The morning broadcaster on New York City's WINS news declared in astonishment: "Traffic on FDR Drive is at a standstill, as everybody is getting out of their cars to watch the amazing spectacle occurring at the top of the World Trade Center!"
This happened on a sweltering morning, August 7, 1974, when the Twin Towers were near completion. There was little or no security at the construction site, and the stunt artist smuggled in the rope at night, shot the end of the rope to the other tower, tightened it, and walked across in the morning. The tightrope walker was a young Frenchman, Phillipe Petit, who became famous from this, his first public stunt of such magnitude.
Most New Yorkers had lots of sympathy for Mr. Petit when the police arrested him for trespassing and disturbing the public order.
When the law and the emotions are in conflict, it can be difficult to identify the "good guy" and the "bad guy."
For the past 30 years, the world was generally ambivalent, understanding and even sympathetic at times to terrorism. The squalid conditions in refugee camps, the freedom fighters' determination, their role as the underdog, etc., all bred confusion in the public mind as to whether terrorism can or should be justified, condemned, tolerated, discouraged, or anywhere in between.
All this changed in one morning. Terrorism in its full ugly force had hit home, not in some faraway country in the Middle East. The personal self-confidence and security was shattered almost immediately. Now what? Should we no longer work in skyscrapers? Should we ban air travel? Terrorists can even plow into a stadium full of people, and wreak havoc in a flea market.
Our lives seem to be enveloped with a sense of insecurity and disquiet.
From a tremendous sense of security, affluence, self-confidence, we have fallen into a very low ebb of insecurity. Even waiting in line in a supermarket, or for a train, can be very nerve-racking experience when one loses their sense of security and self-confidence, so hard and so quickly. The anxiety is at bursting level.
PLACE AND TIME
President Bush is promising to uproot terrorism, and to go after those who support and harbor the terrorists.
It is difficult dealing with terrorism. It is an unclear enemy. A terrorist is just one person, with a small team of radicals like himself, and has many substitutes even after he is eliminated. There are no international boundaries, buildings or even specific people, when it comes to terrorism.
Here in Israel, we've tried negotiating with terrorism, and we've tried fighting them. Nothing much has helped. It is an invisible and nebulous enemy.
What can we do?
On the personal level, we need to maintain our sanity. We cannot live in a state of constant fear. Bolster your trust in God. Pray that He destroy our enemies - visible and invisible - before they destroy humanity. Our prayers should be more intense.
Be suspicious, but not paranoid. Balance the extreme fear by plunging into acts of loving-kindness and giving to others.
Rabbi Yekutiel Halberstam, Rabbi of Klauseburg (and later in New York and Israel), was a prisoner in the concentration camps. His wife and eleven children were killed in Auschwitz. He had all the reasons in the world to be in despair, depressed and be suspicious of every person. Yet, throughout the war, he helped other inmates and gave away from his own rations in order to save some starving "Muzzlemen."
Instead of capitulating to fear and depression, he garnered his strength and did for others.
After the war, when he realized the magnitude of the destruction, he did not become discouraged. To the contrary, he was so tempestuous and active. He opened schools for the refugees. He collected money to feed and dress hundreds of orphans. He went back to the camps and buried the skeletons of those that were still to be found. He came to New York and opened schools. Later, he built the Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Israel. The list goes on and on.
He did not capitulate to fear and depression, the plagues that befell many after the war. He garnered his strength, and did for others.
The terrorist's ideal is to destroy the survivors as well; instill fear in them, so that they become paralyzed and inactive. Do not let them win the war against our nerves. Caution - yes! Being petrified - no!
The attacks in New York and Washington also demonstrate that human power and wealth has no bearing on the ultimate happiness and security of the person. Let us treat all friends as equals; money, power and status should cease to be the barometer in our attitude towards others.
Ironically, on the very next day that Mr. Petit did his acrobatic and daring performance between the Twin Tower roofs, President Richard Nixon announced his resignation from office. In his farewell speech to the White House staff, the president said an extremely moving speech, "One can never appreciate the highest mountains, unless he has been in the deepest valleys..."
Perhaps, with our new perspective of recent events, we will now start appreciating all the great gifts of God. Let's stop taking, even the most common and simplest things, for granted. Let us learn to appreciate our family and friends. And start thanking God for all that He gives to us.
With the merit of good deeds, we shall, God willing, be deserving of the redemption, where a just and peaceful world will replace the fear and agony we now experience.