September 11, 2001 was a day I will never forget. I was a teenager in Israel, waiting in the reception room of my American-born dentist’s office, when he came out and asked to turn on the TV to the news channel. He said his relatives from New York called, and he wanted to see what was happening. As we turned on the TV, all the five or six people in the room watched with horror how the second plane hits the World Trade Center. Later at home, my parents were able to make contact with their friends in New York after hours that the phone system was down. Luckily, both friends that were working in the World Trade Center managed to escape.
In Israel, September 11 is a day that many remember with heavy hearts not just because of a personal connection some of us have with friends or family living in New York. Unfortunately, the reason why many Israelis understand the pain and the tragedy of what the U.S. went through is because Israel has itself suffered from a great deal of terror attacks. On the day of September 11, 2001, Israel was a year into the Second Intifada that started in 2000 and lasted until 2005. This was a period of intensified violence, where Palestinian suicide bombers were blowing up buses and coffee shops, murdering and injuring civilians.
Students Supporting Israel at Penn State
Today, 14 years later, the memory of September 11 still exists among many in the community who pay tribute and value the heroism of the victims and the rescue teams. However, on many American college campuses, September 11 goes almost unrecognized. The freshmen of this year were only 4 years old when the terror attack happened, and if Memorial Day is seen by many as a day to go shopping, it is hard to blame those students for not prioritizing the memory of September 11 on campus. As it also happens to be the beginning of the semester, students spend their time caring about many other important things like class registration or back to school fairs.
Given the reality on campus, this year we decided in Students Supporting Israel that it will be our duty to commemorate September 11 and lead this effort at our colleges. In a coordinated campaign, 25 of our chapters made a September 11 memorial on campus where students from all backgrounds who walked by were asked to engage and recognize the day by putting an American flag into the ground. All flags together wrote a large “9/11” visible to all by-passers. Many students participated in the memorial, and even more saw the event taking place on their campus grounds.
Students Supporting Israel at SDSU
Our ongoing work at Students Supporting Israel is to strengthen students’ ties with Israel and to educate our peers about this country that many of them never visited. Organizing a September 11 memorial by a pro-Israel group was not only showing respect to the day, but it also demonstrated to the students that Israel and the U.S. stand for the same values, and share many of the same challenges. In a time where the pro-Israel community as a whole, and especially on campuses, faces national challenges from the BDS movement and groups that promote it, we know that our message has to be coordinated and united in order to be strongly heard and make an impact. A coordinated September 11 memorial on 25 college campuses was exactly that strong message of shared interests, making it visible that Israel, like the U.S. stand against terror together.
Valeria Chazin is the Chairwoman of the Board of Students Supporting Israel - SSI, a 501(c)(3) pro-Israel, grassroots, students organization. For more information visit the SSI website at www.ssimovement.org