Welcome to all who are gathered here this afternoon — fellow Americans, Israeli friends, families of the 9/11 victims and families of victims of other acts of terror, including the Bereaved Families for Peace and Justice, members of the diplomatic corps, among them representatives of countries who lost citizens on 9/11, Minister Yuval Steinitz, representing the Government of Israel, National Fire and Rescue Commissioner Ayalon, honored guests. Let me offer a special thanks also to our friends and cosponsors from Keren Kayemet Le’Israel and the Jewish National Fund — Mr. Efi Stenzler, Mr. Meir Spiegler and their colleagues.
We are gathered to remember and to honor the memory of those lost on this day twelve years ago. We also remember and honor Ambassador Chris Stevens Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods, whose lives were lost in Benghazi one year ago today. Today we remember a day that began like so many others, with rides to school and commutes to work, early flights for meetings and familiar routines with fleeting hugs and quick goodbyes. It was a normal day like this one – with a clear blue sky. But it quickly became an infamous day, one that would be filled with clouds of black smoke; a day when our nation, and much of the world, would be shaken to its core; a day when nearly 3,000 innocent people were cut down in the prime of life. Even now, 12 years later, we can each remember exactly where we were when we witnessed the horrific scenes — when civilized people the world over held each other in shock, seeing the world we thought we knew crumbling before us.
To the bereaved families with us today – from this and other terror attacks – we cannot begin to imagine the pain you’ve endured these many years. We will never fully understand how difficult it has been for you to carry on, to summon the strength to rebuild your lives.
In this heartbreakingly beautiful memorial plaza, in the shadow of the sculpture lovingly created by Eliezer Weishoff, who is with us today, we remind the families of those lost , including five Israelis: Daniel Lewin, Leon Lebor, Hagai Shevi, Shai Levinhar, and Alona Avraham — and we remind people everywhere, that we stand together – Americans and Israelis — and that even as we still mourn together, we continue to heal and to build, in a spirit of solidarity and commitment to the future.
And no people understands the pain Americans feel today more than the Israeli people. Our shared experiences with terrorism create one more link in the unbreakable chain that binds our countries and our peoples. This terrible event itself saw the blood of Americans and Israelis spilled together. While we mourn, we add our voices of comfort to the families of the Israelis murdered on 9/11: Daniel Lewin, Leon Lebon, Hagai Sheffi, Shai Levinhar, and Alona Avraham — Zichronam Liv’racha.
This year, we gather in the most meaningful and poignant period in the Jewish calendar. We meet today between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, “aseret yemai tshuva” ten days of repentance, the period of introspection. The Torah teaches that we are all created in the “image of G-d” “Betzelem elohim,” which asserts implicitly the uniqueness and value of every single human being. Therefore, each life lost represents a precious and unique individual – an entire world, who has no replacement or substitute.
Rosh Hashana is also known as Yom Hazikaron – the Day of Remembrance, and one of the main sections of the prayer service we recited last week is zichronot – remembrances – a time to remember our personal histories and our behavior towards other during the year.
Why is remembering so important? Why are we here again, 12 years later, in remembrance of those nearly 3,000 people who were killed on that tragic day? Some might ask: Isn’t it time we put this tragedy behind us? Sometimes people will say to us when we are grieving, “You must not keep thinking about the past. The past is gone. You have got to focus on the future.” As well-meaning as this advice might be, the advice is misguided. For reminiscing — recalling events, conversations, occurrences from the past — is one of the important ways that we mourn. Memory is basic to the life of human beings. We cannot stop remembering the people and their connection to us which were a fundamental part of our lives. History is an exercise in remembering – not forgetting – and the events of 9/11 are now part of our collective memory.
But remembering is also important as we think of the future we seek to build, a future without terror and a future of peace and reconciliation, a future where all our children and grandchildren can live side by side in peace, security and cooperation. This year, Rosh Hashana coincides with a critical and hopeful juncture in the search for peace in this land. We commend Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for their courageous leadership in agreeing to come together once again to negotiate, and to try to finally achieve the goal of two states for two peoples living side by side.
The United States is committed to assisting the parties and to facilitating the negotiations aimed at reaching an agreement that ends the conflict and provides peace and security for all.
As today we stand together and share in the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Israel and the United States share a deep friendship, a rock-solid security alliance, strong economic bonds, and a shared spirit of innovation. All of these are based on a foundation of shared values to increase liberty, equality, and justice for all of our citizens; to ensure security and pursue peace for our peoples; and to do what we can to help the citizens of all countries live freer, more prosperous, and more democratic lives. No country can take democracy for granted and the challenges to both of our country’s democracies never cease. We each have the responsibility to do everything possible to protect and sustain our democracies from threats to their survival, and threats from terrorism.
The choice of Israel as the first overseas visit of President Obama’s second term is emblematic of the strong and unbreakable bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel. It was an opportunity to reaffirm our deep and enduring ties as well as convey the recognition that we have a common set of interests to advance and to protect and a common set of challenges to tackle together.
Those mutual challenges include Iran and Syria, as well as successfully concluding negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Today, focus is on Syria and our determination to deter the Assad regime – which has used chemical weapons to murder more than 1400 people, including 400 children – from using such horrific weapons again, and degrading its ability to do so.
President Obama has made clear that we are prepared to use force to uphold this norm, even as we will also explore diplomatic efforts to achieve this goal. But our resolve should not be in doubt.
Meanwhile, we’ll continue to support the Syrian people through our pressure on the Assad regime, our commitment to strengthen the legitimate opposition, our provision of humanitarian assistance, and our pursuit of a political resolution that achieves a government that respects the dignity of the Syrian people.
Today, we honor the memories of those we lost 12 years ago. Although their families can never be made whole, with the passage of each year, we strive to draw strength from their memories, and, inspired by their deeds and humanity, work to build a better, safer, more peaceful world. I would like to wish everyone here a Shana Tova tikatev “v’taihatem”, May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year, and let us all hope for peace in this region.