“I know this pain well. I felt it with you,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat of the September 11 terrorist attacks at the capital’s 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza – the only of its kind outside the US honoring all 2,996 victims killed in the Twin Towers and hijacked planes 15 years ago.
Noting that he witnessed the carnage first-hand while attending a business meeting across the Hudson River, Barkat on Sunday described the tragedy as all too personal, and familiar.
“As a Jerusalemite – as an Israeli – I felt a deep, deep connection,” he added. “That Tuesday was one of the toughest and saddest days of my life.”
Barkat was joined by US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, Deputy Minister of Public Diplomacy, Michael Oren (Kulanu), and international dignitaries from several countries gathered in the Arazim Valley of Ramot to memorialize the fallen.
“As mayor of Jerusalem, I know you feel the same when terror strikes our city,” said Barkat. “There is a deep sense of empathy, of understanding, of friendship between our peoples. This profound connection led us to develop the only 9/11 memorial outside US, here in Jerusalem.”
“From here,” he continued, “we stand together with New York with shared values, a shared purpose for creating a better world, shared pain for the loss of our loved ones, and a shared clear message of combating terror globally.
“Each time the terrorists seek to hurt us – to target our civilians, to strain our bonds of friendship around the world – we have stood together. We have shown the terrorists that they will not tear us apart. They will not destroy our way of life. They will not win.”
“On behalf of the residents of Jerusalem and Israel, we stand together,” Barkat concluded. “We remember together.”
Deeming the Jerusalem memorial a “testament to the bond between the American people and the people of Israel,” and to “our shared experience with tragedy,” US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro noted few countries in the world can relate to 9/11 more than Israel.
“The United States has many friends – quite a few of them represented here by their diplomats – and many of them have also experienced terror and loss,” said Shapiro. “But, perhaps none can identify with our pain more than Israelis.”
Reciting the names of five Israelis killed during the attack, Shapiro cautioned that time must not mitigate the importance of remembering those who perished, particularly among generations born after the tragedy.
“If we add the first three years of life, before lasting memories are formed, a young person on the cusp of adulthood today – whether graduating from high school in the US, or enlisting in the IDF in Israel – has no personal memory of 9/11,” he said.
“To those of us who will always remember where we were on that day… the idea that there walk among us people who can only relate to 9/11 as a historical event – although a natural process of time – is nevertheless, a jarring thought.
“Those of us who were there: who heard the rumbles of the planes, who watched the buildings fall, who trembled all day and all night – not just that day, but for days and weeks after – we will never, ever forget.”
While Shapiro pondered whether enough is being done to ensure future generations fully comprehend the devastation and meaning of the attack, he noted that Israelis uphold an uncommon understanding.
“They are a nation that has endured countless tragedies, and more than one existential crisis – each of which shattered individual lives, and stung an entire generation,” he lamented. “Where Israelis have excelled, and where we continue to learn from them, is in conveying the power of memory and history forward, so that each successive generation understands the meaning and the obligations that flow from events which they cannot personally recall.”
Noting that Rosh Hashana, also known as “Yom Hazikaron” (the Day of Remembrance), is approaching, Shapiro appealed to “the power of memory” to “inspire us to overcome tragedy and loss, and build a brighter future and a safer world.”
Oren, who maintains a macabre photograph of his son doing a handstand on top of one of the towers the day before they fell, said the tragedy not only hit close to home personally, but ushered in a dark, new era, across the globe.
“When the personal trauma ended, I think all of us began to understand that we were entering a new world,” he said.
“That the struggle we were engaged in was not a struggle against an empire, or even against a country – but a struggle against an idea. And that struggle would be a generational struggle for at least one generation, if not more.”
Echoing Barkat and Shapiro’s sentiments, Oren, an American-Israeli and former ambassador to the US, added that Israelis understand the pain of terror more than most.
“We in Israel understood that the same type of evil that drives a human being to put on an explosive vest and get on a bus full of civilians in Jerusalem is the same evil that drove those planes into the Twin Towers,” he said.
“The same evil that drives people to fire thousands of rockets into Israeli cities, towns, and schools… the same evil that drives terrorists to kidnap three Israeli teenagers and execute them mercilessly.”
“Therefore, we convene here not only to remember, but to renew our commitment to honor the memories of those who lost their lives on 9/11,” Oren continued.
“We honor them by continuing the struggle. And the struggle is to defend our common values… to defend our common freedoms, that they sought to deny us. That is why we are gathered here today, and that is why as Americans, Israelis – and so many allies in the world – we will continue to fight.”