’t you people ever be satisfied?” he interjected, sparking a round of laughter. “It’s a free show!”

For me, looking for a voice to deliver a closing cathartic moment after a weekend of memorializing 9/11, the occasion bore the suspense of an at-bat in the bottom of the ninth.

But Stewart failed to connect.

Story continues after the jump

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All references to 9/11 were relegated to the second segment, the pre-taped filler between the opening segment (about President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act) and the segment with Mullen.

Stewart introduced the bit by proposing, tongue in cheek, an alternative anniversary, Sept. 13—the day in 2001 when the late evangelical leader Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested that the American Civil Liberties Union, gays and other secular groups bore some responsibility for the terrorist attacks.

The ensuing montage invited audiences to lament 9/13 as the day that any semblance of national fortitude in the face of fear had been a short-lived dream. Since then, the montage noted, everyone from winemakers touting a “9/11 memorial Merlot” to gold coin producers selling precious metals they claim were salvaged from the vaults beneath the World Trade Center have tried to benefit commercially from our collective narrative tragedy. Perhaps Stewart’s reticence to address 9/11 head-on was an effort to steer clear of capitalizing on 9/11 in any way.

While I watched Stewart’s “9/13 montage,” the implication that 10 years’ worth of TV tributes and 9/11 footage somehow was hackneyed didn’t resonate. Can such a significant event have an expiration date?

Later that night, I learned from a JTA news brief that for the first time since its founding, the Rabin Center in Israel for the first time in 16 years would not commemorate Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination with its annual rally in Tel Aviv.

The moment that my high school’s stand-in for the town crier announced the collapse of the World Trade Center, I was jittering my way through a C+ on an American history and literature exam.

Ten years later I’m still a mediocre student of history, but willing to surmise the following: There always comes a time when a cataclysm becomes a distant memory.

But for those who were caught in the moment, that time always seems to arrive too early.

Adam Soclof writes for the JTA Archive Blog. “Like” the JTA Archive on Facebook and follow @JTAarchive on Twitter.

At a rebuilt AMIA Jewish center, Argentinians remember 9/11 victims


A 9/11 memorial ceremony at the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires called for common cause in halting terrorist attacks.

Among those attending the commemoration ceremony Monday at the rebuilt AMIA headquarters were the U.S. ambassador in Argentina, Vilma Martinez; representatives of Spain, Germany, Ireland, Uruguay, Poland and Israel; and executives from American Airlines and United Airlines, whose planes were used in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Another flight went down in Pennsylvania.

“It is affecting to meet here at the site of the AMIA bombing, a grim reminder of terrorist attacks,” Martinez said. “We value deeply our common reason to fight against terrorism and remember its victims.”

AMIA President Angel Barman referred to this common cause, saying that the world should do more to face terrorism together.

“I think we have not done enough, our diplomats and authorities have not done enough,” he said.

Olga Degtiar, representing Families of Victims and Friends of the AMIA Bombing group, said that the images 10 years later of the 9/11 attacks makes her remember her own images from 17 years ago, when the AMIA building was destroyed in an attack on July 18, 1994 that killed 85 and injured hundreds.

“It’s the same hate and destruction,” said the mother of Cristian Degtian, a teenager killed in the AMIA bombing. “When we saw this building destroyed … [and] knowing that beneath the rubble was my son.”

Adriana Reisfeld, Active Memory president, noted a major difference between the tributes held in New York and in Buenos Aires for the AMIA bombing.

“In the United States both presidents (George Bush and Barack Obama) participated and representatives of different religions; they can be together because they know exactly who is responsible for the attacks,” she said. “After 17 years in Argentina we don’t have assurance of who are the responsible parties.”

Though Argentina has accused the Iranian government of directing the bombing and the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah of carrying it out, no arrests have been made in the case. Six Iranians have been on the Interpol international police agency’s most wanted list since 2007 in connection with the bombing, including the current Iranian defense minister, Gen. Ahmed Vahidi.

Australian rabbi blows shofar at 9/11 ceremony


A Sydney rabbi sounded the shofar in a major cathedral in the Australian city to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, senior rabbi of the Great Synagogue, blew the shofar in St. Mary’s Cathedral Sunday as part of the anniversary commemorations for the victims of 9/11, including the 10 Australians who were killed on the fateful day.

Lawrence was preceded by an Aboriginal elder who opened the emotional ceremony, in the presence of the New South Wales governor and premier, with the drone of the didgeridoo.

The rabbi said in his address that one of the shofar notes, teruah, had three parts.

“At its heart is a cry,” he said. “But the wailing is sandwiched between two solid blasts of hope. Hope, sadness, hope—that is how we respond to the destruction of an iconic landmark.”

D.C. temple hosts 9/11 commemoration


More than 1,000 people gathered at the Washington Hebrew Congregation for a religious event to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The event was hosted by the Washington National Cathedral, but could not be held there due to damage from last month’s earthquake.

Six religions participated in the commemoration, which included a Unity Walk in which participants visited 13 houses of worship along Embassy Row.

The event began with a symbolic Muslim call to prayer from the Washington Hebrew Congregation’s podium, according to the Washington Post.

Jewish clergy join anti-Islamaphobia event


Top Jewish clergy joined a religious gathering to combat Islamaphobia as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks nears.

“Ten years after 9/11, it has somehow become respectable to verbally attack Muslims and Islam in America,” Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism, said Thursday at the Washington event organized by Shoulder to Shoulder, a group founded a year ago during a period of intensified anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“There are very real consequences when entire populations are represented in the public imagination by their worst elements, when the sins of the few are applied to the group as a whole. I have watched in astonishment as prominent politicians, including candidates for president of the United States, have found it politically opportune to peddle divisive anti-Muslim bigotry.”

Also addressing the event at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church was Steve Gutow, a Reconstructionist rabbi and the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public policy umbrella group.

“A great people and a great nation do not let their brothers and sisters suffer from bigotry and persecution,” Gutow said. “Our Muslim brothers and sisters suffer exactly that in all corners of this great country of ours. Today is a day to stand up and say we have had enough.”

Rabbi Burton Visotzky of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary said Muslims “have always been part of the fabric of America.”

Also attending were Rabbi Marc Schneier, a co-founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding; Rabbi Jack Moline, representing the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly; Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, representing the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and the Faith and the Common Good project, and Rabbi Dr. Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, representing the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

One woman’s political awakening


Sept. 11 is partly responsible for my choice of career. In 2001, I was an architecture student, even if a disillusioned one, completely uninterested in politics and affairs of the world.

9/11 changed that.

Sept. 11, 2001, was just another lazy evening for me in Lahore. I had my cup of tea and was chatting about something totally mundane with a family friend. That is when my aunt — who got a call from her daughter in New York — told us, “Turn on CNN. A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”

That “crash” turned out to be much more than an accidental collision. I think I realized that along with the rest of the world — when the second plane hit the South Tower.

I did not move from in front of the TV all night.

Back then, Pakistan did not have the voracious private media that it does now. I was among the lucky ones who had satellite TV at home, and so we relied on CNN, with the occasional flip to the BBC, for information.

I refused to believe CNN when they said the towers would collapse. But they did. For some bizarre reason, I remember the shade of lipstick worn by a woman who had just run to safety. Maybe it is not that strange: In all the ugliness, that lipstick shade was the only beautiful thing.

From what I remember, the first reaction among my circle of friends and family was very similar to that of the rest of the world. I remember we were stunned by what happened. We cried when we heard the phone calls people had placed to their families when they knew they were about to die. We gasped with horror when we saw people choosing to jump to their deaths.

Why would they choose to do that? Maybe it was a less painful death. Perhaps it was that in those minutes of absolute chaos and helplessness, making that decision gave them a sense of still being in control of their life. Or maybe for some it was a way of defying the terrorists:  “You don’t decide how we go. We do.” Someone might have jumped believing, or hoping, for a miracle.

I think the whole world stood together in experiencing the initial shock and disbelief. Wanting to make sense of what had happened, how and why was also a shared experience. It was when we got to the actual “making sense” that the narratives became different. And from that moment on, it was, “Either you are with us or against us.”

I don’t remember anyone in Pakistan celebrating the attacks. There was the occasional, “It was bound to happen sometime because of the U.S. policies.” There were conspiracy theories, like, “The United States carried out the attacks itself,” or, “All the Jews who worked in the towers had taken the day off,” but that came a few days later. Then we heard that President Bush was ready to invade Iraq. That fueled the theory that 9/11 had been staged, that not only was the invasion of Iraq personal, but also it was driven by America’s wish to secure control over oil.

When Gen. Pervez Musharraf decided to take a U-turn on our years-old policy toward the Taliban, we became involved in America’s war. But 10 years later, with the highest number of civilian and military casualties and daily terrorist attacks, it has become our war. To me, anyone who doesn’t see that lives in denial.

During the time that I have been in the United States, I have been asked who’s wrong and who’s right. I wish there were a simple answer, but there isn’t. Neither country bears the entire blame. Both of us have been guilty of playing hide-and-seek.

“Do you think we are so naïve as to believe that you did not know where Osama bin Laden was?” I didn’t say that. My government did. I don’t expect you to believe that, because I don’t either. Someone had to know. I’ve also been asked, “What can we do to improve the perception of Americans?” Better P.R. Own up to the good that you do. And avoid any more episodes like that of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, I suppose.

But the Pakistani government also needs to share that burden. It needs to be upfront with its people and stop denying that the United States does not have its blessings for carrying out drone strikes. We also need to give the U.S. credit where it’s due for various civilian projects.

Any solution that is reached for the region — whether it’s a deal with the Taliban or something else — needs to take into consideration both Afghanistan and Pakistan, too, and not just America’s self-interest. Pakistan, for its part, needs to realize that if and when America leaves the region, it needs to work together with Afghanistan.

Ignoring the intricacies and reducing the complexities to a black-and-white approach is the worst mistake that either of us can make, and yet it is the most common one that both of us do make.

I was in the United States when Osama bin Laden was killed. I saw the people celebrating outside the White House and in Times Square, but I also met and spoke with people who thought that there was nothing to “celebrate.” I know that many who were celebrating were not rejoicing in his death, but in the sense of justice and closure. There were others who believed that he should have been captured and tried, not killed. Which images and opinion do you think made it into the Pakistani media?

But then again, after bin Laden was killed, people in Pakistan weren’t exactly heartbroken. Yes, they were upset about the violation of their airspace and, hence, sovereignty. But what did the U.S. media decide to focus on? One crazy group, the leader of which broke down while offering bin Laden’s funeral prayers in absentia. I have heard as many Americans as Pakistanis question whether bin Laden was really killed this summer, and as many Pakistanis as Americans wanting to see photos as proof.

Regardless of what we might have been led to believe, we aren’t that different, you and I. Because of what happened 10 years ago, your country will never be the same. Neither will mine. Your life changed. So did mine.

We have a choice now: We can take the easy way out. Believe that we are right and the other is wrong. “We” being defined by ourselves as good, and the other personifying evil. Or we can refuse to believe that and challenge it, through dialogue and trying to reach out. If you do not know any other Pakistanis, reach out to me. E-mail me and I will try to answer your questions.

One of my favorite quotes is from Michelle Obama, who said that all of us have a responsibility to strive for a world the way it should be. I think I owe it to myself, my country, you and the memory of Daniel Pearl — the man because of whom I was given this opportunity. Do you?

Aatekah A. Mir-Khan is a Daniel Pearl Fellow from Pakistan who worked with The Wall Street Journal in New York for five months. Back home she works for an English-language newspaper and can be contacted at {encode=”aatekahm@gmail.com” title=”aatekahm@gmail.com”}.

10 years after 9/11, what has changed?


Even before the 110-story cloud of smoke cleared 10 years ago, America, and American Jews, grappled with a new desire to seek out the enemy — on the one hand to thwart him, and on the other to find out who he is, why he hates us so much and what we can do about it.

That desire has shaped a dichotomous response over the last decade — one of war, pumped-up security and more limited freedoms on the one hand, and of dialogue and a desire to open oneself up to help repair the world on the other.

Both the American government and watchdog institutions, particularly Jewish ones, increased their vigilance of Muslim extremism, and at the same time Jews challenged themselves to reach out to Muslims and to build personal and political relationships.

Often, the divergent goals of vigilance and building bridges played out within the same organization.

“Engaging people with hearts wide open, but also with eyes and ears wide open, was one of the main lessons for us and a key component for moving forward from 9/11,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

After 9/11, the Wiesenthal Center continued its vigilance of

anti-Semitism both among white supremacist and Muslim radicals, but it also created a new position, director of interfaith affairs, and founded a Web site called “Ask Musa,” which teaches basic Judaism to Muslims. The center forged relationships with Pakistani diplomats, and after the al-Qaeda bombing in Bali in 2002, it hosted a multifaith conference against terrorism there, with the Indonesian president as a featured speaker. It also held a multifaith solidarity remembrance in Mumbai to commemorate the 2008 attacks there.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a similar two-pronged approach.

After 9/11, ADL created a center on extremism that monitors Muslim radicals. At the same time, it puts out curricula and runs programs on tolerance, including a special curriculum in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. ADL has also worked closely with Muslim leadership to combat anti-Muslim bigotry and to monitor instances where local communities object to mosques being built.

Amanda Susskind, director of the Pacific Southwest Region, said this dual approach is what attracted her to the ADL, after 9/11 prompted her to leave practicing law and enter public service. She believes monitoring hatred while building bridges and tolerance is not contradictory.

“The Muslim community groups and leaders that we work with and that we support in their fight against bigotry also speak out against Muslim extremism. These are not overlapping groups,” Susskind said.

The ADL also works closely with law enforcement, offering training and serving as a resource for information on hate crime trends. Locally, the ADL created a regular meeting between national, state and local law enforcement so they can share information with each other and get information from ADL on hate crimes.

While ADL held occasional security briefings for Jewish organizations before 9/11, in the last decade the annual pre-High Holy Days security briefing has become a must-attend event among synagogue leadership.

Certainly, security is one of the most visible changes 9/11 brought to the Jewish community.

Jewish institutions had some security before 9/11 — and most reassessed after the North Valley JCC shooting in 1999 — but the new, very real threat of al-Qaeda pushed all institutions to new levels.

After 9/11, Sinai Temple in Westwood revamped its security on the 377,000-square-foot facility that serves 1,950 member families and nearly 1,000 kids in its day school, religious school and preschool.

The temple has armed guards and 90 security cameras, and only one entrance to the building, according to executive director Howard Lesner. People entering the facility during the week have to have an appointment or someone to vouch for them. On Shabbat, everyone is wanded, and all bags are examined.

Security accounts for 5 percent of the budget, and each member and student is assessed to help cover it.

Often, security concerns run counter to the Jewish impulse of creating a welcoming atmosphere. Lesner said security has been woven into the general operations — most of the guards have been in the building for years and are familiar faces, who wish guests Shabbat Shalom or Shanah Tovah.

Rabbi Schneier briefs White House staff ahead of 9-11


Rabbi Marc Schneier was among those who briefed White House staff ahead of September 11 commemorations.

Schneier, as the vice president of the World Jewish Congress and a co-founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, was part of a group briefing staff on Tuesday ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people.

“Rabbi Schneier discussed how Americans have united since 2001 to rebuild and further cooperation and understanding between communities,” said a statement from the foundation.

Schneier has been especially active in recent years in forging Muslim-Jewish ties.

Others addressing the briefing included Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, and leaders from the Muslim community and from the community of families of victims of the attack.

Politics on the bimah


Every year, without fail, there are congregants who take me to task for not dealing with certain issues from the pulpit. Whether it is health care or a mosque at Ground

Zero, illegal immigration or the war in Iraq, people have wanted me to address these issues — and I won’t, not from the bimah. Don’t get me wrong; these are important social and political issues for us to discuss. But the truth is, they are debated in very public ways, with every news media providing its perspective. Before talking about an issue from the pulpit, I ask myself a number of questions.

First, is there a Jewish perspective to be shared? I believe that sermons are supposed to provide a Jewish perspective or context to an issue. While the political and social perspectives are shared in the public sphere, the bimah is the place for the Jewish take on issues. When addressing a social or political issue, it is my job as a rabbi to add a Jewish dimension. 

Second, by addressing the issue, will I be entering into the world of politics? It is one thing to talk about the problem of illegal immigration, but once I speak about a particular approach to the issue, I enter into the world of politics. If I speak about the need to expel illegal immigrants, I am advocating a view of the right. If I speak about the need to provide illegal immigrants with health care, I am advocating the view of the left. And I will not embark upon this road. We live in a politically volatile world where the line between the right and the left has become an iron curtain, and I know that once I enter the world of politics (as distinguished from political issues), people will become defensive and lose the rest of my message. So, my policy is to avoid the world of politics completely. The humorous part of this is that because I don’t deal with certain issues, people assume that I am on the opposite side of the political spectrum than they are. People on the left believe that I am on the right, and people on the right believe that I am on the left. I consider this a success.

A third issue I must consider is the context of the sermon. For example, I must recognize that Shabbat and festival services are part of a larger ritual celebration. People come to synagogue for many different reasons. Some come for a bar/bat mitzvah, and others attend to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for a loved one. Also, sprinkled into our services are lifecycle events like baby namings, aufrufs (pre-wedding blessings) and anniversaries. I must ask myself how these people will respond to a sermon that is interjected into these personal moments.

And finally, I must consider whether the issue might create a divisive climate within the synagogue. People come to synagogue to feel a sense of community, not to engage in political posturing.

Long ago I learned that the synagogue is the place for spiritual renewal, not political debate. I have come to realize that while some people would like me to rally against the evils of the world, most people come to services to be inspired and are seeking ways to connect Jewishly, to become better people. I believe it is my job to address the issues, but not to advocate a political solution. I will add the Jewish voice, but not say how that voice is manifest in a particular political platform. Where we can, as a synagogue, we will engage in activities that can make a difference in this world. Whether it is through social action programs, advocating for Israel, participating in Jewish World Watch or touching the lives of congregants through our community of caring, we will make a difference in the world. We must be concerned with and address the big issues, but I will not take sides and I will not divide our congregation; this is the balance needed for a true “caring” community — caring and preserving community.