9/11 Stories

Steve Featherstone

My thoughts and prayers are with every Israeli. I wrote the following before the recent attacks, but my message and update remain as important as ever. I thank you for taking the time to read it. I tried to keep it short (two pages; 1097 words).

What a wonderful trip I had to Israel last month! I visited (in chronological order) Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Yaffo, Haifa, Akko, Cesariya, Rehovot, Holon, the Dead Sea at Einbokek, Kibbutz Ketura, Moshavim Yinon, Bait Yitzhak, and Herev Leat, Qiriat Gat, Safed, Rosh Pina, Tiberias, and a good portion of the Ramat ha Golan (Heights). I saw friends and family I had not seen for extended periods (one to over 11 years), and made some new friends along the way.

I went to Israel with my aunt and uncle after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because I did not feel well inside my heart and soul. I looked forward to seeing my cousin, who has been traveling for two years. I also wanted to travel by air once again and support the world economy, to keep it free (so to speak). My desires also included prayer, healing and having some real fun. After a shaky start, I accomplished all those goals.

When I landed in Israel, and transferred to Tel Aviv, it was very early in the morning, and the beginning of a very long day. The hotel was great, the sea and sand were wonderful, and we all were physically fine. I was not “right” though. I met an old and dear friend for lunch, but my head and heart were still back in scarred New York; Israel seemed to have lost the entire luster I remembered so well. “You are not here yet,” my aunt said to me, “tomorrow we go to Jerusalem.” We did, and as we entered the old city and made our way through the now hauntingly empty Arab shuk, the lump in my throat grew as I knew the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, the Kotel was nearing.

When I first viewed the Wall, from afar, on the rooftop of a school in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City where children were playing soccer, I thought back to the last time I was there, more than 11 years ago, and realized that I had been away for too long. I stopped to photo, to do something, to slow down, before the inevitable sobs. We all split up, and I approached the Wall alone. I had not yet written the note of prayer and remembrance, customarily placed in one of the many cracks and gaps between the large stones comprising the Wall. I sat down in the plaza, opposite the Wailing Wall, and took out my pen and paper. As I looked at those implements, my hands began to shake, and my vision grew gray. How to write about anything after watching the Twin Towers fall, and knowing the suffering induced by people who hate me, because I am free to write this to you? I began to weep and sob. I rocked back and forth and knew that God had not abandoned me, but rather that God was letting me heal, right then and there, in His presence.

I wrote my note, through a cloud of tears. I cried and cried, softer now, but steady, like after the thunderstorm has passed, but the rainfall has not stopped. When I finished the note, I took a reality check with my family, as we posed together for photos as joyful tourists visiting our most holy place. It felt right to do something familiar and memorializing. After a short time, I went to the Wall, kissed it, prayed, placed my note, and cried some more. As I walked away from that place (knowing that, God-willing, I would return there before I left Israel – I did), my feet fell an inch above the ground. Such was the weight lifted from my shoulders. I had been carrying the weight of the Trade Centers on my back for more than a month, and after that visit, God only left me with enough of a burden to remember, until the day I die, what I witnessed on September 11, 2001, and do everything I can do to ensure it never happens again. Boy did I fell better.

Israel is a safe place. I spoke to many Israeli people, and found that Israelis generally support and love Americans. They believe us to be their brothers, and comrades – now even more so. They cannot understand why they get so much bad press and pressure after they defend themselves from terrorist attacks. Israelis are also hated by many people. I did not feel the warmth and hospitality I remember from the Islamic Arabs in Israel. Of course, I had visited Israel last before the Intefadeh began, and then resurrected last year. The Druze and Catholic Arab Israelis like Americans in general, and do not get on so well with the Moslems. It is all such a long-enduring and complicated problem. My Israeli “uncle” summed it up before I left, when he told me to tell my fellow Americans that times in Israel have been better, but that things are OK, and not to be worried for them, but instead, come to visit, and of course break bread.

After witnessing the destruction on September 11, 2001, I do not believe I am any safer here in New York than I was in Israel. I will not leave New York City though. I take a lesson from the Israelis. I stood outside Pacha nightclub in Tel Aviv one Friday night at 2:00 am with my cousin Michael, and laughed with him at the scene of hundreds of young adults waiting to enter, exiting or just hanging around. A place where a suicide bomber had killed so many people one Friday night not too long ago. I walked passed and made up part of the hustle and bustle of city center Jerusalem at the intersection of King George and Jaffa Streets, where another suicide bomber had killed so many eating in the Sbarros Italian fast-food restaurant. I had just partaken in a lovely schwarma sandwich at an old favorite place of mine (still there, whew), so I did not join the dozens of people in the Sbarros. Instead, I take a lesson home. Rebuild, live, do not forget, and do everything you must to ensure that it never happens again.

That is my message. Thanks for letting me share it with you.