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Monday, September 04, 2006

Countdown to 9/11: What Have I Learned?

There are two main lessons I took away from 9/11. The first one has to do with Israel. After terror struck right in front of me, I felt closer to Israel, and I developed a new understanding. Let me explain what I mean. It is customary for orthodox Jews to take a year off after high-school, and before college, to go to Israel for the year, and learn in a Yeshiva or Seminary. It's a year meant to develop your Jewish skills, understanding, philosophy, and character. However, what usually happens is that 18 year-old kids go to a foreign country with basically no drinking age, party, travel the country, spend their parents money, and some-times get brain-washed. Of course, there are those programs that are really great and inspirational, where kids really get the most positive experience they can out of the year. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, the kids don't really experience the true spirit of what Israel has to offer, and spend most of their time within an Americanized environment. As you may discern, I'm not a big fan of the "year in Israel". I don't feel that it's really necessary, and I think kids don't get an equal return for the money they're forced to shell out for the year. Some of the schools cost around $20,000. I just don't think it's worth it. I think there are excellent Israeli Yeshivot and Seminaries that would do American kids a lot better.

Needless to say, I didn't go to Israel for the year. One of the reasons I picked Yeshiva University was because I felt I would get as close to Israel as I was going to get since my curriculum included Judaic subjects. I thought I would get the same Jewish experience as those going to Israel without having to leave the country and without having to pay the exorbitant fees. That didn't end up happening, but I digress. If you're looking to learn for the sake of learning, going to a place where you are graded and your degree is effected by your Judaic scores, YU is not what you're looking for. In any case, I distinctly remember my feelings on 9/11.

My mother couldn't get ahold of me for about 5-6 hours. She was freaking out at work back in Detroit, as she was watching the day unfold on TV. All of the cell-phone lines were jammed, and it took a long time to get ahold of me. The first thing I said to my mom was this: "Mom, remember when I said that going to Stern was the closest I was going to get to going to Israel?" She answers in a teary voice, "Yeah". "Well, mom, I think I just got a little bit closer." Then, she asked me if I wanted to come back to Detroit. I answered, "No. New York is my home now. These a$$-holes aren't going to kick me out of my house." READ THE REST...

That's when I realized that none of us are immune to hatred and terror. If hatred is determined enough and resolved enough, it will aim to strike anywhere and anytime. Just because I lived in America didn't mean I was immune to those who are as determined to kill me as they to kill the Jews living in Israel. That's when I realized that all those years my mother admonished, "Don't think it can't happen here", were completely and utterly true. That day renewed a spark and love for Israel that had been dormant within me for a very long time. I had been part of Bnei Akiva and went to a very Zionist Jewish Day-School, but my love and support for Israel stopped at "I support Israel, and I believe it deserves to and has to exist." When it came to anything past that superficial support, it was just that; superficial. I truly was one of those regular every-day Jews that believe I could fully support Israel without having to actually live there, and my support was genuine even from the confines of my comfortable surroundings in Michigan and New York.

9/11 changed all that for me. I realized I was a fake. I was a phony. How could I support Israel, yet believe that those that wished to destroy her had nothing to do with me. I really felt that the terrorism Israel experienced really had to do with her existence; not the people. I felt that as an American, I was safe being a Jew. The extent of that fallacy didn't even hit me until the next day. An assembly was called, where the head of campus security came in to talk to us. Every school, college, and university had been closed that day except for ours. The head of the school felt that it was a show of defiance to keep the school open. I thought that was crap, but, again, I digress. The head of security said that while security at the campus had been "slightly" increased, he didn't see a security reason to close the school because the school was not a target. Inside my head, I was laughing with incredulity. Osama Bin-Laden had just announced that all Jews, all over the world were a target, that the Jihadists should continue to kill in Israel, and go after Jews every-where, and this guy had the nerve, he had the gall to stand there and tell us with a straight face that our JEWISH University was not a target. Did he think we were stupid? Did he think were mentally challanged or dense?

No, he actually believed what he was saying, and, to my surprise, many of the students believed him. They thought that this terror attack was simply an attack on America and really had nothing to do with us, as Jews. Even if striking at and killing Jews was the subplot of this whole story, we were very much a part of it. Then, I really realized it. I had been living inside this naive bubble. No holocaust could happen in America. Anti-semitism wouldn't be tolerate in the United States. No-one could really attack us here. How very wrong I was. That's when I really started to learn more about Israel. The funny and ironic thing about my education was that even-though I had gone to school at a Zionist oriented institution, I never took or was offered a class in learning the History of Modern Israel. My Jewish history classes ended with the exile after the Second Temple was destroyed. The holocaust was taught as its own class, and it didn't go past 1945. No class about the history of Zionism. No class about the history of the Waves of Aliyah, and the persecution and progroms that caused them, etc.

After 9/11, I finally understood that I wasn't really a Zionist. How could I be? I didn't know anything about it. I thought Zionism was simply being a part of Bnei Akiva, celebrating Israel Independence Day with color war, and being happy that Israel existed, and pursuading my parents to donate to Israel when the High Holiday Appeals came around each year. It wasn't until 9/11 that I realized that I had a responsibility as a Jew and as an American to understand who I really was and where I came from, and what importance Israel really does serve to the world. The year after 9/11 was a time of emmense self-exploration and introspection. It was a time of frustration and discovery. It was the first that I actually questioned my level of Jewish observance. I really discovered myself.

9/11 made me stronger as a Jew and as a Zionist. If it wasn't for 9/11, I might never have gone through that process. I truely believe that everything happens for a reason. I think it's terrible that 9/11 happened, and I wish it never had happened. Just like I wish that my mother never had cancer. But, "what ifs" are a stupid thing to waste time thinking about. 9/11 did happen, and I'm happy that I was able to come out of it a better and changed person.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you the other thing that I learned from 9/11.

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At 5:17 AM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

I'm so lucky I did manage to take History of Modern Israel in college... with an Israeli professor, too! But I think, that class should be taught even earlier, in high school. I think all students, not just Jews should be made more aware of what happens - for their own good.

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Quickly said...

Just a few links out of thousands:

Representative Of Largest 9/11 Families Group Says Government Complicit In Attack

Disrespectful to the Victims?

What's the Truth?

NORAD Audio Tapes (radio interview)


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