Fellow Americans, Israeli friends, Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon, Mayor Barkat, Representatives of the Israeli National Police and Jerusalem Fire Department, David Pitchon, formerly of the NYPD, Representatives of the KKL-Jewish National Fund, which sponsored this moving memorial, Drs. Charles and Peggy Lewin, Ms. Sigal Shefi-Asher, and family members of the victims of the 9/11 attacks; honored guests:
Thank you to all who have joined us today to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. It is a day to remember those we lost, and to stand with their families and loved ones. It is also a day to honor all victims of terrorism around the globe.
Ten years ago today, as we awoke to a cloudless blue sky, thousands of our fellow citizens did what they did every other day. They kissed their families goodbye, commuted to their workplace, or boarded planes for business trips or vacations.
These utterly normal acts, in the light of what followed, became the last, precious moments in the lives of nearly 3,000 human beings, struck down by acts of evil which remain beyond our comprehension.
On that day, the only sound more agonizing than the chaotic crashes was the deafening silence that followed.
At the World Trade Center, rescue workers combed the rubble, looking for victims to extract, but finding few. Hospital emergency rooms in New York prepared for mass casualties, but received only a trickle. At the Pentagon, small voices cried out for help amid the tangled beams and limbs.
And in Pennsylvania, a smoldering hole in the earth offered poignant testimony to the courage of a small group of Americans who were able to thwart one more terrible attack, very likely saving the lives of hundreds of their fellow citizens in Washington, D.C.
Along with thousands of others, I was at work in the U.S. Capitol complex that day, unknowingly, but likely, a target of attack.
The September 11th strikes left the families who lost their loved ones with a terrible emptiness and a wound that cannot heal. Every day presents a struggle to move on without the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters, the friends and colleagues, who died that terrible day.
And all Americans, wherever they were, however they experienced those agonizing moments, felt the pain and loss and sadness of knowing how their fellow citizens suffered and died.
Another void was opened that day. As we watched the smoke rise higher and higher, our sense of security and safety at home was punctured as surely as the planes cut through the towers they struck.
We will never forget. We will never forsake those we lost. We may never feel as invulnerable as we once felt. And so the emptiness can never be completely filled.
And yet, we go on.
Shortly before coming to Israel, I visited New York City for business purposes. Between meetings, I took a taxi down to Ground Zero. It was important to me to pay my respects to my fellow citizens before undertaking this assignment and the burden it carries to represent the United States of America.
And for my generation of foreign policy and national security professionals, we are deeply motivated by the seminal experience of 9/11 to make our country and the world safer and more secure, so a tragedy like this one can never recur.
As I walked around the site, my eye was drawn consistently to the empty space in the New York skyline created on September 11 that is starting to fill up.
Just as survivors and their families have been rebuilding their lives, architects and construction workers have been rebuilding One World Trade Center at the site where the Twin Towers once stood. As the new tower climbs out of the rubble, it stands as a fitting metaphor for the resilience of the American people.
We may no longer feel invincible, but we are steadily rising, and steadily climbing. And our friends all over the world have helped to pull us to our feet.
As President Obama noted, “Those who attacked us on 9/11 wanted to drive a wedge between the United States and the world. They failed.” Rather, the international community’s immediate solidarity with the United States, and the fact that citizens of over 90 countries died that day, illuminated the fact that while 9/11 was an attack on the United States, it was also, in the President’s words, “an attack on the world and on the humanity and hopes that we share.”
Israelis shared our mourning. Not only were five Israelis lost in the 9/11 attacks, but Israelis also understood on a deeper level. Israel, like no other country, has suffered the blows of terrorist attacks, and its citizens, who have mourned too many losses, know just how easy it is for terrorists to instill fear and overturn our way of life.
More importantly, they understand that this fearful reaction is exactly what we must avoid in order to prevent terrorism from claiming even more victims.
Everyone who has ever thought twice about going to a nightclub in a crowded area is a victim of terror. Everyone who has taken a taxi instead of a bus, who has been pulled aside at an airport, or who has double-checked the location of the nearest shelter is a victim of terror. That may make many of us victims, but it also makes us survivors.
We must go on living our lives, and Israelis have shown us how to continue to live, to build, to learn, and to grow, even in the wake of loss, even in the face of fear. Among their achievements are building a safer, more secure country, while upholding the values and freedoms of a democratic society.
And they have shared their knowledge in the fields of homeland security, counterterrorism, and intelligence to help the world confront today’s global threats.
Along the way, Israelis have rebounded in ways that are truly inspirational. Just look at the example of the One Family Fund, which reminds us that we are just that – family. Their organization is there for victims of terror and their families right when they need somewhere to turn or someone to listen. We are honored that our ceremony today will include the beautiful music of the One Family Fund choir.
Or look at Seth and Sherri Mandell, whose son Koby and his friend Yosef were murdered by terrorists. They keep Koby’s spirit alive through their work with the Mandell Foundation, which runs therapeutic healing programs for those who have lost a family member to terrorism.
The Mandells are an American-Israeli family, demonstrating one of the many cases in which the United States and Israel share a joint pain over incidents of terrorism. We are honored that they are with us today.
Americans can learn a lot from Israelis, and have created some inspirational stories of their own.
Glenn Winuk, a New York lawyer and former volunteer firefighter, died while trying to help victims in the World Trade Center. His brother Jay and friend David Paine honored his memory by launching a campaign to establish September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.
Last year, almost 12 million people participated, giving of their time, talents, and energy to charities and community groups.
New Yorker Jeff Parness was the business partner of Hagay Shefi, an Israeli citizen killed at the World Trade Center. Mr. Parness started the New York Says Thank You Foundation, a group of firefighters and other volunteers who offer service to other communities to help them rebuild from disaster.
As Americans engage in these projects to help us cope and to help us move on, we will continue to look to our Israeli friends for inspiration and partnership. We are partners in the fight against terrorism, partners in our democratic values, and partners in our quest to live in peace.
וברשותכם אני אוסיף כמה מילים בעברית. בשבילי ובשביל העמיתים שלי והאזרחים האמריקאים האחרים כאן, יש זכות גדולה לזכור את ההתקפות של 11-לספטמבר בישראל. לדעתי, בכל העולם, אין עם שמבין את הכאב שלנו ואין עם שיכול לעזור לנו להמשיך לחיות ולבנות מחדש יותר מעם ישראל. בזמנים קשים וכבדים, הקשר המוסרי בינינו מחזק את שנינו.
To repeat in English: For me and for my colleagues and the other Americans here, it is a great privilege to remember the September 11 attacks in Israel. In my opinion, in the whole world, there is no people who understands our pain and no people who can help us continue to live and to rebuild more than the people of Israel. In difficult times, the moral bond between us strengthens both of us.
We stand together. Together, we shall overcome.