It was a day that I, and all of my fellow Americans, remember – even at the age of 4. I don’t know for certain but I actually believe it was my first conscious memory. The image of my pre-kindergarten teacher, tears streaming down her face, crying in disbelief at our in-class AM/FM Radio as the news broke and the memory of my mother and late grandfather picking me up from school early on that tragic Tuesday morning are etched in me. Later in the day, my mother took our family to a local park, where we could see clouds of smoke, even from our Long Island neighborhood. I assume my experience was not too dissimilar from children growing up in the New York City area at the time and, probably, like most children, I was completely unaware of the gravity of the situation.
22 years on, it’s still difficult to comprehend. In the single greatest catastrophe ever to occur on American soil, 2,977 innocent people, from all walks of life, lost their lives in a day that will be seared into our collective memory forever. Despite the tragedy, it’s not hard to find of stories of heroics from that day, from first responders to ordinary civilians. And through it all, America persisted. The days following 9/11 were days of unity, humility, and strength. We saw compassion and kindness among us that we had never seen before. In the wake of devastation, we put all differences aside. Simply put, there was no black or white, Democrat or Republican, just American.
On the day after 9/11, I wanted to reflect on two men of note – Daniel Lewin and Jeremy Glick. Both men perfectly capture the epitome of courage and displayed immense heroism in the face of unparalleled evil. Their stories continue to inspire us daily and serve as a reminder of our resilience.
They also both happen to be Jewish.
Daniel Lewin, an American who spent much of his formative years in Israel, was the first victim of the September 11th attacks. Born to a Jewish family in Colorado, he was described by friends and colleagues as “brilliant.” Lewin served for 4 years in the Israel Defense Forces, in Sayeret Matkal, one of the elite units in Israel’s military, where he attained the rank of captain. After the army, he pursued further education with stops at Technion in Haifa before receiving his Ph.D. at MIT, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. In 1998, he was a co-founder of Akamai Technologies. Lewin’s legacy lives on today, as the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company is still around and provides web and Internet security services to its consumers. In addition to his educational and entrepreneurial achievements, Lewin was a devoted husband and loving father.
Lewin was seated in 9B, sandwiched between the hijackers. The specific details of what happened on American Airlines Flight 11, which was eventually the first plane to hit the towers, are murky. It is speculated that Lewin’s military experience and his knowledge of Arabic gave him knowledge of what was occurring. This spurred him to confront and attack the terrorists sitting in front of him not knowing there was another terrorist seated behind him, who took his life. He was 31.
As confirmed by the FBI and other records, Lewin’s attempt to neutralize the threat onboard was undoubtedly the first act of resistance that day. Lewin died as he lived – a hero, protecting Israel during his military service and attempting to protect all those onboard that day.
At the same time, Jeremy Glick was seated aboard United Airlines Flight 93. At the time, Glick, a New Jersey native, worked as a sales executive for an e-consulting company and was a husband and father to a newborn baby girl. Growing up in a Jewish family, he became an accomplished college athlete, being crowned collegiate college champion in Judo during his time at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York as well as serving as the captain for the school’s rugby team.
Since United Airlines Flight 93 had left later than scheduled, passengers were aware of what had transpired in New York City and D.C. and when hijackers took over the plane, Glick realized those on the airplane had to take charge and act.
His last words to his wife were, “We’re going to rush the hijackers.”
At 9:57, about 29 minutes after the plane was initially hijacked, Glick and a group of men revolted in an attempt to take back the plane, after forming a cohesive plan. Being so rattled by the passenger uprising, the hijackers crashed the plane in rural Somerset County, Pennsylvania, 78 miles outside of Pittsburgh. The crash killed all onboard.
To those who knew him – this came as no surprise. He was universally adored and, according to his brother-in-law, was known as someone who would take charge when need be.
Glick and his fellow passengers heroic’s that day ensured that United Flight 93 did not reach Al Qaeda’s intended target – which is widely believed to have been the White House or the United States Capitol. In turn, countless lives were spared and further destruction was avoided.
A little more than two decades have passed since the darkest day in American history. While the pain is still indescribably heavy, the memory of the victims lives on in everyone that knew them. While we still mourn those we lost, we are also consistently reminded of the bravery of many. Their names are forever emblazoned in the history of not only America but of the world. Both Daniel Lewin and Jeremy Glick serve as a reminder of the heroics and valor of everyday, ordinary Americans on September 11th, 2001. Their attempts to save lives were indeed a true test of courage in the face of incomprehensible adversity. May their memories forever be a blessing.