November 21, 2018

Tragedy’s Challenge

Typically an outspoken political activist, Rabbi Avi Weiss struggles for the right words when it comes to talking about Ground Zero.

"I can’t go down to that place anymore," said Weiss, the spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute in the Bronx, N.Y.

On that fateful Sept. 11, the rabbi walked many blocks into the suffocating dust cloud arising from the collapsed World Trade Center, hoping he could help. His actions were "insignificant," he said, compared to firefighters, police and rescue workers, who turned a place of evil into "a congregation of holy souls."

But one year later, he sees a "rush of politicians and others to be at that spot," and though he understands the need to see it, he won’t go.

Instead, Weiss will mark the anniversary of the attacks, as well as High Holiday services, by asking his congregation for a period of "nonverbal communication" like the moment of silence that brings Israel to a halt on Memorial and Holocaust Remembrance days. They’ll also recite Psalms, read names and stories of victims, and talk about trust — "not only in each other, but finding it in your soul to trust in God."

Weiss is hardly alone in his struggle to find a way to talk about Sept. 11. Most rabbis plan to use the High Holidays to try to tackle what many say has been one of the most traumatic years in recent history.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles said he is still unsure how he will deal with the subject. "It’s indecent to ignore it, but it’s not the totality of what we face or what the holidays are all about," he said, adding, however, "There’s a Jewish tradition of ritualizing and textualizing great events — how do you make it not of the moment, but a long-term event that affects our lives?"

One effort at finding such meaning is the recently published anthology "Living Words IV: A Spiritual Source Book for an Age of Terror," published by Sh’ma, a Jewish journal. In past years, the annual anthology served as a collection of High Holiday writings, but this past year editor Susan Berrin, who sees "Sept. 11, 5762, as a moment in Jewish history," said many of the pieces she gathered concern the attacks. So far this latest edition has sold 1,700 copies — triple the usual number, she said.

In coming to terms with this past year, rabbis are getting other help, as well, from their movement’s umbrella organizations. The Orthodox Union (OU), for example, is posting a video message from Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the group’s executive vice president, which reflects on what he calls "our fragility, our vulnerability, and the nature of good and evil." The OU is also sending out a Hebrew poem about tragedy by Moshe Sokolow, a Yeshiva University professor, which rabbis can incorporate into services.

Similarly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism also e-mailed to its members a package titled "Project Zachor," which includes readings from specific Psalms, the "Mi Shebeirach," or prayer for recovery, for the survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks and the families of victims, and such suggestions as lighting a yahrzeit candle.

But most leaders agree that it is hard to craft a message this year.

"There are no easy answers," said Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC). "In a 20- to 25-minute sermon, we’re not going to solve these problems."

Like the other congregational groups, the UAHC has posted suggested liturgy for its member synagogues on its Web site, and officials like Yoffie have discussed Sept. 11 with member rabbis in national conference calls.

Rabbi Ellen Dreyfus of B’nai Yehuda Beth Sholom synagogue in suburban Chicago, who is also president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, said events of the past year have instilled a deep new fear in the community, a sense of loss of control.

Immediately after Sept. 11, Dreyfus said that like many, she recalls feeling that now Americans know how Israelis feel every day. Israelis still talk about a "myth of security" in which people define their own safety rules to deal with suicide bombers. "Ultimately, we’re only human, and we don’t have control over much in our lives, but we have to think about what we do control."

For Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, that fear takes shape almost every time he drives past an airport on his way to work in Los Angeles. "I see small planes landing about two miles from my house, and if it looks like they’re banking too steeply over the San Fernando Valley, my heart skips a beat." So one way Diamond will deal with that fear is the message he’ll bring to his congregants at Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge over the holidays.

"Israelis kiss their kids goodbye in the morning and wonder if they’ll be reunited at dinnertime. And on Sept. 11, a whole bunch of people went off to work and never came home again," he said — we should never, ever take them for granted. We don’t know how long we’re going to be here."

Fearing Fear

My husband, Larry, and I had been training, or so I thought, for the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day, a 60-mile walk in from Santa Barbara to Malibu last October.

But now I realize that we were really training for a grave new world — for when an act of God, or more likely an act of godlessness, blindsides Los Angeles, shutting down our streets and transportation systems.

"I always wondered, if I could walk the 11 miles home from work in an emergency," Larry said before Sept. 11." Ñow I know I can," he says.

And now I know I can walk to my sons’ schools, the farthest being 13 miles away.

Worse, I know I might have to.

For on Sept. 11, with the force of a 767 hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center, reality slammed into our lives, forever destroying our concept of invincibility.

And so, with a Californian’s knee-jerk reaction to any crisis, I replenish the emergency backpacks with radios, batteries, work gloves, flashlights, flares, power bars, water and walking shoes. And I buy a longer-life battery for my cell phone.

But in truth, I don’t know how to prepare — or for what. I can only guess that the next attack will be unforeseen, unfathomable and deadly. And I wonder if I should be lining up my family for smallpox vaccinations or stockpiling gas masks, guns and canned goods — or merely praying.

As a mother, I have worked to create a risk-free world for my four sons, now ages 10, 12, 14 and 18. I have put them in car seats, seatbelts and helmets. I have removed alar from their apple juice, drawstrings from their sweatshirt hoods and second-hand smoke from their environments. I have taught them not to talk to strangers or pick up guns. And I have electronically tethered them with cell phones and pagers.

As a Jew, I have merely been following the danger-avoidance dictates of my religion. "One should guard oneself against all things that are dangerous, because ‘regulations concerning health and life are made more stringent than ritual laws,’ " the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, states.

Ironically, I also worry that I’m overprotecting my kids, doing them a disservice by destroying their sense of self-confidence. And I worry that I’m not concentrating enough on my sons’ emotional needs. My rabbi, Zachary Shapiro, associate rabbi at Los Angeles’ University Synagogue, tells me, "We need to give children constant reassurance that they’re in a safe place when they’re with us."

He recommends, especially for younger kids, a nighttime ritual that includes prayers such as the Shema and the "Hashkiveinu," a prayer for peace that includes the words, "Shield us and remove from us foe, pestilence, sword, famine and sorrow."

For the older kids, the rabbi advocates tzedakah activities, such as organizing a clothing drive, giving blood or collecting donations. This is in keeping with Judaism’s teaching, "Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20).

Meanwhile, as a parent, I take solace in the fact that the terrorist attacks, as well as most crises and disasters, are much scarier to me than to my sons. I have a greater ability to comprehend the seriousness, as well as the long-term ramifications. Or perhaps I’ve succumbed to "phobophobia," the fear of fear itself.

Also, I take solace in the fact that statistics are on my side. Yes, Rabbi Harold Kushner has indelibly and eloquently taught us that "bad things happen to good people." But they happen rarely and atypically.

But most of all, I take solace in the fact that anytime and anywhere, thanks to my training for the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day, I can grab my emergency backpack and walk to fetch my sons.

People of All Faiths Find Solace in Prayer

The attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center seemed to have had the perfect combination of factors needed to dismantle people’s religious beliefs: an atrocity committed in the name of religion and God, coupled with so many dead and wounded that even for those of strong faith, the idea of a benevolent or caring God was seriously challenged.

And yet, rather than turning away from God and religion, people of all faiths have flocked to centers of worship and have engaged in private prayer.

It marks, perhaps, the coming together of psychology and religion, as people turn both inward and outward toward their larger communities and the community of humankind to find solace and meaning in dreadful times.

Whether it was President Bush’s call for a National Day of Prayer or an overwhelming impulse to go to shul, the Friday night after Sept. 11 saw synagogues packed.

At Sinai Temple that week, about 2,500 young people attended Friday Night Live service, which usually sees about 1,500, said Rabbi David Wolpe. "I think there is something about praying, feeling solidarity in community that’s very powerful," Wolpe told The Journal.

At University Synagogue in Brentwood, 700 people showed up, in contrast to the 150 who might usually come on a Friday night.

"In the 30 years which I have served University Synagogue, I do not remember as many people coming as we had on Rosh Hashana morning. It was amazing to witness and experience," said Rabbi Allen Freehling.

Freehling wasn’t surprised by the turnout.

"Any time in which there is a life crisis, people either have a tendency to move toward or away from prayer and worship and reliance upon their synagogue as a safe haven," Freehling said. "In this particular crisis, I am finding a dramatic number of people who are involving themselves in personal prayer and worship services, as well as coming to synagogue and meeting with clergy to clarify their own feelings and to focus on ways in which they can get through these ordeals."

Freehling likens the response to the religious or spiritual yearnings that are awakened in reaction to a serious illness or a death.

"In this particular instance, it’s as if at least the whole nation, if not the world community, has suffered a profound death in the family," Freehling said.

Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple told Time magazine that since the terror, "the intensity of the [religious] experience has heightened." The article, "Faith After the Fall," examined whether the return signified a revival or was just a "quick hit of community."

Wolpe told The Journal that he doesn’t know how long the "return" to prayer will last. "There’s a lot of speculation about all sorts of things … and the fact that we don’t know adds to our uncertainty — how people will react depends on what happens," he said.

Dr. Leonard Felder, a psychologist and author of seven books, has spent much of the past month speaking at synagogues where Jews have sought guidance.

"I think the idea of being trapped in a burning building — which was on fire because of a suicide bomber — is so off-the-charts horrible, and we realized there are so many things in life that we cannot control, that we couldn’t just go back to business as usual or normal rationalizations. We had to go deeper," said Felder, whose most recent book, "Seven Prayers That Can Change Your Life" (Andrews McMeel, 2001), is about using prayer in a therapeutic way.

People began searching for more meaning in their own activities.

"One of the things people feel is that their lives and daily chores are insignificant compared to what they were seeing on CNN. But when they would pray and ask to have the energy to rise up and be of service, they got clues as to how to be useful," he said. "They realize that wiping their children’s runny nose or helping an aging parent living alone is just as important as what they are seeing on TV."

Felder said that Jewish prayer is uniquely equipped to move people to action. In Judaism, supplicants do not ask God for miracles, or to take action on their behalf.

"Jews pray to get guidance on how to be a good person and to be useful and helpful in the world. Prayer is like a wake-up call to bring out the best in yourself," he said. "We don’t ask for God to take care of all this stuff for us, we tend to ask God or some source of strength to inspire us to do good in the world."

Felder also notes that even if people hadn’t thought through why they were turning to prayer, it may have just given them a "quiet, centering moment" as the chaos around them unfurled.

But even more than the need for quiet introspection, Freehling of University Synagogue has seen people tap into the support of community.

"There is this sense of kinship, which is even stronger than comradeship," Freehling said. "When people are coming now, they seem to be gaining an extra measure of strength and comfort because they know they are in the company of others who are feeling similar kinds of emotions."

People wanted to share those emotions, using actions and language that are comfortable and familiar.

"What they are displaying is an almost palatable hunger for the lifting up of their spirit through the words of the rabbi and the songs of the cantor," Freehling said.

That impulse was probably magnified by the fact that the attacks coincided with the High Holy Days, when even sometime worshippers spend hours in synagogue.

"The words we read in the prayer book or sang during the services seemed to have an ability to resonate within the congregants perhaps as never before," Freehling said.

For Felder, the same holds true for his daily prayers, such as "Sim Shalom," asking God for peace, or "Modeh Ani," thanking God for restoring the soul to the body.

One prayer in the daily "Amidah" has brought Felder to tears. The prayer praises God as a sustainer of life who "supports the fallen, heals the ill, frees the captives and renews faith among those who sleep in the dust."

Felder said that finding such moments in the day could change a life. In his book, he points to small prayers that can make a tremendous difference. Reciting "Modeh Ani" in the morning, thanking God for life, can compensate for the human tendency to look for incompleteness.

"The human brain doesn’t notice what is complete and good. For that you have to manually override your problem-solving brain," with a prayer of gratitude such as "Modeh Ani," he said.

Freehling hopes this crisis-driven experience with prayer will open up more Jews to the power of prayer.

"Any of us who have been involved not only in the leading of public worship, but also in the encouragement of private prayers, try to impress upon people that under all circumstances, whether good or bad, prayer and worship validate life and raise people to a whole new level of appreciation and activity," Freehling said.

Felder said he hopes more psychologists refer clients to those who can help in spiritual healing, and that more rabbis teach their congregants more about prayer.

The effects of this one event, Felder said, could be long lasting, if people take the time to hold on to their initial reaction and go deeper.

"I’m hoping that if people were brought to tears this year by prayer, that maybe we won’t wait till the next crisis before we study ‘what are these prayers and why do they affect me so strongly?’"

Terror Strikes Home

September 11, 2001
LOS ANGELES – Word of the terrorist attacks reached Angelenoswhen they turned on their radios at breakfast time and theJewish community immediately went on heightened alert.

The Jewish Federation building, the nerve center of theJewish community, was partially staffed by senior personnel, whileits agencies serving school children, the elderly and synagogueswere fully operational, said John Fishel, president of the JewishFederation.

Since three of the suicide planes were headed for LosAngeles, Fishel feared that the impact on the community in lostlives will be severe. However, he assumed that lists of victimswould not be available for another 24 hours. (Phone numbers given out for victim reports on are,for United Airlines, 800-932-8555; for AMERICAN, 800-245-0999.) Nina Lieberman, the executive vice president of Jewish CommunityCenters of Greater Los Angeles reports that doors will remain open atJCCs citywide, providing the routine gamut of early childhood andafter-school services, while coordinating with the Jewish Federationand other agencies on plans for further services and responses to theday’s events. One such option, she says, could, if needed, be to hostblood banks at centers throughout the cities. She says that JewishFamily Services is planning to offer counseling to those who mayrequire it.

Although the centers are on heightened alert, she says,the security precautions put in place after the shootings at theNorth Valley JCC two years ago are considered adequate for thepresent. “This is a profound and terrible tragedy,” she says, “and wehave not yet felt its full impact and ramifications. Obviously wewill make our premises available if the community requires a place toconvene.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, together with its Museum ofTolerance and the adjoining Yeshiva of Los Angeles, was closedas a security precaution.

Offices of the Anti-Defamation League remained open. Itsregional director, David Lehrer, said that his office had checkedlast week with Jewish institutions on points of securityvulnerability, but, “No one could anticipate a tragedy on thisscale.”

The Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills plans to hold a memorialservice after the evening service at 7.30 pm tonight (Tuesday). RabbiRichardCamras reports one member of his congregation has already learned helost a second cousin in the World Trade Center, and anticipates manymore members will, by day’s end, discover they know someone who waskilled. He said “We wanted the congregation to know there would be amemorial because as Jews we respond to pain with prayer and study andcoming together to support each other. We should withhold judgementand calls for revenge. It’s not about those things, but about how welive with pain and the sense of our own vulnerability.”

At the Stephen S. Wise Elementary School, teachers weretold to conduct classes as normally as possible and not to turnon radio or TV sets. However, if a child were to ask about theattacks, teachers were to respond calmly.

At the Temple Beth Am¹s Pressman Academy, older students were informedabout the attack in a special assembly. Teachers and adminstratorsencouraged students to ask questions and speak about their fears. Yuval Rotem, the Israeli consul-general in Los Angeles, saidthat he would need “a new vocabulary to express his feelingsand outrage at this time.”

He compared his emotions to the ones experienced in 1991,at the beginning of the Gulf War, when Israelis heard the firstsirens heralding the impact Scud missiles launched by Iraq. Most Arab-American and Muslim leaders were out of town orunavailable. One veteran spokesman, Don Bustany, termed theattacks “horrendous,” but asked that judgment on thenationalities of the perpetrators be suspended until more definitefacts were available.

Los Angeles Hebrew High School, which operates out of theUniversity of Judaism on Sundays and Agoura Hills on Tuesdayevenings, cancelled the Agoura session. Program Director Bill Cohensaid the decision to close did not stem from concerns for studentsecurity but because he felt students should remain with family “toprocess this historic event psychologically.” He said the schoolwould do its part at some later date to help them process thetragedies on a communal level.

Chabad of Agoura will hold an evening or prayer at it’s CanwoodAvenue premises. Rabby Moshe Bryski told the Journal that theSheriff’s department has already contacted the institution, lettinghim know that it will be affording heightened security for the HighHolidays. “We all come out of a week in which the fingers of theworld, centered in Durban, pointed to Israel as the seat of all humanevil. This occurred while plans were no doubt underway to launch thishorrendous attack upon the U.S. The time may be right,” says Bryski,”for another conference, this time focused on ridding the world ofterrorism.”

Temple Etz Hayim of Thousand Oaks will hold a memorial unitymeeting tomorrow night at 8 pm. At least one congregant reportshaving lost a friend en route for a visit from Boston. Preschool thismorning continued uninterrupted but temple officials have receivedcalls from concerned parents and are contemplating cancellingafter-school Hebrew classes today.

Agoura High School reports nothing amiss. An officer from theSherrif’s office has been assigned to the campus at least for theday. Deputy Principal Brad Benioff says school and peer counselorsare standing at the ready to assist any students requiringassistance. Only a few parents so far, he say, have pulled studentsfrom class.

The Agoura Hills Jewish Community Center, in effect a day carecenter, remains open but its director declined to discuss mattersfurther.

17 Years Ago: Armageddon

Early Tuesday morning, my wife and I stared dumbly at the television, mumbling words like hijacked, explosion, collapse. My daughter, 5, looked up from her cereal, confused and frustrated. What language are you speaking? she asked. They were words almost unspoken in American living rooms. But no longer.

Along with untold lives, Tuesday’s terror attacks destroyed much that we cherish.

What we know has died is our sense of security, our feeling of confident invulner-ability from the violence that wracks others in faraway lands. It has all come home.

Reports of victims filter in; they do not yet flow. It’s 10 p.m. on Tuesday, and we don’t have an inkling of how crushed we will feel tomorrow, and next week, when the innocent faces behind the smoke and flames become known to us. Any hour now, we can expect to be even more devastated.

Those of us who follow the events in the Middle East can only be surprised by the enormity of the attack. Suicide missions have murdered and maimed Israeli civilians for years now. The weapon hasn’t shifted — only its aim. Such attacks are the end result of a process of cruel miseducation and propaganda, abetted by governments that provide shelter for terrorists and spew justifications for their murder. These terrorists, the governments that protect them, and the civilians who cheer them on, can only pray that America’s retaliation is as targeted as Israel’s has been.

For years, terrorism experts have been warning us that the danger to America lay not in conventional war, but in acts of terror. Their worst-case scenarios hardly measure up to what has happened, but it is a fair question for American citizens to wonder how its government failed in its primary responsibility: to protect its citizens. Now it must turn its failed defensive into a massive offensive.

Already, some people are suggesting that terrorists attacked America because of its support of Israel. Of course, we know this is not the case. Israel cannot be held responsible — even indirectly — for the recent desecration of our country. Because terror is not against Israel supporters. It is against democracy, against humanity.

That should have been obvious by now: The people who died Tuesday were Jews, Christians and Muslims. They were all colors, all creeds, rich and poor, and many different nationalities. It will take a similar coalition of peoples and nations to band together to extirpate these terrorists. America must lead the way. America may not be invulnerable, but it is hardly vanquished.

The Jewish community of Los Angeles, unfortunately, is familiar with coping with tragedy.

Many community centers and day schools took the brave and reassuring step of remaining open. Our focus, as a community, turned as if by reflex from feeling shock to giving aid and comfort. There is still much we can do: to get help, to give blood or to donate money, see our listings on page 14.

By Tuesday afternoon, synagogues throughout the Southland started to open their doors to congregants, offering a place for solace and communal prayer. Hundreds, if not thousands of Jews, chose to attend. They recited Psalms and heard prayers for peace. Some voiced demands for retribution. Most important, they had a place to go to share their grief and disbelief.

And come next week, Rosh Hashana 5762, they will have a place to return to, to pray for a sweeter year.

Shana Tova.

What You Can Do


In times of tragedy and disaster, blood supplies oftenrun critically low. Giving blood is an incredible mitzvah, and one which costsyou only time. Call 1-800-GIVELIFE (1-800-448 3543); if the number is busy, theRed Cross requests that you please keep calling so that you can schedule anappointment at your local blood donation center. You can also try Cedars-SinaiMedical Center (blood donations). — (310) 423-5346.

Undoubtedly, much financial help will be required toassist the individuals, families and institutions affected by the recentattacks. We will provide information about where monetary donations can bedirected as soon as such information is available. Check www.jewishjournal.comfor updates.

The Victims of Terror Fund set up by The JewishFederation of Greater Los Angeles will provide financial support for crisiscounseling and other needs to victims of recent terrorist attacks in the UnitedStates.

Donations made payable to:

The Jewish Federation
Victims of Terror Fund
6505 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1000,
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 761-8207


United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

provides security guidelines for Jewish institutions, which are especially relevant during the High Holy Day season.


For emergency assistance or information, call:
The Jewish Federation (City Office)
(323) 761-8000
The Jewish Federation (Valley Office)
(818) 464-3200
Jewish Family Services (City Office)
(323) 761-8800
Jewish Family Services (Valley Office)
(818) 464-3333
Board of Rabbis of Southern California
(323) 761-8600


Individually, or with your family or community, reciteprayers.

It is customary in Jewish tradition to recite Psalms inresponse to tragedy or in a time of fear and concern. Choose Psalms that aremeaningful to you, or try Psalm 23.

Bring your community together: organize a prayer vigil,reciting Psalms and other readings, and a sharing of thoughts and feelings. contributed to this report.

Just the Beginning

This week’s coordinated terror attacks on commercial and governmental sites in New York and Washington have stunned terrorism experts in their scope and sophistication — and prompted dire warnings that more could be in store for American citizens.

Daniel Pipes, who has written frequently on terrorism, said he believes Tuesday’s attacks are only Phase One of a massive assault against the United States.

"There’s an incredible amount of venom in the air against the United States," said Pipes, who is director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank.

Both towers of the World Trade Center collapsed Tuesday, and portions of the Pentagon were destroyed when commercial planes were hijacked and crashed into them.

Another plane crashed outside Pittsburgh, and a fourth crashed into the Pentagon outside Washington, causing part of the building to collapse.

The attacks have been called the worst against the United States since the attack on Pearl Harbor, which prompted the United States to join World War II.

Several Palestinian groups immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, according to media reports, but it was initially unclear who exactly was responsible.

Suspicion is focusing primarily on Osama bin Laden, the Saudi billionaire who is believed to have masterminded the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa and other terrorist incidents around the world.

An official of the ruling Taliban party in Afghanistan, where bin Laden is based, released a statement condemning Tuesday’s attacks.

"We want to tell the American children that Afghanistan feels your pain," said Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. "We hope the courts find justice."

While his people celebrated and distributed candy in the streets, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat condemned the attacks and sent condolences to President Bush.

Bush canceled an appearance in Florida and asked for a moment of silence soon after the attacks in New York.

"I’ve ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families, and to conduct a full-scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act," Bush said. "Terrorism against our nation will not stand."

Terrorism expert Steve Emerson said he did not believe some of the Islamic groups being mentioned as potential masterminds behind the attacks had the ability to mount such a widespread effort.

"No one ever thought a coordinated attack was possible," he said. "They have never demonstrated the capability before."

Emerson called the series of attacks "unfathomable."

"There has been a fundamental mistake looking at this as a criminal problem, when in fact it is a military problem," said Pipes of the Middle East Forum. "You don’t deploy policemen and lawyers. You deploy soldiers."

Pipes said it will be easy to determine what group is responsible for the attacks, because few have the capability. He said he hoped this would be an educational lesson for the United States, but was more cautious than some who believed it would be a turning point for U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

"If today doesn’t have a chemical or biological component, that’s what we have to look for in the future," Pipes said.

In an 1997 article, Emerson said he believed Muslim fundamentalist groups were preparing for a wide-scale attack against the United States.

"In fact, I would say that the infrastructure now exists to carry off 20 simultaneous World Trade Center-type bombings across the United States," Emerson warned in the interview with Middle East Quarterly. "And as chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons become available to them, the threat becomes ever more ominous.

"Just because someone holding a gun to your head doesn’t pull the trigger it should not be understood as the threat not existing," he said. "It would be suicidal to permit our national security to depend on the good will or rationality of radical fundamentalists."

David Makovsky, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the United States should be humble about making predictions regarding who is responsible.

"If, indeed, this is some sort of Islamic terrorism, the short-term impact may be giving the Israeli government more space in its fight against the threats that it faces daily," said Makovsky, former editor of the Jerusalem Post.

"There is no doubt that, at least in the short term, Americans will have a greater appreciation for what Israel has been going through on a daily basis for the last year.”

JTA correspondent Sharon Samber in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

A Swift, Immediate Reaction

Watching the second tower of the World Trade Center crumble into dust on Tuesday, I was able to imagine the horror of the survivors of the Titanic as they witnessed their vessel sink into the Atlantic Ocean. A symbol of human progress and ingenuity, a monument to economic strength and power, the Titanic was regarded as indestructible. So too the World Trade Center represented, more than any other edifice in the United States, America’s sense of its own power and invulnerability. Rising more than 100 stories high, these towers once so effectively dominated the New York skyline that in the air they could be seen from 150 miles away. When a 1993 car bomb failed to destroy them, the sense of invulnerability may have also given way to a sense of complacency.

Yet, fortune does not always smile on its most blessed sons. When terror struck, with a magnitude never experienced before, there was not a citizen in this country who was prepared for it. With thousands of deaths, a shut down of cities and a halt to financial activity throughout the country, it has delivered the kind of paralyzing blow that we only read about in books or see in movies. Never has it been internalized as such a genuine threat to the American way of life.

There are good reasons for this. For two centuries, the United States mainland has stood aloof from depredations in other parts of the world, its stateside population certain in the knowledge that time, distance and deterrence would save it from invasion or attack. But the average U.S. citizen has never reckoned on the reality of foreign suicide bombers who could hijack commercial airplanes and turn them into missiles that target centers of American finance and defense.

Yet the world is changing and with the Sept. 11 hijackings, no one should now doubt that the bombings represent a watershed in history. The attack was correctly characterized by the American president as an attack on freedom. But it is much more than even that. It is an attack on our very concept of humanity and represents a clash of civilizations and worldviews that cannot be bridged through peace talks, appeasement or negotiation.

Just ask the Israelis. Over the past 10 years, they have absorbed scores of suicide bombings. In Israel, a country of six million, the death of 20 people is the equivalent of 3,500 in the United States. The recent frequency of these attacks has pounded its way through the consciousness of a people who no longer believe in Yasser Arafat’s empty gestures of peace, but see him as an aider and abettor of Islamic terror. That was confirmed on Tuesday when television footage showed Palestinians celebrating in the streets of Nablus and Gaza City. The Israeli assessment is identical in tone to what many analysts and commentators on the right have said for years: Muslim extremists and the radical Arab regimes that harbor them represent the gravest peril to safety and security in western civilization.

That being the case there is no time to waste in lengthy debates on the failure of the intelligence agencies or setting limits on the level of retaliation. The U.S. government must act immediately and decisively to close down the offices of Islamic fundamentalist organizations in the United States. It must move to block their financial pipelines by freezing assets; it should identify the bankers of these terrorists and force them to divest. It should make clear to the international community that there is no sitting on the fence in the war against terrorism. You are either a soldier in the war, or you are an enemy. That includes Switzerland, who often acts as a conduit for terrorist funding.

Moreover, those who harbor Islamic fundamentalists and perpetrators of terror should be made to feel the full force of American economic and military retaliation — Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian Authority, to name just a few. It should not be forgotten that even if arch-terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, the most likely culprit of the Tuesday bombings, are eliminated, there will be others to take their place. Emasculating the ability of these terrorists to lord over their global network is the first step in interfering with the kind of intricate logistics that made Tuesday’s bombings possible.

The New York landscape may well have changed, but so has the psychological landscape of the United States. Much like the German sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States stands on the brink of decisive and historic action. But failure to make clear to the rest of the world that this American tragedy is in truth the entire civilized world’s, may hamper this action and give encouragement to the perpetrators of terror.

Surreal in the City

Even for North American Jews used to thinking about security issues at home — and confronting terrorist acts in Israel — the series of horrific acts that struck Tuesday came as a devastating, unimaginable blow.

“This is surreal. This whole situation seems surreal,” said Martin Raffel, the associate executive vice chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, whose offices are located in midtown New York, a safe distance from the destroyed World Trade Center.

Before the initial shock wore off from the hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon near Washington, Israel was offering help, U.S. Jewish groups were reacting with anger and Jewish communities across North America were holding prayer vigils.

Fire raged and smoke billowed around the towers after the two attacks, which occurred around 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The two towers collapsed by mid-morning, wreaking more havoc, claiming even more victims and hampering rescue efforts.

Reports said that more than 250 passengers were on board the four hijacked planes at the center of the day’s horrific events — two hit the World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon and one crashed in western Pennsylvania — but at press time, there were no reliable reports of the number killed or injured.

However, New York officials estimated that there could be thousands of casualties from the World Trade Center explosions alone.

The attack was described as the worst on American soil since the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor. By comparison, 2,400 people were killed on that day — Dec. 7, 1941 — which President Roosevelt described as a “date which will live in infamy.”

Speaking Tuesday morning, President Bush described the crashes as an “apparent act of terrorism” and vowed to use the “full resources” of the U.S. government to “hunt down and find those folks who committed this act.”

Two Jewish groups are housed near the site of the New York attacks, but efforts Tuesday to reach Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union were unsuccessful.

The Educational Alliance, a Jewish-run community center in downtown New York, treated people suffering from light injuries and shock.

“People were wandering in the streets coming from the World Trade Center, disoriented,” said Ben Rodriguez, director of administration services for the Educational Alliance.

“People were streaming in for a few hours,” he said, but by late afternoon, things had quieted down.

Some Jewish groups in New York, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the United Jewish Communities, evacuated their offices as part of building-wide evacuations.

Jewish and non-Jewish businesses and facilities were closed in various cities across the United States, from Philadelphia to San Francisco, in fear of further attacks.

The UJC promised to resume business as soon as possible.

“This has been a tragic day for our country,” the UJC said in a statement. “We express our condolences to the families of the individuals who lost their lives.”

Israel, which closed Ben-Gurion Airport to foreign planes, evacuated all its diplomatic missions around the world. In an ironic turnabout, some Israelis were scheduled to hold a solidarity rally with the American terror victims on Tuesday night.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared a state of mourning in Israel on Wednesday, and said the terror attacks would prove “a turning point in the war against terrorism.”

President Moshe Katsav conveyed to Bush Israel’s “deep sorrow,” and the Health Ministry launched a blood drive.

“All of us in Israel embrace you, would like to express our condolences, and add our best wishes for a speedy recovery to those who have been injured,” Katsav said. “Everything must be done to defeat this phenomenon in which insane people will stop at nothing to disrupt daily life.”

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer approved the dispatch of rescue units to the United States. He also canceled a visit to Washington that was planned for later in the week.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat sent the “condolences of the Palestinian people to American President Bush,” but many of his people did not seem to share Arafat’s remorse.

Thousands of Palestinians celebrated the attack throughout the West Bank, chanting “God is great” and distributing candy. In Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, gunmen fired into the air in celebration.

In Argentina — where two Jewish institutions were hit by bombs in the 1990s — authorities pledged to increase security at Jewish sites. In Berlin, the Parliament was evacuated and the Jewish Museum was closed, just two days after it officially opened.

American Jewish groups strongly condemned the attack and “pledged to double check already tight security,” in the words of one Jewish spokesman who asked not to be identified.

“We are outraged and unequivocally condemn today’s terrorist acts against the United States,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement that was echoed by other groups.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Tuesday’s events would force the United States to step into Israel’s shoes.

“My feeling is that the American government has always understood Israel’s dilemma” in fighting terrorism, but “now America, too, will have to struggle with, ‘How do you respond, how do you prevent’ ” this kind of thing, Foxman said.

Though no direct links have been established between the attacks and U.S. support for Israel, some worried about that prospect.

“Will the blame be placed on Israel? Will the blame be placed on the fact of American support?” wondered Foxman, who along with thousands of others across the country was stranded at an airport when the attacks occurred.

“The United States has been brutally attacked today, and we must consider that our nation is at war,” David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement.

But exactly who would be the target of that war remained unclear.

Spokesman for several radical Palestinian groups denied reports that they were behind the attacks. Speculation focused on Osama bin Laden, but there was no initial evidence linking the Saudi terrorist mastermind to the attacks.

Manhattan Jews were horrified by what had happened — and impassioned about how America ought to react.

It’s outrageous that America “has been brought to its knees by terrorists,” said Larry Kowlowitz, vice president of PK Furriers in midtown Manhattan. “It’s time for the dog to wag the tail, not for the tail to wag the dog. We should use our muscle and make these smaller nations understand that we have the power. Like the Bible says, ‘An eye for an eye.’ Even if innocent people are killed.”

Anger was only part of the Jewish response, however; others began attempts at prayer and healing.

In New York — and elsewhere in North America, from L.A. to Montreal — prayer vigils were scheduled to be held as early as Tuesday evening.

“Our community felt the need to get together for spiritual reasons,” said Mark Finkelstein, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Des Moines, Iowa.

The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism said it would send out a special packet of prayers for its congregations.

Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan urged its members to donate blood and provide shelter for victims of the attacks.

Meanwhile, the attacks caused the cancellation of a major pro-Israel solidarity rally planned for Sept. 23 in New York.

Exploding American Complacency

Terrorism, a part of everyday life in Israel for decades, exploded in the face of a complacent America with the twin terror attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11 and left a gaping, charred hole in the Pentagon in Washington.

The bombings could have huge implications for Jewish groups and for a U.S.-Israel relationship that some may blame for provoking the terrorists.

Jewish groups, which have often unsuccessfully tried to warn policymakers that this nation could face the kinds of horrors that Israeli citizens live with on a daily basis, will play a major role in what is certain to be a fierce debate over terror preparedness and over the correct balance between basic civil liberties and measures to protect Americans from violence.

"This was a huge intelligence failure," said Shoshana Bryen, special projects director for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). "After past incidents, we’ve retreated into a ‘fortress America’ mentality. We won’t be able to do that any more."

At press time, U.S. officials had still not identified likely perpetrators (several people were detained), but there was widespread speculation that the attack was related to the Middle East conflict, possibly through the notorious super-terrorist Osama bin Laden.

If that speculation becomes fact, it could have varied repercussions for U.S. relations with Israel and involvement in that part of the world, Jewish leaders say.

"There is a danger of people saying, ‘if we didn’t support Israel, those people would have no reason to dislike us,’" Bryen said. "We have to make the case that that’s not true; they don’t like us because of who we are. One thing Americans need to know is that the same people who hate Israel hate us and hate all democracies. If there was no Israel, they would still hate us."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that while some Americans will blame the strong U.S.-Israel relationship for the disaster, history suggests that the nation will reject that argument.

"The last time it happened was during the oil embargo in the 1970s," he said. "There were those who tried to blame America’s friends and allies; it was a very anxious moment for Israel when the Arabs made it clear they were boycotting America because of its support for Israel."

But the nation’s leaders held firm, he said. "The American government stood by its friend and ally, and said: nobody can tell us who our friends should be, nobody can blackmail us."

Making sure that message penetrates the anger and anxiety most Americans feel in the wake of the terror onslaught will be a top challenge for Jewish leaders in the difficult days ahead, Foxman and others say.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said an even bigger challenge will be preparing the American people for "certain changes in our way of life in order to mount a sustained and credible defense against terrorism."

Harris, whose group has focused heavily on the fight against terror in recent years, said Israel has a lot to offer traumatized Americans about how to live under the terrorist threat — "a debate our community has a huge stake in."

The first lesson from Israel, he said, "is that there is no substitute for solid intelligence — human and other. And we have to understand this is a permanent war; it ebbs and flows, but it goes on, and it’s dirty."

That is a lesson Israelis have learned the hard way over the decades — as they have learned the need for an "unbreakable national will," Harris said. "One purpose of the terrorist is to break that will."

And the Israel experience teaches that the fight against terrorism demands changes to everyday life changes that will certainly be inconvenient and may run afoul of current civil rights protections.

"It means that checks at airports are serious, not cursory," Harris said. "It means that citizens must become aware of potential security threats and dangers. It requires a whole different level of awareness, which Israelis have and Americans need to copy. "

If the terror is revealed as Mideast related, it could have a number of implications for the current Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Short-term, Jewish leaders say it will bring Israel and the United States closer together.

"It will bring home to people the reality of what Israel has been living with on a day to day basis at a very high price," Foxman said.

Other analysts say the attack could add to the options available to Israeli leader Ariel Sharon as he tries to subdue the yearlong surge of Palestinian terrorism.

"Let’s just say that for a few days, at least, he has a lot more latitude to go after Palestinian terrorists," said a leading pro-Israel activist. "It’s hard to imagine the State Department calling any Israeli action against terrorists ‘provocative,’ at least not while the taste of these bombings is in their mouths."

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, perhaps fearing just that response, was quick to condemn the bombings. "We completely condemn this serious operation," he told reporters in Gaza. "We were completely shocked. It’s unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable."

But Jewish leaders say a much more indelible statement was made by the Palestinians who celebrated the carnage with spontaneous street demonstrations in Nablus, East Jerusalem and in Lebanon.

Arab-American and Muslim groups also condemned the bombings, and urged Americans not to jump to conclusions about the perpetrators.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, agreed.

"We urge all Americans not to form opinions until all facts are known, and to avoid blaming any group for the actions of individuals," he said.

But Jewish and Arab-American groups will quickly find themselves locked in bitter disagreements as lawmakers seek to toughen U.S. anti-terror laws — which Muslim and Arab-American groups say are already damaging to fundamental civil rights.

The dramatic, rapid-fire developments produced a tidal wave of rumors and speculation in the capital. Media outlets broadcast reports of additional bombings that were later revealed untrue. There were persistent and incorrect reports of other hijacked airliners waiting to be directed at new targets — one reason the congressional leadership was evacuated from the city.

The airliner that slammed into the Pentagon just as many workers were arriving produced an immense fireball, and an explosion that was heard at a reporter’s office 12 miles from the huge building.

The Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., and consulates around the country sent all but essential personnel home immediately after the news of the World Trade Center catastrophe broke. Then, after reports that additional attacks could be forthcoming and that the embassy might be a target, the Washington facility closed entirely.

By Tuesday afternoon — with the Pentagon still burning — the embassy was back in operation with what a spokesman described as a "skeleton" crew.

Israeli ambassador David Ivry expressed Israel’s condolences to administration officials and offered the use of a team of Israeli specialists to help hunt for victims.

"Unfortunately, we have a lot of experience with buildings being destroyed," said an embassy spokesman.

Anxiety and Anger

When Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz (Schwartzie) received a 6:15 a.m. phone call
saying that the World Trade Center had been bombed, he told his caller he’d
been watching too many science fiction movies and advised him to get more

"But then, when I received another eight calls in succession, I knew that it
was serious," Schwartzie told The Journal.
Indeed, the mood today in the Los Angeles Jewish community was one of shock,
sadness and disbelief as people awoke to images of the devastation and
destruction in New York.

"It’s a tough one to try to put into reality, said Gagi Shagalov, proprietor
of Munchies Candy Store on Pico Boulevard. "Thousands of people who didn’t
even know what hit them are totally gone. Sooner or later, every one of us
is going to know of someone who was in there."

Shagalov said he decided to open his store because to keep it closed would
only prove to the terrorists that they had got the better of him. "As much
as I would rather be home now, I feel that I have to be here to let them
know that they can’t do this to us."

In many parts of the community, however, normal life, and people’s plans
were disturbed. "I took my kids to school this morning only to be turned
away at the door, because the school was closed," Schwartzie said. "Then I
had to arrange for extra plainclothes and uniformed security guards at my
High Holy Day service, because nobody will want to come unless they feel
safe there," Schwartzie said, referring to his services at the Chai Center.
Many in the community did not go to work Tuesday. Motty Slodowitz, 32, who
lives in Pico Robertson, stayed home from work so that he could stand guard
at his children’s school in the morning. "I just did not trust that the
school would be able to provide adequate security" he said.

Others’ plans were radically altered. Fairfax residents Douglas and Melissa
Blake found themselves stranded in Los Angeles after their trip to Europe
was canceled. "A friend woke us up at 6:45, and told us to change our plans
because we weren’t going to be leaving," said Melissa. "Our whole day was
planned with our trip in mind and I don’t even know when the airport is
going to reopen."

Many said they hoped the world would now be able to understand the terror
that Israelis go through.

"The world is always condemning Israel let them condemn the U.S. now for
retaliating," said Judy, a bookkeeper from the Fairfax area who preferred
not to give her last name. "I am angry, really pissed off. I think they
should bomb those people who were dancing in the street," she said.

Encino resident Danny Barwald, 40, said the events would have a profound
effect on the American psyche. "I thought that the sense of security and
safeness that America feels in terms of being protected from events in
Israel will be shattered. The sense of innocence that America has will
definitely change."

Indeed, many in the Jewish community saw Tuesday’s terror attacks with an
eye to its effect on the world, and of course, Israel.

"When you hear about terrorist attacks in Israel, and then you go out into
the streets, you really feel that you are mourning alone. But today, the
whole country was feeling the tragedy," said 22-year-old Tally Wolf, from
her job at the Shalom Nature Center in Malibu.

Schwartzie summed the attitude up: "The joke that is going around is that
Sharon called up Bush today and advised him to practice restraint. This is a
great tragedy, but I think it is going to shake up the American people and
make them realize what the Jews have been going through in their little
country in the Middle East."

Most Jews, though, were just trying to come to grips with the magnitude of
the tragedy. "This is a very scary time period," said Nechama Denbo, 27, of
Pico Robertson. "I feel that God is sending us a message, and we just have
to open our eyes to see it."