(photo credit: AP [file])
Three Israeli men and one woman were among the thousands of victims of the El Qaida terrorist attack in the United States on September 11th, 2001. Two of them worked in the World Trade Center and were rising stars in the area of economics and business. Two others were among the passengers on the two planes that crashed into the towers, and at least one of them attempted to overcome the terrorists with his bare hands during the last moments.
Since that terrible day their names have been commemorated in various ways throughout Israel, but their names will now be included with those of people from other nations who were murdered that morning. Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman stated: "The memorial site that is being built overlooking Emek Ha'arazim is a warning torch for the next generations, because it commemorates the day in which the world came to understand that it must fight to remain free."
While the foundations for building the Bronka Stavsky Rabin Weintraub Living Memorial Plaza overlooking the forested hills near Jerusalem are still under construction, KKL-JNF held a ceremony in honor of Ed Blank, who dedicated an impressive bronze statue at the site as "A Reminder of Shared Loss And A Call for Peace Among Nations".
A large crowd gathered next to the bronze statue, which was created by Eliezer Weisshoff. Ed Blank, who came to the ceremony accompanied by his daughter Rebecca and his son Michael, was extremely emotional as the ceremony ended. "I don't know exactly where I amâ€¦I can't believe that this is really going to come true and take form. I'm so very hopeful that residents of Jerusalem, as well as visitors and tourists from throughout the world, will come here. I hope they will come not only to remember the past, but also to sit here in this quiet place and think about the message of tolerance that this memorial is trying to convey."
The ceremony was opened by the JNF America CEO, Russell F. Robinson who spoke warmly of the idea of the memorial site and of Ed Blank's generosity throughout the nine years of previous activities within the framework of JNF leadership in the United States. "After that terrible day that changed the face of the United States and the world, this place will serve as a symbol to us. Ed Blank made his generous contribution in order that we all remember and be part of a better tomorrow. Ed Blank quickly understood the importance of building this site, the purpose of which is to serve as a tangible reminder of the fact that we choose life. This will be a place in which every person can declare, "We are alive, and we are free."
One week before that terrible September 11th attack, the Blank family suffered its own personal tragedy. Their mother and wife Sharon Cosloy Blank died of cancer. "I naturally drew a connection between my personal tragedy and the events of September 11th, and I wanted this place to commemorate everyone who was taken from us for no reason. I therefore decided to do my utmost to commemorate all the victims while remembering the strong, special connection between the United States and Israel." Ed Blank, an industrialist, joined the front lines of KKL-JNF activists in the United States following his personal trauma and that of the rest of the world, and soon found himself taking action. As a senior member of the Jewish lobby organization AIPAC in Congress, he quickly became a part of international activities of KKL-JNF and the struggle to make the UN recognize KKL-JNF as an international non-government organization.
Bob Levine, JNF America Vice President of Education, a personal friend of Ed Blank and the person who presented this project to him, noted at the ceremony: "Ten years ago I asked Ed to join me at the JNF America conference in Washington. At that time he was active in AIPAC. Immediately after the conference he became active in JNF America and was soon elected a member of the JNF New York regional committee. Ed invested all his energy and abilities in JNF's extensive work in the U.S.A. and today he is our man in the corridors of the United Nations, and is very active in trying to earn KKL-JNF recognition as an NGO."
The vice mayor of Jerusalem, Yehiel Bar brought greetings from the mayor, Nir Barkat, who was unable to attend the ceremony. Bar explained that the memorial site would be a central focal point in the Emek Ha'arazim Park that is being developed by KKL-JNF as a green belt surrounding Jerusalem. "The site is not only a memorial, but also a symbol of the victory of the human spirit over the inhuman terror."
Dov Shefi, a former general in the IDF reserves, head military attorney and father of Hagai Shefi z"l, one of the Israeli victims of the September 11th terrorist attack, also spoke at the ceremony. "Hagai died while he was speaking at a bankers' convention on the 106th floor of the north tower," explained Shefi, who also cited the names of the other three victims, Alona Avraham, Shai Levinhar, and Danny Levine, z"l.
Danny Levine z"l, 32, who had previously served in the IDF as a member of the Matkal elite commando unit, was on the plane that was taken over by El Qaida terrorists. According to the transcript of the conversation with the head airline stewardess on the plane before it crashed into tower one, Danny Levine fought the commander of the hijackers, Mohamed Ata, with his bare hands when he understood that the man in the seat in front of him was the person giving orders to the other terrorists in Arabic. Apparently, Danny was stabbed to death from behind by another terrorist.
Dov Shefi added: "Osama Bin Laden must be caught together with all his supporters and those who contribute to his organization. They must not enjoy immunity even if they are Saudi princes. I was amazed to hear that a petition was submitted to the Supreme Court by the head prosecutor at the request of the President of the United States to offer immunity to Saudi princes who supported Bin Laden's organization. Any person involved in this murder and terror must not be given immunity from being prosecuted and punished. Not only the world has changed since that terrorist attack. The lives of the families of the victims changed from white to black as well. This place symbolizes the identification of KKL-JNF and its contributors with the city of New York, with the victims, and with their families. We are grateful to KKL-JNF for their initiative and for this generous contribution".
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler spoke warmly about Dov Shefi, who joined the activities for commemorating the victims and the joint efforts between Shefi and Ed Blank. Stenzler added: "This memorial is only one of the initiatives that we are undertaking, thanks to these two wonderful people Ed Blank and Russell Robinson and it will constitute a focal point for commemorating the past while providing a lookout point towards the future and towards tolerance that we hope will prevail."
Following the greetings and the presentation of a special recognition to Ed Blank from KKL-JNF, the large crowd went out to the impressive bronze statue. The intensive work on the statue had been halted for several hours in honor of the ceremony. Dov Shefi and Zvi Levinhar recited Kaddish together. The veil was then removed from the modest memorial at the feet of the statue on which the names of the members of the Blank family were engraved. Two volunteer firefighters placed a wreath of flowers at the feet of the statue in honor of the firefighters in New York who perished in their valiant efforts to save people's lives as the Twin Towers collapsed. The two firemen were appointed as representatives of the Israeli fire fighters to participate in the ceremony by the national chief of Israeli firefighters, Shimon Romach.
Ed Blank and his children removed the veil from the statue. The names of more than 3000 victims who were killed in the terrorist attack will be commemorated on the wall surrounding the circular area where the statue will stand. Zvi and Yehudit Levinhar, the parents of Shai Levinhar z"l, stood at one side. Shai, 29, was killed in his office on the 103 floor of the northern twin tower. Zvi Levinhar was extremely emotional throughout the event. "I am moved, but I am only Shai's father. His mother's situation is totally different." What did Yehudit, Shai's mother feel? "Pain, only pain," she answered looking at the small picture of a young man that she wore on the lapel of her black dress. "Nothing else is left."
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