In the late 1980s, the 100-minute routine of driving to a Long Island Railroad station near my home in Suffolk County, riding the train into Penn Station, and then riding the subway from there to a station near my office in Lower Manhattan – and reversing the process to return home in at the end of the workday – was a daily routine, but after handing in my badge to the IRS and starting my own solo law practice, excursions into Manhattan became less frequent.
On September 10, 2001, after completing an otherwise eventful day in Manhattan by judging a Moot Court competition for students at the New York Law School, I walked down West Broadway towards the Chambers Street subway station to begin the trek back home. In the sunset, I admired the iconic Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. I had been inside each of those Towers many times.
The next morning, the Towers were gone. Nothing in America remained unaffected by the ensuing chaos. My wife and I had previously been subject to criticism (and even reproof) for giving our young son a cell phone, but for a while he was riding the Long Island Railroad to a Jewish day school in Queens every day, and we wanted him to be able to contact us in the process. Following September 11, 2001, the disapproving remarks magically desisted; our son’s cellphone was operational because the service provider had not used the antennae that had been atop the World Trade Center towers, so we were able to communicate with him during the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack.
Nature abhors a vacuum. New York’s then-governor, George Pataki, was slow out of the starting blocks in handling the crisis; the leadership vacuum was filled by New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who, for all of his many flaws and shortcomings, understood that there was a war to be fought, and promptly picked up the microphone that had been Pataki’s to use had he chosen to do so. Rudy Giuliani appreciated the role of public relations and propaganda in fighting a war, more so than Pataki and, in many respects, than President George W. Bush.
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Israel quickly established operational leadership to coordinate its response to what was the worst terrorist attack in its history (and indeed, the most deadly event day for Jews following the Holocaust), but that is not good news. As with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America, the October 7 terrorist attack upon Israel created many vacuums as the entire country regrouped and redirected itself. The leadership vacuum created was almost instantaneously filled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mainly because he was the person who happened to be closest to it at the moment, happened to have had some experience and expertise in dealing with the specific enemy, and who happened to have had no rivals postured better to fill the vacuum.
Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Rudy Giuliani before him, Bibi Netanyahu has delusions of grandeur; he has convinced himself that he is the only person who is capable of providing Israel and the Jewish people with the leadership they need at the moment. [To be fair, Donald Trump arguably exhibits similar overestimations of his own essentiality.].
Quite frankly, I personally cannot at this time think of anyone who is better suited than Bibi at the moment to take the figurative driver’s seat, but the one lesson I learned from the Kennedy assassination was that nobody is indispensable. Although the United States under the Lyndon Johnson administration turned out quite differently than it would have had JFK continued at the helm, the country continued to operate. Netanyahu carries personal baggage that may impede his decision-making processes in further doing what needs to be done in responding to the terrorism attack.
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My analytical competence and skills have been confirmed, but that is not good news. In a blogpost on these pages a little more than a year ago entitled “It all centers upon the university campus,” I concluded that “[t]he situation in America and elsewhere in the Diaspora, then, is in many respects potentially at least as dangerous as in Germany during the 1930s. And it all centers upon the university campus.”
The incidents of physical attacks upon Jewish students on college campuses that were isolated and relatively rare just 10 years ago have now exponentially multiplied as the atmosphere on the universities becomes increasingly charged and hostile to Jewish students, and has even come to explicit death threats which the college administrators are at a loss to control. The hostilities at the college level are now percolating down to the high schools. I would have preferred to have had my fears debunked.
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I was very relieved to discover that I had confused the Mark Rothenberg who was aboard the Flight 93 airplane that crashed in Shanksville on September 11, 2001 with Mark Rothberg, an attorney with whom I had had a case a few years earlier, but that was not good news. Mark Rothberg the lawyer and I had represented different sets of co-defendants in the litigation, and cooperated together quite well to bring the case to settlement. It was most heartening to know that he was not a terrorism victim in that lethal crash. But the Mark Rothenberg who died an apparently heroic death aboard Flight 93 had friends and family who had to deal with the trauma of his murder and no doubt are compelled to continue to do so.
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Following October 7, 2023, I have received daily inquiries from friends and relatives in America and elsewhere as to how my family and I are faring here in Israel. We have been functionally unscathed, but that is not good news. The past few days have come and gone without any incidents of note in my city of Petach Tikva; everyone goes about their daily scheduled routines (with the understanding that everything can rapidly change without notice). As I compose this, I have just returned from a shopping excursion at the little malls down the street a few hundred meters, and they are bustling with their usual activities. But a threat of the sirens sounding is constantly present.
And many people who have been affected simply cannot join in with the otherwise happy social atmosphere that pervades the streets. The readers of this post have no doubt seen the graphic descriptions and photographs of the terrorists’ rampages; I shall not now describe them anew. And even the most cheerful of the persons sitting at the tables of the malls’ sidewalk cafes know people whose friends or relatives are victims of a terrorist operation which conclusively establishes that there is no lower limit to the depravity level of the subhuman perpetuators; those who have attended funerals know not to ask the burial society personnel about the gruesome particulars of how they prepared the decedents’ bodies for burial.
My family and I are safe for the moment, but that is not good news because our safety may disappear in the blink of an eye as the situation continues to worsen, as the news of further atrocities comes to the fore, and as the United States continues to pressure the Israeli government to make concessions which Israel knows (and the international community intentionally ignores) can only assist enemies who intend to continually reprise their atrocities.
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The closest thing to good news that we have had of late has been the good wishes and expressions of our friends abroad. Please continue to pray for us. Please continue to express your concern for us. Please continue to put in good words for us in your social media postings and comments. Please continue to let your government officials know that you are on our side. Please continue to question the feeble efforts of the college administrators who tolerate acts of hatred on their campuses.
Please understand and appreciate that the situation here in Israel is in many respects more dire than the situation in America after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Because we in Israel are toughing it out as never before; even as we do so on our own behalf we maintain great concern for those of you in America because you now are at risk! There is visible Hamas support in America, if not actual Hamas operatives. And that is not good news.