The nature and extent of our personal reactions to the tragic events of 9/11 have forged a new social reality. Those personal reactions are based on where we come from, how we have been shaped by our past experiences, and who we have become as a result.
My initial reaction, perhaps not unlike many others, was one of horror, disbelief, and outrage. It was a totally emotional response. Attempts at reason were to no avail. I cried incessantly, realizing this tragedy invoked memories of long ago. I realized that it wasn't only dealing with myself in the present, but also the little 6-year-old child of some 50 years ago who is still such an integral and indivisible part of who I am.
My mother's life was at risk since no doctor was allowed to assist a Jewish woman in labor.
I was born in a small town in Romania during World War Two. My father, of blessed memory, had been deported to a labor camp; our home had been taken away from us, and my mother, of blessed memory, and my 18-month-old sibling were in hiding in the cellar. I was born a breach baby and my mother's life was at great risk since no doctor was allowed to assist a Jewish woman in labor. The woman hiding my mother endangered her life and offered a doctor anything she owned to help my mother. May God bless this righteous women's soul.
LIBERTY WITH OPEN ARMS
My father was one of the fortunate men who returned home to Falticeni, Romania at the war's end. He immediately began extensive efforts to leave Europe and find a safe haven somewhere. Our odyssey as the proverbial wandering Jews began. Predictably, our hearts yearned to go to Israel, then known as Palestine. My family finally gained access to a boat that was leaving and we were on our way to the Promised Land.
After a long and arduous journey, we finally arrived at the shores of Haifa. I was very young, but I still remember the amazing blue hue of the Mediterranean. Relatives in little rowboats came out to greet our ship and threw oranges up to us.
The British did not want us. They had enough Jews.
But alas, the British did not want us. They had enough Jews. They had more than enough of us to meet their quota. We were not even permitted to get off the boat. The authorities turned our ship around without so much as a thought on their part as to where else we could go.
We journeyed on. Many disembarked in Cypress. My family went to a refugee camp in Italy where we waited for over a year to be sponsored for American immigration.
I will never forget the two horrendous weeks aboard the ship enroute to America. We were all violently seasick. My poor mother spent the entire trip caring for us sacrificially, trying to ease our immense discomfort and endless heaving, without regard for her own poor condition. To this day, I respond incredulously to my friends' enthusiasm for their next cruise vacation. "Are you serious," I always ask in disbelief. "Are you of your own free will, voluntarily about to place yourself on a boat?"
As our journey neared its conclusion, I was struck with my first ever glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. My memory records her unlike she appears in reality -- arms wide open, welcoming and embracing me, my family and all the tired, rejected, homeless, and those nobody else wanted or cared about.
The terrorist acts so near to this site rekindled my memories and reminded me of the precious safe haven this wonderful country had provided for us.
ONE SHIP, ONE ANCHOR
The Talmud relates a parable of a ship traveling along on the seas that comes across what appears to be a grassy island. With great excitement, the travelers disembark and make the island their home. They begin building houses, eager to finally leave the confines of the ship. They light a fire to warm themselves, and to their dismay the island flipped over -- revealing its true identity as a huge unfriendly fish. The Talmud concludes that the stunned voyagers were evermore grateful to see their old, faithful ship, still standing and available to save them.
We are never prepared for the island of security to disappear.
The impact of the events of September 11 on the world's opinion of Israel and its relationship with the United States is yet unclear. Jews have dwelled amongst many civilizations and cultures which have come and gone. Many have been hospitable to Jews for at least a limited period of time. When does the heat become too much for even the friendliest, kindliest, and most free of nations? History has shown us that we were never prepared for the fish to turn, for the island of security to disappear.
I am a patriot. In my heart, I truly love America. But my head tells me that while I am grateful, I must also be wary. We have only one ship; the Almighty is the only reliable anchor in our stormy history, and it is to Him that we must address our prayers and fervent hopes for the long-awaited millennium of peace for all mankind.