Remarks of Ambassador Daniel Shapiro
9/11 Memorial Ceremony
Co-Sponsored by KKL and JNF-USA
Emek Arazim, Jerusalem
September 11, 2016
To our friends and colleagues who are with us today in solidarity, including Israeli public officials led by Mayor Nir Barkat, Deputy Minister Michael Oren, and Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jeremy Issacharoff, representatives of the Diplomatic Corps, police officers from Israel and the United States led by Major General Zohar Dvir and representatives of the Police Unity delegation, my colleague Consul General Don Blome, and to all our honored guests thank you for coming today to offer your support and respect on this 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the United States of America on September 11, 2001.
I also want to add my thanks to Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael and to JNF-USA for co-sponsoring today’s ceremony, and to maintaining this special place of memorial and reflection. It is a testament to the bond between the American people and the people of Israel, and to our shared experience with tragedy.
The United States has many friends, quite a few of them represented here who also have experienced terror and loss, but perhaps none can identify more with our pain than Israelis. Ronald Lauder and Mike Nitzan, thank you. We are truly indebted to you.
Among the nearly 3,000 souls taken from us on 9/11 were five Israelis: Alona Avraham, Leon Lebor, Daniel Lewin, Shai Levinhar, and Hagai Shefi. There may be others present with a personal connection to one of the fallen. To all the families: we embrace you; we support you; we mourn with you; and we stand with you in your loss and pain, today and every day.
And a special word of thanks to the young people who have come today. Your presence is vital.
In fact, I want to focus my remarks today on you, on the next generation.
Fifteen years. Fifteen years have passed since that dreaded day. Each anniversary carries its own power, its own meaning. All make us deeply aware of what and who we lost, and of the responsibility that memory imposes on us.
But this year, in a subtle but unmistakable way, our remembrances mark the transition of 9/11 from living memory into history.
If we add the first three years of life, before lasting memories are formed, a young person on the cusp of adulthood today, whether graduating high school in the United States or enlisting in the IDF in Israel, has no personal memory of 9/11.
To those of us who will always remember where we were on that day, whose lives and careers were permanently altered by those events, the idea that there walk among us people who can only relate to 9/11 as a historical event, although a natural process of time, is nevertheless a jarring thought.
Those of us who were there, who heard the rumbles of the planes, who watched the buildings fall, who trembled all day and all night, not just that day, but for days and weeks after, we will never, ever forget.
Those of us who prayed for our relatives, our friends, our co-workers, and our fellow Americans, our brave firefighters and police officers who came to the rescue, we will never forget.
Those of us who could smell the flames, who breathed in the smoke, those of us who had to sweep up the debris and the ashes, who watched the searing images replayed over and over, we will never forget.
And for those of us who were sent into battle, in the weeks, months and years that followed, and for their families and their communities, we will never forget.
September 11, 2001 is a signpost in our lives, one that can never be erased.
So how do we ensure that the thousands upon thousands of stories of tragedy, of terror, of heroism, and of healing are passed on to those—unlike myself and so many of you—those who have no personal memory of that day?
How do we teach the next generation?
How do we make it real for them?
It is a question we cannot yet fully answer; a question we must ask ourselves over and over again, on this and on future anniversaries.
Yes, we can commemorate, as we are doing today, and as this memorial will do for generations to come.
Yes, we can comfort, providing what strength and support we can muster to families whose loss emanates from this day but radiates outward to affect every moment of their lives.
Yes, we can document, as the 9/11 memorial in New York is doing through its collection of testimonials, as we heard last year and will hear again today.
Yes, we can rebuild, and we have rebuilt, both in New York and at the Pentagon.
Yes, we can improve our defenses, which we have done, methodically and diligently.
Yes, we can counter the efforts of zealots who seek to carry out or inspire terrorism, as the United States has done, together with our allies, many of whom have also been struck by terror, through an unprecedented and uninterrupted global counter-terrorism campaign.
And yes, we can guard our values, as President Obama said at Fort Meade last September 11, which we do alongside our “common belief that America is an indispensable force for good around the world, and that our military is a linchpin in our ability to protect our values alongside our diplomatic efforts,” he said.
All of these efforts are important, and we will remain committed to them. But the next task relates to memory.
Have we done enough to ensure that the next generation, and future generations, fully comprehend the calamity that befell us that day, the ways it changed us, and the responsibility it imposes on us?
Israelis have repeatedly been faced with this question. They are a nation that has endured countless tragedies and more than one existential crisis, each of which shattered individual lives and stung an entire generation.
Where Israelis have excelled, and where we continue to learn from them, is in conveying the power of memory and history forward, so that each successive generation understands the meaning and the obligations that flow from events which they cannot personally recall.
Through national ceremonies, small graveside memorials, and a commitment to education, Israel plants seeds of understanding in those who were not there. The result is a people that knows how to honor and grieve its losses, but also unites in common purpose to build, to serve, to protect, and to live out its most sacred values.
Jewish tradition provides additional inspiration for our task. Each year at the Pesach Seder, we are commanded to tell the story of God’s liberation of the Jewish people from slavery to freedom. We are commanded: And you shall tell your child on that day:
והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא.
The goal is that in every generation, every person will see himself or herself as one who personally experienced the redemption:
בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים.
So it is with us today. The obligation falls most heavily on the parent to teach and to tell, but I believe it also falls on the child. So to each of you, those who do not have your own memories of 9/11, I urge you: Ask questions. Read accounts of the events. Learn the history. Visit the memorials in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Talk to families to hear about their loved ones. Honor the firefighters and police officers who gave everything to save others.
But, mindful of the obligation of the parent, I will also do my share of the telling.
I want you to know about the fear that we experienced that day, not knowing from where the attacks came, or what more might be in store.
I want you to know about vulnerability we felt, the shattering of our sense of innocence and sense of security, which, to my regret, we have been unable to fully restore and to provide to you.
I want you to know about the deep, heavy sadness, a sorrow that I have never known, that hung over our nation for weeks and months as the enormity of our losses and the pain of the families sunk in.
But I also want you to know about some other, more surprising things we felt, some drawn from my own story. On that day, I was at work on Capitol Hill, which we learned later was the likely target of the fourth plane, United Flight 93. Once the passengers and crew understood what was happening, and what had already happened on the other doomed flights, they courageously fought back and, against all odds, managed to steer our nation away from further tragedy. Even as they perished and their families suffered irreparable loss, they saved others.
I might have been among those they saved.
So in addition to pain and loss and fear, I, and so many Americans experienced incredible gratitude. Each year, I try to spend a little time with heroes of Flight 93, whose names are etched on this memorial, to thank them. Others have similar stories of inspiration about first responders, colleagues, ordinary citizens, and later, the men and women of our military, who served and gave and even died to keep others safe.
The bravery and service and spirit that was exhibited throughout these events continues to inspire us to seize every moment to do and give and serve and build.
As Rosh Hashana, the new year, also known as Yom Hazikaron, or the Day of Remembrance, approaches, let us use the power of memory, whether our own or those passed down to us, to inspire us overcome tragedy and loss and build a brighter future and a safer world.
Thank you and Shana Tova to all of you.