Fifteen years ago today, my friend Danny Lewin was murdered by Jihadi terrorists aboard American Airlines Flight 11. He was 31-years-old. According to the 9/11 Commission, Danny was stabbed by one of the hijackers seated directly behind him. The commission speculated that this may have occurred during an attempt to confront one of the terrorists in front of him, not realizing that there was an additional assailant just behind him. I knew Danny well; there is no question in my mind that he fought the terrorists on Flight 11. His DNA was hardwired that way.
Our family moved to Israel in the summer of 1984. We arrived directly to the absorption center in Mevaseret Zion outside of Jerusalem. The Lewins arrived shortly before us. Danny and I immediately become close friends. We played in a rock band together, worked in a pizza place together, explored the old city of Jerusalem together, traveled the country together, etc. I remember the night that Danny met his wife. I remember how they danced. It took him about 30 seconds to forget that there was anyone else in the room.
Danny’s murder was my first experience in mourning. It felt like a private matter, and I resolved to keep it that way. Over the years, I have declined numerous interviews about his life.
Much has been written about Danny over the past 15 years; most of it quite accurate. Danny was indeed larger than life: smarter, stronger, more driven, more charismatic, and more energetic than anyone that I have ever met. He had an IQ so high that it probably could not be measured and enough testosterone to fuel an entire professional football team. Danny was both a titan and a brontosaurus packed into one powerful package. His achievements attested to this: an officer in the Israeli Special Forces, top of his class at the Technion and MIT, and a technology entrepreneur who built Akamai Technologies into a multi-billion dollar company that made the Internet faster and more reliable.
After my father, Richard Lakin, was brutally murdered by Jihadi terrorists on a public bus in Jerusalem 10 months ago, I decided to revisit my decision to mourn privately. The spread of terror is not a private issue, it is a public issue; a very real threat endangering the future of our Western Judeo-Christian way of life. I came to understand that victims of terror become public figures in their death — even if this is not comfortable for their families and friends. Their storied must be told, and their memories must be memorialized, in a very public way. These stories personalize the threat of terror, highlight the cardinal importance of the challenges that we face, and force us to address them.
Although Danny’s public legacy is fairly accurate, there is a piece of the story that has not been emphasized enough: Danny was an ardent Zionist who was dedicated to the State of Israel. Although circumstances found him in Boston, Danny yearned to return to Israel.
During 2000, I went to visit Danny in Boston. We took a long walk along the Charles River and had lunch at a little Cuban restaurant. After lunch we stood outside looking up at the Akamai Building. Danny had taken over one of the MIT buildings and made it Akamai’s headquarters. He was reveling in his power — the lightning bolts were shooting from his eyes — anything was possible. We spoke of the future: Danny’s future and the future of the State of Israel. We had a long conversation about the need for electoral reform in Israel, which we both viewed as core to the country’s long term survival. We talked about how the current electoral system renders the government almost dysfunctional, and how we expected this problem to get worse. I was concerned. Danny had a solution: Eventually he would return to Israel, we would set up a political party, and he would become Prime Minister. It’s simple he said, I will spend hundreds of millions of dollars of my own money on the election campaign, we will win an absolute majority in Knesset, change the electoral system and then get to work dealing with all of the other challenges facing the country.
Danny spoke with a level of obstreperous conviction that only he could stoke up. I have no doubt that if he had not been murdered on 9/11, Danny would have eventually returned to Israel, and he would have become Prime Minister.
Fifteen years ago today I lost a dear friend. The State of Israel lost a leader.
I miss you, buddy.