9/11 memorial Jlem 248.88.
(photo credit: JNF)
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Henry Fuerte had just entered an elevator on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower, when a hijacked airplane slammed into the side of the building, blowing him back out of the elevator.
It was the beginning of what would come to be known as "9/11" - the largest string of terrorist attacks in American history.
Just over eight years later, Fuerte, who has since made aliya and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and young daughter, will take part Thursday afternoon in the unveiling of a monument dedicated to the victims of the attacks erected in the Arazim Valley in Jerusalem's Ramot neighborhood.
It is one of the first major international memorials to 9/11 and the only site outside of New York to list the names of all who perished.
Fuerte, who spent the next hour of that fateful September day trying to escape from the building, finally found his way out by descending dozens of flights of stairs, jam-packed with people.
"It got pretty crowded around the 50th floor," Fuerte told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday evening. "As we were going down, we saw the firefighters heading up. Three minutes after I made it outside, I heard a woman scream, looked up, and saw the south tower imploding."
While Fuerte's experience that day is both remarkable and traumatic, his story is joined with those of the thousands of others who escaped the carnage of fire and collapsing steel to see the attacks they survived become the harbinger of the US invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq and a new divider of history - before 9/11 and after.
But those who did not escape, from the Twin Towers, the Pentagon or United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, live on in people's memories, and Thursday's unveiling is a tribute to them.
Commissioned and built by the Jewish National Fund-USA, the memorial depicts the World Trade Center and Pentagon through sculpture and landscape architecture.
Designed by award-winning Israeli artist Eliezer Weishoff, the memorial includes a 30-foot high bronze sculpture donated by Edward Blank, and is composed of a waving American flag transformed into a memorial flame.
The sculpture rests on a gray granite base, part of which is from the Twin Towers.
The sculpture is surrounded by a circular, crater-like plaza and reflection area tiled in stone and funded by the Bronka Stavsky Rabin Weintraub Trust.
Lining the slopes of the crater are the nearly 3,000 metal plates with the names of those who were killed in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Amphitheater-style benches along the interior will provide visitors with space for viewing and reflection.
"Set against the magnificent backdrop of Jerusalem, the Living Memorial will be a moving site from which to mourn the victims of 9/11 as well as consider the thousands of victims of terrorism worldwide," Russell F. Robinson, chief executive officer of JNF told the Post on Wednesday.
"Jerusalem is a battleground of civilization but also a place of hope," added Robinson. "The memorial is situated in Jerusalem's green belt - what better place to show that civilization won?
"This should be a place for visiting dignitaries, presidents, prime ministers, ambassadors, and citizens of the world, to come together and remember, reflect and heal. More than anything we hope that the memorial will remind us to reaffirm our commitment to tolerance, the unity of mankind, and democracy."
Indeed, dignitaries from Israel and around the world are scheduled to attend Thursday's unveiling, including US Ambassador to Israel James Cunningham, ambassadors of other nations whose citizens fell victim to 9/11, US Congressman Erik Paulsen (R - MN) who is leading a delegation from the US, Israeli cabinet ministers, Knesset members, families of 9/11 victims and others.
Fuerte, who will be among those guests, told the Post he was pleased with the memorial and its message.
"It's a wonderful sign of solidarity," he said. "And a fitting memorial to the victims."
"However," Fuerte added, "It's important that people take away a lesson from this memorial - that not bowing down to terrorism is also a fitting memorial to the victims."