- Ambassador Dore Gold; MK Dr. Anat Berko;
- Our new U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, my colleague Don Blome;
- Mr. Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman;
- Dean of the diplomatic corps Ambassador Etoundi Essomba and Ambassadors;
- Family members of the victims of 9/11;
- First responders and all those who help victims of terror;
- Distinguished guests;
- Ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you to all who have joined us here today.
We have been meeting at this site annually since its dedication in 2009. As far as we know, it is the only 9/11 memorial outside of the United States that lists all of the names of all of the victims from September 11, 2001.
Today, it is covered by a tarp, but on an ordinary day, as my car snakes up or down Route 1 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – a drive I make sometimes more than once a day – when I reach the Givat Shaul cemetery, I peer out the window and look down across the Arazim Valley, and there it is: a perfect ring of Jerusalem stone, topped with an American flag billowing into a memorial flame rising toward the heavens.
Just limestone and granite, bronze and aluminum, but in its powerful, aching beauty, it stands as a concrete symbol of the deep solidarity between the American and Israeli people. Where else, but Israel, could we Americans mourn our fellow citizens struck down by terror surrounded by friends who know, but truly know, our pain? This sun-baked place set aside by Israel to help us mourn is an eloquent testimony to our shared values, our determination to honor those who have fallen unjustly, and our commitment to ensuring a safer future.
And so I want to thank Efi Stenzler and the leadership of Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael/the Jewish National Fund for this memorial ceremony and for strengthening, every day and in all of KKL-JNF’s good work, the solidarity between our people.
This year, we are proud to be able to include in this ceremony, for the first time, content from the United States 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York. We will listen to a short recording from their archives of French survivor Bruno Dellinger’s account of that day. I will also present KKL-JNF with impressions of the names of the Israeli victims from the New York monument that the staff there made last month in tribute and solidarity with our ceremony today.
Less than two months ago, my wife, Julie, and I, on a brief visit to New York, made time to visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan. For those who have not visited, you must. With deep sensitivity to memory, and an equal measure of faithfulness to history, the museum tells the story, moment by terrible moment, of that tragic day.
The sounds and images do not leave you. The plane piercing glass and metal against that unforgettable blue sky. The frightened passenger calling the airphone operator, whispering her fears that her plane has been hijacked. The shredded coat of a fallen firefighter, who died when the tower collapsed as he rushed up the stairwell to save others. The crushed personal effects – cell phones, eyeglasses, handbags – of countless good people who did not make it down in time. The falling bodies. A note scrawled hurriedly on a blood-stained scrap of paper that floated down from the south tower: “84th floor, west office, 12 people trapped”.
To its great credit, while the museum records the incomprehensible moments in which nearly 3,000 people were sent to their deaths, it makes equal time and space to celebrate their lives. In a multimedia Memorial Hall, we can learn about the life, the work, the family, the personality, the hopes, and the dreams of each one of the fallen.
Stockbrokers and police officers, firefighters and secretaries, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters. We see them smile, we hear the voice of a loved one tell their story, and we remember them as they lived. The special emphasis on individual victims and their life stories recalls the spirit of Zelda Schneurson’s famous poem “l’kol ish yesh shem” — every person has a name.”
Outside, at the former Ground Zero site, under the shining new One World Trade Center, soaring to 1,776 feet, the memorial fountains offer space for quiet contemplation, as water silently flows into the void left by the footprints of the towers. Around each rim is carved the name of every person killed in the attacks, representing over 80 countries, and including five Israelis: Daniel Lewin, Leon Lebor, Hagai Shefi, Shai Levinhar, and Alona Avrahami.
These monuments give testament, not only to the souls we lost, not only to the family members who suffered that day and every day since, but also to our strength as a nation and a society – to persevere, to grow stronger, to carry on.
Indeed, that visit in New York, along with this ceremony today, are potent reminders of why many of us chose to serve our country in the first place, and they strengthen our commitment and resolve to face the formidable challenges that still lay ahead of us in our fight for a more peaceful and secure world, and against those who choose murder and mayhem.
I want to thank Sapir Levenhar for representing the victims’ families at our wreath-laying ceremony today for the first time. Sapir never knew her father, Shai. She was only 5 weeks old on September 11, 2001. Her presence here reminds us that we owe it to our next generations to prevail in this fight.
To do so, we cannot bend, we cannot falter, we cannot yield. We need spines of steel in two places – in building and strengthening our societies according to our values, and in defeating the violent extremists who would try to take them from us. At the base of this monument, behind the glass, is the first kind of steel: a hunk of melted metal from the Twin Towers, that helps us call to mind the beauty of the lives cut short, and our obligation to fulfill what they could not.
I saw the second kind of steel earlier this year when the USS New York, an amphibious transport vessel in the United States Navy, docked at the port of Haifa. The captain led me and several senior IDF officers on a tour of the ship.
And as we walked the decks and passageways, we came across countless pieces of memorabilia of New York City, including those that recall 9/11, among them, a giant American flag with the name of each person killed in the attacks. The ship’s bow stem, the foremost portion of the ship where it cuts through the water, was forged with seven and a half tons of steel from the World Trade Center.
This awesome naval vessel, which carries brave sailors and Marines to the fight, is, then, a powerful allegory of the strength that America has drawn from the 9/11 tragedy – the strength to defend ourselves and our allies from all who would do us harm.
As we commemorate the terrible blow suffered by the United States from violence and terror, we never lose sight of the the countless losses and tragedies that Israel has suffered, and continues to suffer, also from violence and terror. And we renew our commitment, the bond of allies, to ensure each other’s security and to increase each other’s capacities to face these threats and make sure that we have the ability to prevent them.
As President Obama said shortly after the attacks that killed four of our citizens in Libya, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”
We will continue to stand guard to deter and prevent acts of terror, and to ensure that justice is served for each and every act of terror against our nations and our allies. Whether it is terror masquerading as a nation like the Islamic State, or terror in the form of Iranian proxies, like Hizballah and Hamas, or destabilizing terror carried out by Iranian-supported armies, like the Houthi rebels in Yemen or the Assad regime in Syria, the United States will not waver.
We will take direct action when we must, we will build and lead coalitions, we will aid our allies and partners, and we will ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself by maintaining its qualitative military edge. I am proud that our security cooperation with Israel continues to evolve and grow, enabling us to find more, and more effective, ways to keep our people safe from these threats, to allow them to live in peace.
As we read in Isaiah 32:17,
וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה, שָׁלוֹם; וַעֲבֹדַת, הַצְּדָקָה–הַשְׁקֵט וָבֶטַח, עַד-עוֹלָם
“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness is tranquility and security forever.”
In just a few days, Jewish communities around the world will be ushering in Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and with it a chance to refocus and recommit to life, to our values, and to our next generations. Afterwards come the days of repentance and Yom Kippur, and with them the chance to reflect on ourselves as individuals and nations and to refocus on the democratic, peace-loving values that form our identities as individuals and societies.
Even in our grief today, let us join in looking ahead to a better new year, a safer year, a peaceful year – and in doing all that we must to bring it about.
Shana Tova to you all.