November 18, 2018

Deja vu

September 11, 2001.

This morning, America woke up to the same nightmare that my parents did on February 6, 1985. On that morning, my parents in Los Angeles heard the news that a suicide bomber had attacked an Israel Defense Forces convoy in Southern Lebanon. Reports of casualties varied from 50 injured to 100 killed. My parent’s ultimate nightmare was that their son, who had enlisted in the IDF seven months earlier, was a part of the convoy that had been attacked.

I was, in fact, part of that convoy, as were 13 of my friends and officers. Our lieutenant was hurt, as were 10 other soldiers, some of whom were hospitalized for up to 13 months. Nobody was killed, and I was fortunate enough to be among the few who escaped without injury, although friends seated to my immediate right and left were badly wounded. The memory of a 220-pound blast of dynamite exploding in our faces, together with the gruesome injuries and the pandemonium it created, all flashed back to me this morning as I turned on CNN.

A few months after my discharge from the IDF, Israeli intelligence announced on Israeli radio that they had discovered a videotaping of this incident, and that they would broadcast it on the evening news. My friends and I gathered that evening and watched in horror as we relived the most horrible moments of our young lives. This morning, watching the reports from New York and Washington, D.C., brought me back to that evening in my friend’s living room.

Ever since that day, when I was miraculously saved from the hands of terror, I have watched terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism grow and expand globally.

During the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, I was in the last year of my rabbinical studies in New York. My wife Peni, whom I had married just a few months earlier, was working on the 67th floor of the Empire State Building. I will never forget how frightened I was when the split screen on television showed the World Trade Center bombing on one side, and the Empire State Building, with my wife inside, on the other. I felt like my parents did back in 1985. This morning, I felt the same way all over again.

This past Shabbat, I delivered a sermon deploring the use and abuse of Islamic houses of worship as centers of incitement towards violence and terrorism. Under the guise of religion, Muslim clerics around the world, including right under our noses here in the United States, continue to use their pulpits as a platform for encouraging the worst forms of hatred. I warned that to continue to allow this under the pretense of “freedom of speech” would ultimately come to haunt us.

This morning, as I watched the horrifying images on television, some of my congregants called me, commenting on the timeliness and accuracy of my sermon. In this instance, I cannot say that I am happy to have delivered a timely message.

Today, my children could not attend their Jewish day school, because it was closed. Today, I had to make the decision to cancel the opening day of classes in my synagogue’s Hebrew school. Today, I had to hire three armed security guards to patrol my synagogue on a 24-hour basis. I keep having to remind myself that I am actually in America, not the Middle East. Hard to believe.

When all is said and done, no political or military analysis can calm the nerves of the families whose relatives are victims of terror. I vividly remember the tears of fear being shrieked over the phone when I was first able to speak with my parents after coming home from Lebanon. I remember the fear and apprehension I felt in New York during the first World Trade Center bombing. And this morning, it all flashed back in my mind again, as I watched the faces etched in fear and confusion running amidst the flames and rubble of yet another act of terror.

Yes, this is what we all woke up to — but when will the world really wake up?