September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document


Article Order:2

Title:As anniversaries converge, many planning commemorations struggle to reconcile September 11th and the intifada

Author:Nacha Cattan


Original Language:English



Blurb:For some, September 11th and the intifada are a result of the same Islamic extremism and its assault on western values. For others, the events must be kept separate, for while terrorism struck in both countries, Americas war on Al Qaeda is markedly different from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Body:By including a tribute to Israeli victims of terror in its recommendations for how its chapters might memorialize September 11th, the national Hillel movement hoped to create an inclusive atmosphere in which American Jews could connect with Israelis in their moment of loss.

But the mixed reaction to the program illustrates the disparate views American Jews hold about how to commemorate terror attacks in both countries one year after September 11th and two years since the start of the intifada.

For some, September 11th and the intifada are a result of the same Islamic extremism and its assault on Western values. For others, the events must be kept separate, for while terrorism struck in both countries, Americas war on Al Qaeda is markedly different from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Im uncomfortable with the linkage, said Rabbi Andrew Bachman, executive director of the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, the Hillel center at New York University. Each event in history needs to be understood in its own light. Could you compare two national struggles over one piece of land to Al Qaeda seeing America as the cause of all evil and corruption in the entire world? Thats not what Hamas is necessarily railing about. Bachman said he would not have invoked Israeli victims during a September 11th memorial but he stressed that the Hillel program does so gracefully and with integrity.

Outside the political realm, some religious and communal leaders are asking whether it is an injustice to the victims of both countries to invoke the recent deadly bombing at Hebrew University, for example, while memorializing the victims of the Twin Towers and Pentagon attacks.

Our first obligation is to mourn the losses, not to make linkages between them, said Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield, vice president of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. We have to be careful not to connect [September 11th] to Israel in a way that actually loses site of the enormity of what happened here on that day.

We also need to be very careful that in linking [September 11th] with terrorism in Israel that we dont use September 11th to score political points for a particular understanding of the actions of Israel, Hirschfield said. CLAL is producing an audio tape of prayers, Jewish and American texts, music and readings geared to September 11th. The tape opens with Brahms Requiem, and moves from the sounds of sirens to the blowing of the shofar.

Rabbi David Wolpe of the Conservative Sinai Temple in Los Angeles said it is really appropriate to memorialize September 11th without references to terrorism in Israel.

But other religious leaders said discussing victims in Israel during a memorial for Americans is just as appropriate. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movements Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said referencing Israeli victims shows attacks on both countries are very much intertwined in our consciousness. Its important for us to make that connection. But Yoffie stressed that the distinctiveness of September 11th should not be lost.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Ahavat Torah in Englewood, N.J. said he will be sure to pay public tribute to Israeli victims at the county-wide September 11th memorial, scheduled to take place at his Orthodox synagogue.

We would be remiss if we did not mention the victims around the world and particularly in Israel, Golding said.

A co-creator of Hillels memorial program, Rabbi Avi Weinstein, director of Hillels Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, said memorializing September 11th without acknowledging events in Israel would be unthinkable.

September 11th was a unique event in America, Weinstein said. But it is an ongoing event in Israel and this seemed like the opportunity to reflect on that as well. Weinstein noted that Jewish tradition often combines the mourning of several tragic events.

The program includes a pamphlet with new prayers fashioned from ancient texts; thumbnail biographies of September 11th victims from The New York Times; letters from two Hillel alumni who were killed in the bombing at Hebrew University, and words and images from the Bible and Talmud meant to refer to September 11th as well as terrorism in Israel. It points out that the word for lawlessness in the Book of Proverbs is hamas.

Hirschfield rejected this parallel: Use of religious texts to label anyone wicked is a very dangerous program on September 11th, because after all that is exactly what got those people to ram those planes on September 11th, he said.

Hirschfield said he found in poor taste the oft-stated phrase that since September 11th Americans understand what Israelis are going through. Its like standing over an open grave and saying now you understand. What does that mean? Was it worth it?

The dustup over the memorial program illustrates the singular experience American Jews face this year as they commemorate the most devastating attack on America at a time when Israel is facing an almost daily toll of deadly violence.

At a September 11th memorial service to be held at the New Jewish High School of Greater Boston in Waltham, Mass., Israel will not be invoked in the memorial because, in the words of headmaster Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, its important for students to relate to September 11th as a unique and somewhat separate event.

Lehmann acknowledged that American Jews will observe the anniversary of September 11th differently than other Americans. The notion that that kind of violence is still very much a part of our experience as Jews beyond September 11th, not just in a hypothetical sense but in a real sense, makes our commemoration that much more powerful and perhaps more focused, he said.

Its not just whats going on in Israel, its the antisemitism going on worldwide, Lehmann said. Security concerns are felt more intensely in the American Jewish community. And if we do end up going to war with Iraq, thats also going to be very complicated.

Lehmanns non-denominational school is planning a memorial that will include liturgical rituals, the study of relevant Jewish texts, the decoration of a Yahrtzeit memorial candle and a speech by a close friend of a hijacking victim from the Boston area.

On the other hand, Lehman did not object to other memorials making the connection between September 11th and the Intifada: Both the source of September 11th and the source of a lot of whats happening in Israel stems from a common Islamic culture, and a lot of Islamic fundamentalism is playing into both.

i> With reporting by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency/i>

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