Paula R. Stern – September Realities & A Quiet Unyielding Anger
September in Israel brings a return to school, a return to working on a somewhat more normal schedule. It means more traffic, a faster paced life. Mostly.
Last year, Aliza decided to go to a sleep way school after the local school just became wrong for her in so many ways. I think the school should have been forced to leave the neighborhood; not the neighborhood kids leave the school, but an important lesson for us all is that you have to deal with what is, not what you wish things were.
David is settling into a nice schedule. Army, home. Army, home. This week, he went back to his yeshiva for Shabbat. Most of his class went into the Givati unit; a few were sent to the Tank brigade. This weekend, they were off and so they went to the yeshiva, as did the Givati boys.
Afterwards, Davidi called and asked if he could go to a barbecue at the home of one of the other soldiers from his unit. That is one of the ironies I noticed long ago about the army. How do you know your son is doing well in the army, making friends and living the experience, not just surviving it?
They spend all week together, so many packed in a room, forced to shower together, eat together. There is little privacy, little “alone” time. And when they come home, what they often do, is get together with their unit. Last time, it was a pool party at the home of his Mem-Mem (“Department” Commander…George – help, what’s the right translation here?). This time, it was one of the soldiers.
The road to where this soldier lives is much more central than where we live and one of the roads that has always scared me. It is narrow in many places, with hills that come very close. It is, in a very real way, a terrorist’s ideal topography and many cars have been firebombed, stoned, even shot at. There are few places I will hesitate to go in Israel but there are places where I hold in the fear. There are two places on the road to Aliza’s school in Kiryat Arba/Hebron; and this other road is another place.
He’s 20 years old. He’s faster than I am; stronger than I am. He’s been trained. He has a rifle. To forbid him to go is to give in to terrorism. I compromise and ask him to call me when he gets there. That’s my mother’s fault. She used to make us do that in the States.
Everyone knows that if you have to call your mother when you get home, God will ensure you get there safely. Or at least that’s what I think is the rule.
So Davidi called me when he got there and then, in a quiet voice, he said to me, “His mother reads your blog.”
A few times, people have come up to me and asked me if I was “a soldier’s mother.” By far, the cutest thing was when a man came up to me, looked at me, looked at Elie, and said, “you’re a soldier’s mother’s son!”
I don’t know whether David was embarrassed at having been identified as one of “a soldier’s mother’s sons” or not but it made me smile.
He went back to the army on Sunday afternoon with a box of brownies, a load of clean clothes, and hopes he’d be home in two weeks. Aliza left for school. I’m home emptying out my bedroom, hoping that somehow we’ll all build the new closet we bought so that I can put all this stuff back into a new, rearranged bedroom that will somehow be the one I’ve always dreamed of having.
We’ll see about that. In the meantime, the summer is over, the nights have just a tiny, tiny bit of a chill in them (well, except for last night). But it’s getting dark a tiny bit earlier, the traffic has returned. The kids are back in school…even two of the grandchildren are now officially into the “system.”
A Quiet Unyielding Anger
It’s been 15 years since one of my children called me to the television to tell me something had
happened. There were bombing attacks in Israel on a regular basis; many brought to my attention when the cartoons they watched back when we had a television were interrupted.
First there was a map of a city somewhere in Israel with a voice explaining about early reports of an explosion. There was never a question that it was terrorism; never a thought of who had caused it. It was only really about what city was hit this time, how many were hurt, and how many funerals the next day would bring.
I walked to the top of the stairs after I was told about “something,” only this time, there was news from America, and an image of the World Trade Center. It took me a second to understand. It wasn’t Israel. It wasn’t a bomb. It wasn’t a bus. It was New York. It was a building. A building I knew, I’d seen, I’d been in. The World Trade Center. A Plane. They didn’t know the cause of the “accident”, they said, but I did. It wasn’t an accident. I knew. I knew it and I longed to reach across the ocean and tell them they had to stop pretending. They had to take it seriously. They had to understand.
That which has hated us, hates them too. That which reaches out to murder my people had crossed an ocean to murder theirs. Wake up, I cried inside. Say it. Say it already. Terrorism.
Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices: secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge — huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong.
And as I waited for them to admit what I knew without question was the truth, I discovered inside myself a tiny emotion that has filled me with shame for all of the last 15 years. My first reaction to the attack on the World Trade Center was horror, but the second was some small sense of…not happiness, never happy, but “good” – good only because now I thought America would finally understand what it was like to live with the agony of terror.
I listened with disappointment and almost pity as the news broadcasters bantered around about how a plane could have come to crash into one of the tallest building. “Silly man,” I almost shouted, “Terrorism. Come on, you can say it.”
And then, in horror, as I watched, the second plane hit. I started to cry as the shocked voices could be heard through the television; I started to pray, “Oh God, I didn’t mean for this. I didn’t want this. I just wanted them to understand, not this.” My children looked at me, trying to understand. I stopped crying and told them it was time for a snack. I bribed them with cookies and milk upstairs in the dining room; I brought them crayons to color and did everything I could to keep them away from what we loosely called the “TV room”. The television droned on and I would slip away, or sit on the steps and watch half-turned so I could watch my children and keep them far from what was happening in the distant city where I had met their father, fallen in love, married, and brought three of them into this world.
Two towers on fire, rescue workers rushing in, people panicking in the streets as the Pentagon was hit next; all planes ordered to land. Suddenly, there was a loud sound and I watched in horror again, as the south tower crumbled into itself. And then the northern tower. The people, I thought. oh God, how many were inside? How many didn’t get out?
Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil — the very worst of human nature — and we responded with the best of America.
They kept saying “as many as 50,000 people” came to work each day. I remember them saying that another plane was missing and last tracking said it was heading towards Washington; the White House was evacuated. The count down was running as to when it would hit Washington and the potential targets. Then, reports of a plane crash in Pennsylvania…was it the fourth plane? No one knew and so they kept waiting for it to hit Washington.
Hours and hours of horror. I don’t remember it growing dark here in Israel or putting my children to bed that night; I do remember praying for the injured; even praying there would be injured and not just endless bodies to recover. I remember sitting and crying as I listened to George Bush.
Each year, like tens of thousands of people all over the world, I remember what I was doing on September 11. And I watch the videos. And I pray for the families. I light a candle in their memory – all of them, everywhere they died.
Last year, in shock, I listened as the United States approved the Iran Deal – what a joke, I thought. They are rewarding the very people who perpetrated 9/11. That’s how they commemorate the day?
This year, I am filled with sadness as never before. The United States stands on the edge of a more dangerous world than ever before. What Hitler did in 6 years of war, Iran could now do in minutes. The Soviet Union, the evil, repressive, totalitarian society which imprisoned its own people is no more; Russia today is weaker, divided, and still searching for ways to return to the glory that was their former incarnation.
And America, weaker as well. Divided, isolated and much ridiculed by the world. You play a dangerous game of denial; terrorism has been relegated to being less dangerous than lightning, getting hit by a bus, or meeting death at the “hands” of a lawnmower. This is what people post to Facebook…because terrorism is not their main concern, perhaps not even a concern at all. They laugh and joke about the bus and the lawnmower. Are they laughing today? Probably not, but they will laugh again tomorrow and deny the dangers, just as they did that mourning as the first tower burned.
The numbers are manipulated, 9/11 erased because by factoring it in, the numbers would be so much scarier, or perhaps not. Maybe 15 years later, the pain has lessened, the horror of watching those towers collapse somehow faded?
I don’t know. I can still cry each time I think of that day. The World Trade Centers were relatively new when I started college and we all made fun of them. How ugly we thought they were; how modern and without character. At Columbia University, the buildings were older and so dignified. Years later, I can confess that as a student living in New York, I never liked those towers. They represented a world dedicated to money and business when I was learning about things that seemed so much more important – life, history, humanity.
And then they came down and I have missed them terribly. For years, I missed the innocence I felt was stolen from America on that day. I mourned for the families, but for the nation as well.
I haven’t been to America in 18 years. The timing was wrong, my family was growing. Finances. Life. One son in the army and then another and another. From far away, I have watched in sadness. I hurt for what America has become. Racial intolerance still shocks me. The first best friend I ever had was a young black girl in my class (no, she wasn’t African American then, she was black) and someone called her a nasty name and she looked about to cry. I turned to her as we walked past those nasty children and I asked her if she was black. It had never occurred to me that she was, or that her parents and siblings were. It wasn’t in my vocabulary; not something I noticed. She said what she was. My friend. My neighbor. Sherry. She nodded in what I now think was a rather solemn way and said that she was black. I remember answering, “Oh.” And then remembered I wanted to tell her something about what happened in school. We never discussed her race again; we never discussed my religion. We were two little girls with a love of dolls and playing house. We walked home from school together that day, as we always did because she lived in an apartment on the other side of the open court where we played together. And the next morning, we walked back to school, and home and back and home and back. Until a year or two later, she and her family moved away.
I have always loved that I didn’t know that my best friend was black because it was completely and entirely irrelevant to who we were. Yesterday, I read a long story about “the Falling Man.” Over the last 15 years, the media has been obsessed with identifying this man who was captured falling to his death. Paragraphs and paragraphs of how reporters went from family to family, going through lists of names as if identifying him was some holy grail.
Ultimately, said the article, they think they know who he is. Yes, but what about the wives and children you harmed by invading their privacy and showing a picture of a man seconds away from his death before their eyes? All that 9/11 is about, is lost to people such as these. It isn’t about Sherry being black or the name of that man. It isn’t about each individual,
It was never about that little black girl or her best friend, the white girl who lived across the courtyard. It was never about that man falling. It was always about America.
I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us.
There are those that say 15 years on, Al Qaida is weakened…other than a few massive terror attacks here and there. There are those that say they know how to make America great again…and those who ridicule that statement simply because of who made it.
There are black people dying in the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York – daily. Literally, every day. There are cops, police officers being murdered – murdered and their deaths considered a just response in a violent and racist society. Where have you gone, America?
I look at the images of the burning towers and I remember listening in shock, as President George Bush addressed a nation in pain. I had never liked him before…until that speech. Sometimes, when you make a wrong turn, all you can do is go back and correct your error. After 15 years, America, you need to go back.
This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world. Thank you. Good night. And God bless America.
Listen to this speech. Read it. Look at the unity. Listen to the voice of a leader. It was the first time I thought that George W. Bush had really stepped up to meet the challenge. It was a speech like none we have heard since. Forget the economy, forget the politics. Listen to the speech of an American president – perhaps the last one who cared more for his country than his party.
Good evening.Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices: secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge — huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger.
These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil — the very worst of human nature — and we responded with the best of America. With the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.
Immediately following the first attack, I implemented our government’s emergency response plans. Our military is powerful, and it’s prepared. Our emergency teams are working in New York City and Washington D.C. to help with local rescue efforts. Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured, and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks. The functions of our government continue without interruption. Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight and will be open for business tomorrow. Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business as well.
The search is underway for those who were behind these evil acts. I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.
I appreciate so very much the members of Congress who have joined me in strongly condemning these attacks. And on behalf of the American people, I thank the many world leaders who have called to offer their condolences and assistance. America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism.
Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.
This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.
Thank you. Good night. And God bless America.