I recently traveled to the United States to visit my family. One question repeated itself when people learned that I lived in Israel: Is it safe? I heard this from Lionel, the Philippine maintenance man in my mother’s apartment building who has always dreamed of visiting Bethlehem, to Sam, the Amish dairy farmer we visited in Lancaster County who reads about the attacks launched from Gaza and was surprisingly knowledgeable and worldly for someone with no Internet, television, radio or electricity,
Many years ago I developed the following standard answer to this question:
“When I was in college in New York, I rode the subway all the time. Millions of people ride the subway every day and nothing happens to them. Yet if you listen to the news and to the image portrayed in the media you would never go to New York. The same is true for Israel. Millions of people live in and visit Israel without incident. The headlines offer a myopic view proliferating inaccurate perceptions.”
This year, however, I was struck by something different. The events of 9/11 seemed to follow us throughout our trip.
I can’t say that I felt less safe on a day to day basis, but I did feel more vulnerable.
Obviously this began with increased security measures on our transatlantic flight. However, within America I noticed a change.
My visit started in New York City where in Battery Park on September 11, I signed a beam that will be used in the construction of the National Memorial & Museum. Passing by ground zero, I saw the site of the horrific destruction and massive loss of life, across the street from where a cousin had witnessed the tragedy and one block away from my wife’s Aunt’s office. I reviewed photos from that day and relived the horror of people captured on film midair jumping in despair.
My son Shemer was very disappointed that he could not climb the Statue of Liberty since public access was closed on September 11, 2001 and has not been reopened. There are no plans to reopen it since about 1,000 people could be within Lady Liberty with only one exit. Today, this is unthinkable. Looking out on Manhattan from the crown of Liberty is something that future generations will not be able to experience.
The changes go beyond security measures. I sensed a solemn awareness of the millions of people who work for the public good, uniting people, but also recognizing the risks assumed by so many people.
I asked a cousin of mine who recently became a volunteer firefighter if he was afraid that his life was at risk. He doesn’t. He told me that he knows the guys he works with would do anything to help him and he trusts that. But then, I see the faces of all those rescue workers who did not return from answering the call. While visiting the National Liberty Museum
in Philadelphia I looked and their faces and cried. So many good people who will never hold their loved ones again because they acted selflessly.
The awareness which has surfaced and the silent majority which has now become heard gives me more hope than ever for a safer America. The National Liberty Museum is a good example of that. This museum actively educates people about liberty and works towards freedom, understanding and tolerance in an effort to remove ignorance, fear and violence. Educating school groups through seminars, it takes on tough challenges, like bringing in an Islamic and Jewish school together or inner city kids who can not even sit next to each other in a classroom.
The museum provides examples of heroes for us to emulate, those who did not stand on the side without doing anything, but acted when they saw wrongs, people in need or faced challengeson all levels – internationally, nationally, locally and personally . This includes those who saved Jews during the Holocaust, those who acted on September 11, and those who protect and serve local area residents. Heroes highlighted also include people who overcame personal challenges like James Earl Jones’ stuttering or Brooke Shields’ postpartum depression. Perhaps most important are the children recognized for their actions like the second grader who, when a girl she knew lost everything in a fire, went into her closet and gathered her own clothes to give, sparking a chain reaction of generosity.
While the events of September 11 have changed America and brought out much good, it has also brought out fear. Just as I ask people not to judge Israel by the headlines of attacks on us, the attacks of four planes used as bombs on September 11 did not prevent me from flying to the United States and we must look beyond the headlines in both countries to recognize our greatest threats.
The Liberty Museum presents sobering facts about life in America and violence in the lyrics of songs, scenes of television and motion pictures as well as video games which let our children have a first-hand virtual experience of murder. When one examines the real-life statistics, it is surprising that there is not self-censorship in the industry shaping our youth and that parents continue to support the informal education of their children by these influences which are shaping America.
I was shocked to learn that every two hours a child is murdered by firearms in the United States. This amounts to 50,000 children in the last decade – a number equal to the amont of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. Overall, in the United States, each year 40,000 people are killed by Americans using firearms: not in a war against a foreign enemy and not by terrorists.
In Israel we have started to focus more on promoting road safety, the lack of which has claimed the lives of more Israelis than all wars combined and while in America efforts like the Liberty Museum are starting to address the issues of greatest threat to America, both in Israel and in America it seems we focus on the headlines when forming policies and opinions and not on the facts which reflect reality.