I recently made my maiden visit to the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the World
Chisels and jackhammers provide the music of resoluteness
as towers rise again in Lower Manhattan, 12 years after the disaster.
the way to the memorial, I hear news reports about the 21 US embassies and
consulates closing as a result of what they’re calling “a credible threat” from
al-Qaida. The list of closures starts with Yemen, and includes Egypt, Jordan and
Saudi Arabia, as well as Madagascar, Burundi and Rwanda. The last three are
countries that don’t have Muslim majorities.
9/11 was a turning point
that woke up the world to the reality of terror. A terrorism expert on public
radio recently reminded the public that terrorists like to celebrate the
anniversaries of their successful mass murders with new attacks on the same day.
From now on, we will have to be careful on April 15, the day of the Boston
At least one of the perpetrators seems to have been
among those who murdered three young men in Waltham, Massachusetts – at least
two of them Jewish – on September 11, 2011 – the 10th anniversary of the attack
on the WTC and the Pentagon.
The 10th anniversary was also the day this
memorial opened. It’s still a work in process. According to the brochure, the
memorial honors the dead, recognizes the survivors and allows visitors to come
together in the spirit of unity that emerged in the wake of 9/11. It also honors
the memories of those killed on February 26, 1993, an earlier terror attack on
the WTC. A 600-kilo truck bomb was detonated under the North Tower, with the
hope of knocking it into the South Tower and bringing them both down. The plan
failed. Nonetheless, six men and women were murdered and 1,000 wounded. The 9/11
terrorists came back to the same civilian target.
This time 2,983 men,
women and children – including the more than 400 first responders – were killed,
and the Twin Towers collapsed.
Not without reason, the memorial is
well-protected. You have to walk through metal detectors, and show your
visitor’s pass to ubiquitous guards many times.
The crowds of American
and foreign tourists stand reverently around two large, square reflecting pools,
the outline of the “footprint” of the two towers.
The names of the dead,
from age two to 85, are inscribed on bronze parapets that surround the pool.
Waterfalls cascade from a height of 10 meters into the pools and then descend
Watching the water flow in hundreds of parallel streams,
disappearing into unreachable depths, is mesmerizing. The words of Psalm 130
echo inside: “Out of the depths have I called Thee…” How fitting that both of
the major architects in this project are Israeli
Israeli-American architect Daniel Libeskind, son of Holocaust
survivors, has created the master plan for reconstruction.
The site is so
vast that it has its own zip code, 10048.
Michael Arad, son of ambassador Moshe Arad, has designed the
Both Libeskind and Arad won competitions with thousands of
entries. As heirs to our national experience of survival, they might have had an
Libeskind’s plan includes a spiral of towers that will
eventually surround the memorial. Just beyond the North Pool, 1 World Trade
Center is nearly complete. At a symbolic 1,776 feet (541 meters), it will be the
tallest building in the United States.
Arad uses trees and water, the
traditional symbols of life and renewal in the memorial, for the design he
called “reflecting absence.”
The original WTC was built just west of
where the first Dutch explorers landed in 1614. It stood on a landfill of sand,
silt and mud above the bedrock. A slurry wall, a remarkable feat of engineering,
shielded the structure from the might of the Hudson River. The slurry wall held
firm despite the collapsing towers.
Libeskind wrote, “Somehow it had
withstood the unimaginable trauma of the Twin Towers’ destruction, asserting, as
eloquently as the Constitution, the durability of democracy and the value of
Museum president Joseph C. Daniels told The New York Times
in 2008 that he envisioned the slurry wall becoming “as iconic as Jerusalem’s
That part of the memorial isn’t finished, but a tree of
life, called the “Survivor Tree,” is a place of pilgrimage. A pear tree that
once flourished on the site, it survived the devastation and a subsequent storm
that uprooted it. The pear tree will grow amid hundreds of swamp oaks when the
memorial is completed.
My cousin Mark Sokolow, a New York attorney, was
in his office in the South Tower when the hijacked passenger jet, American
Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston, crashed into the North Tower. His instincts
were good. He began taking the stairs, descending the 38 flights from his office
to the lobby. In the stairwell, he missed the mistaken all-clear announcement.
At 9:03 a.m., when United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower, he
was already headed for the subway. He watched the collapse of the building where
he spent his workdays on TV, from the safety of his home.
Grateful to be
alive, Mark suggested a family trip to Israel. On the final day of their visit,
January 27, 2002, Mark and his wife, Rena, and their teenaged daughters were in
downtown Jerusalem buying sandals. Wafa Idris, a young woman volunteer with the
Red Crescent, walked into the shoe store and asked for shoes. She didn’t stay
long. As Mark, Rena and the girls left the shop with their sandals, Idris hit
the button on her explosive belt. She killed a passerby and wounded 150 others,
including the Sokolows.
Thankfully, they all survived. The New York Post
ran a cover photo of Mark’s battered face and titled it “Mr. Lucky.”
they are not counting on luck.
They’re fighting back. The Sokolows are
part of a group of landmark lawsuits filed in New York federal court. The suits
represent 5,000 terror victims globally – several hundred in the US. They are
suing international banks that they believe supported the terrorists: Arab Bank,
Credit Lyonnais, and two other foreign banks with New York
Accounts at Arab Bank were allegedly used to pay cash rewards to
families of suicide bombers and other so-called Palestinian “martyrs.” Records
show money was supplied by two groups on the US list of foreign terrorist
organizations: Hezbollah and Hamas.
Mark says that the family of his
bomber, Idris, presented documentation to Arab Bank showing they were related to
the woman who committed this attack.
“When the bank was satisfied, they
made a payment to the family of the equivalent of $5,316.”
The Arab Bank
has claimed that it abhors terrorism and only provides “humanitarian
The courts in New York will have to decide.
In the meantime,
the US is sending drones to Yemen, aimed at al-Qaida terrorists.
overseas embassies begin reopening.
The day of my visit was the first of
Elul. Now, back in Israel, it feels right to have kick-started the process of
introspection down at Ground Zero. The author is a Jerusalem writer who
focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel.
She serves as the
Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist
Organization of America. The views in this column are her own.