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9/11: Remember their names. Remember their faces

I am committed to recognizing each and every life that was cut short on September 11, and I call on you to join me in remembering those we lost
Photomontage: Foreground: Shai Levinhar on left and Alona Avraham, both killed in the 9/11 attacks. (Photos courtesy of familiy); Background: The twin towers of the World Trade Center burn September 11, 2001, after hijacked planes crashed into them in New York as part of a plot by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff, File)
Photomontage: Foreground: Shai Levinhar on left and Alona Avraham, both killed in the 9/11 attacks. (Photos courtesy of familiy); Background: The twin towers of the World Trade Center burn September 11, 2001, after hijacked planes crashed into them in New York as part of a plot by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff, File)

Losing a loved one is difficult. As we grieve, we reflect on their life and legacy and the impact they had on our own story while committing to keep their memory alive. However, when confronted with a mass casualty event, it can be difficult to comprehend the many hundreds, or thousands of lives lost. Yet, we must.

Nineteen years ago today, the world came to a halt as humanity witnessed the loss of 3,000 innocent souls at the hands of pure evil. It was as overwhelming as it was unfathomable.

Today, there is a new generation that did not wake up like us on September 11, 2001, to see the World Trade Center towers collapse before our very eyes. Yet, today’s millennials aren’t shielded from such imagery. In fact, with the advent of social media, citizen journalism, and the hyper-news-cycle, our children are perhaps confronted with more images and footage of death and destruction than we even saw on the nightly news.

In an age where it is possible to become desensitized to world events, we must remember that behind every victim is a face, a name, and a family.

This year, I am thinking about the memories of Shai Levinhar and Alona Avraham. Two bright-eyed Israelis who were pursuing their hopes and dreams in America.

I didn’t personally know Shai or Alona, yet, in hearing their mothers recount their stories, as a father, I can empathize with their stories.

Yehudit Levinhar, Shai’s mother, recently recalled how her son worked at a subsidiary of Cantor Fitzgerald on the 103rd floor of the North Tower. The way that Yehudit talks about her son, you can tell that, at just 29 years of age, he had already given her so much “nachas.” He was a brilliant student with an IQ of 160, yet his mother noted how he also had a gentleness and humility that allowed him to be an empathetic, unifying figure within his workplace.

Alona’s story, as told by her mother, Miriam Avraham, is no less emotional or moving. At 30-years-old, Alona was her oldest daughter. In reading Alona’s story, I learned that she hadn’t even planned to be in Boston when she boarded that fateful flight. Rather, she was meant to be on her way to Australia to join her friend for a trip of a lifetime. Yet, they had decided to cancel the trip.

Alona’s mother recalled how her daughter was an independent and hard-working industrial engineer. Their family had originally made aliyah from Mumbai, India. Alona had moved to the US to try to gain some sense of respite from the Second Intifada, which was raging in Israel at the time.

Both Shai and Alona’s mothers were just going about their daily lives when they heard the news that would change their lives forever. Shai’s mother was in her office at Bank Leumi, when the HR manager pulled her aside and explained that the first tower had been hit — knowing that Shai worked in the building.

Alona’s mother was getting ready to go to a family celebration, when, at 4:00 pm Israel time, she received a call from her nephew, who told her to switch on the television. She saw the second plane fly into the building.

Today, I honor Shai and Alona’s memory. I didn’t know them. I have never met their families or friends. Yet, I am committed to recognizing each and every life that was cut short on September 11.

Around a decade ago, Jewish National Fund-USA and KKL, through the vision of our board member, Edward Blank, established the 9/11 Living Memorial, located in the foothills of Jerusalem. It is the only memorial outside of the US that includes the names of every victim who perished during the attacks — an enduring reminder of the names behind the numbers.

Importantly, surrounding the memorial are hundreds of trees that were planted as a reminder that, in the face of darkness and destruction, we must rededicate our mission to the pursuit of life and living.

As we remember the tragic events of that fateful day, I call on you to find a name and learn about that person’s story, family, and the legacy that he or she left. In doing so, we will ensure that 9/11 continues to serve as an enduring reminder of our nation’s resilience and commitment to the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

About the Author
Russell F. Robinson is JNF’s chief executive officer. Under his leadership, JNF has developed successful far-reaching programs that play a significant role in the quality of life for all Israelis, such as community development, environmental work, sustainable development of the Negev, and solutions for Israel’s water crisis.
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