9/11 reflections at unique Jerusalem service

The only memorial outside US to list the name of each of the 2,977 victims


In the forest with a breathtaking view of Jerusalem, hundreds gathered at Jewish National Fund-USA and KKL-JNF’s 9/11 Living Memorial. The memorial’s centerpiece is a sculpture of an American flag waving in the wind with its point curved upward like a flame..

Surrounded by US, Israeli and other flags blowing in the light breeze, the setting was tranquil and beautiful. Eloquent speakers acknowledged the donors who made the monument possible and emphasized how this is the only memorial outside US soil to list the name of every single one of the 2,977 victims; how the US and Israel stand together in solidarity, representing the shared values of freedom, hope and tenacity — and how strength comes from unity.

In attendance were students from Alexander Muss High School, government and embassy officials from both the US and Israel, representatives of United Airlines whose planes were hijacked to carry out the attacks, members of the Police Unity delegation and the Israeli Police force, marines, family members of the victims; and people who wanted to mourn, reflect, and remember.

The Police Unity delegation stood out in their white shirts, wearing white hats that pictured the US and the Israeli flags side by side. Scott Luks, a detective from Edison Township, NJ, who was a member of the delegation, told me that this trip to Israel was one he always wanted to make, but couldn’t.

His grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and in his younger years, when he was eligible for Birthright, his mom hesitated to send him because of the security situation in Israel at the time. Eventually he served two tours of duty with American forces in the Middle East, but didn’t get to Israel.

For Officer Luks, his trip surrounding the 9/11 memorial event was the fulfillment of the dream of a lifetime. He was surprised and impressed by the diversity of the population in Israel and the wonderful interactions between various groups. He was excited, overwhelmed and proud to be part of the Police Unity mission.

Officer Andrea Reisen recalled that she served as a police dispatcher on the day of the 9/11 terror attacks. Her chief, from Livingston, NJ, lost his son in 9/11. The day was indelibly sealed in her memory.

Officer Reisen had come on the Police Unity mission before and was as impressed this time as much as she was previously. She did not expect such a comprehensive tour that included the Yad Va’Shem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, tours of Tel Aviv, and encounters with the Israeli police who she perceived to be well trained and dedicated to their mission. She felt honored and overwhelmed to be part of this well-planned and well-executed mission.

Officer Steve Yablonsky had always wanted to see Israel and meet with his police counterparts from the Jewish State. He was especially grateful to witness the professionalism of the training of the Israeli police officers, their gracious hospitality, their deployment and especially their emphasis on their relationships with the community they serve. Officer Yablonsky, accompanied by his wife, summed up the experience saying it was the opportunity of a lifetime, “it is an amazing country with an amazing population.”

“I thank Sheriff Mike Safris, leader of the Police Unity delegation, for his friendliness and introductions to the officers,” he said.

One of the most memorable moments from the ceremony was the dramatic musical presentation of “The Bird” in memory of 34-year-old Hagay Shefi (son of General Dov Shefi), an Israeli entrepreneur who was a featured speaker and panelist at the Risk Waters Conference on the 106th floor of the World Trade center on the morning of the attack and was killed with thousands of others. Members of his family sang the moving lyrics accompanied by their musical instruments.

JNF pledged to plant 2,977 trees in memory of the fallen, to make our world a better, safer, cleaner place. The pledge was accompanied by the words: G-d bless America and Israel.

In addition, a speaker recounted the story of Abraham J Salmonowitz, their uncle, who was born in 1935 and was working at the Trade Center that fateful day, alongside his friend Ed, who was paralyzed from the neck down. When the first plane hit, Abraham might have tried to save himself, but he steadfastly refused to leave his wheelchair-bound friend behind. Both fell to the terrorist attack.

The Kaddish memorial prayer was recited in the original Hebrew and Aramaic as the crowd stood solemnly at attention.

In conclusion, I quote the moving words of Singer James Taylor mentioned by one of the speakers. Taylor famously said, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”

The inspirational memorial service in the hills of Jerusalem was a fitting tribute to the first responders, medical personnel, airline employees, and good ordinary people who went to work on a sunny fall morning, only to have their worlds, and ours, shattered by senseless evil, and who did not get to enjoy the passage of time.

As Jewish National Fund-USA continues to strengthen the unshakable friendship between the US and Israel, may we always remember those who perished, and continue to work together with peace-seeking people to eradicate terror and evil from our world.

Rookie Billet was formerly principal of the Shulamith Middle School in Cedarhurst. She now lives in Israel with her husband, Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Woodmere Hershel Billet.