We all have our 9/11 stories. For me, they revolve around two visiting Israeli anti-terrorism experts who were sharing breakfast with me and a journalist friend the morning the attacks took place. It was one of the only times that I had left my cell phone in the car. As we left breakfast, I noticed that I had more than 5 messages from my office. Normally, since 2001 was a year in which the 2nd intifada was raging, I would've thought that something horrible happened in Israel. On the 6th try, my boss finally reached me and told me about the attacks. When I first heard her, I thought that a small plane had crashed into the towers.
Obviously, none of us anticipated what happened that day. And it is an understatement and a cliché to say that it changed our lives forever.
I spent the rest of the day shuttling these Israeli experts TV stations to newspapers so that they could share their expertise with our local community. Over and over again, they said that the media's response to this was counterproductive. That showing the pictures of the towers being hit by the planes and the Pentagon burning would further traumatize the population – especially children. In Israel, they explained that the media coverage focuses on ways that people could find out about the disposition of their family and friends that they could not locate.
Finally, at the end of the day, I spoke with my boss and realized that we had not heard anything from civic or religious leaders about a service or gathering. We reached out to the Cardinal and the mayor and within 24 hours organized the interfaith service that took place at City Hall Plaza. 25,000 people showed up that day including pilots and flight attendants and employees of American and United Airlines who marched into the ceremony, unannounced, in full uniform. No one in attendance will ever forget that poignant moment.
Several months later I met someone who had a friend who was killed at the World Trade Center. Their grief was as raw in March as it had been in September. I'll never forget those days, oscillating between rage and sadness.
Which brings me to the elimination of Osama bin Laden.
This is an important moment in American history. While the demise of bin Laden will not eliminate Al Qaeda or end the threat of global Jihad, it sends a message to everyone about the ability of the United States, despite a complex world situation, to act decisively and pursue justice thoughtfully when necessary.
But I must confess that I am disturbed by the reaction of many well-meaning people in our country that took to the streets and celebrated with cheers and music. I am not one who is predisposed to being circumspect during a victory. However, in this case, it seems to me that the memory of all those people who've been killed by Al Qaeda over the years required acknowledgment that their lives were the reason that we pursued bin Laden in the first place. This was an opportunity to mourn and reflect and pray for their families to receive comfort. It just seems to me that the time for chanting and celebrating is more appropriate at a ballgame then it is for the killing of a terrorist.
It would also been an opportunity to contrast our values with those of the radical Islamists who support bin Laden and his cause. Often you'll find them in the streets, handing out candy when innocent people are killed. Hamas today mourned Osama bin Laden and seeks to use him as a martyr in its campaign of jihad against the West. I'm not drawing any moral equivalence between well-meaning Americans expressing their joy over the elimination of a vicious terrorist but I am hopeful that the next few days will be a time of reflection and memory without the need to resort to slogans.
That was one of the hallmarks of the American response to 9/11 in the 1st place we are angry and were anguished. So, with our joy today we need to remember just what we were fighting for and the victims that suffered so much at the hands of Al Qaeda.