I spent the beginning of the week at the AIPAC Policy Conference, surrounded by 18,000 pro-Israel supporters from each side of the aisle, Jewish and non-Jewish, advocating and listening to reason after reason why the United States-Israel relationship must be a given.
At the conclusion of the conference, I visited the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. There, you learn about the journey of the Jews in this great country (beginning in 1654), and the challenges and anti-Semitism we faced throughout generations, so many years without a Jewish homeland, only but a dream.
I concluded my week visiting the 9/11 memorial and museum in New York City. It was the first time I had been to this sacred site since 2001. All my years in New York, I had never returned to Ground Zero. For the last nine years as a Rabbi, I have shared how that day as a college student in New York shaped my life. On Wednesday, as I stood at the memorial pools, I was sent back in time….Waking up to this news, sharing those difficult moments with my college classmates and friends, watching my resident advisor lose her best friend, Joshua Birnbaum, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. The museum is built under the memorial pools, literally on the spot of the foundation of the North Tower.
As you read the history leading up to 9-11, you cannot help but recognize the blatant hatred toward the United States and Israel, and the democracy and freedom that we cherish. How beautiful to hear that the two memorial pools commemorating that tragic day were in fact designed by an Israeli artist, Michael Arad, and are titled “Reflecting Absence.” That is exactly what I felt that day-absence.
Before I left New York, my parents and I ascended to the top floor of the newly built freedom tower. We looked down upon the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Standing on top of the world, in the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, it affirmed who we are as Americans, and who I am as a Jew and as a Rabbi, for we are assirei tikvah, a people who even within tragedy can find hope. We are a people who know that builders, not buildings, are what define that hope, allowing Herzl’s dream to continue to live on not only in our hearts, but in our world.
May each of us take part in that sacred building process, never taking for granted the gifts of our home and our homeland, the United States and Israel.
God Bless America and Am Yisrael Chai!