A half-hour Zoom gathering Friday sponsored by Jewish National Fund and The Weber School took place around the same time 19 years ago that two planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York, another into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth into a field in Shanksville, Pa. The day forever changed the landscape of America, revealing its vulnerability.
On Friday, about 150 people tuned into the online 9/11 commemoration as Weber school students recounted the 102 minutes between the Twin Towers collapsing. The student council members alternated noting the times of the tragic impacts, 8:46, 9:03, 9:37, 10:03 and 10:28 with stanzas from Psalm 90, intended to “give hope to the existence and purpose” of mankind, according to student Jolie Abadi.
The Zoom event reflected the common frailty of life during the Holocaust, 2001 and 2020. For starters, the program paid tribute to the first responders of 9/11, New York City police and fire departments, with a moment of silence.
While honoring the lives lost, Abadi urged viewers to also reflect on “how we can build a better more unified and peaceful world.”
Students from Weber’s Rams for Israel club described the JNF 9/11 memorial in Jerusalem. Then they honored local responders, Sandy Springs police and fire departments. JNF gave a plaque to Fire Chief Keith Sanders a week ago and Police Chief Ken DeSimone Friday. The Weber School and other Jewish day schools are located in Sandy Springs.
Student Maggie Deutsch explained that Weber didn’t want to just dwell on the tragedy, but would be collecting tzedakah over the next two weeks in its own national days of service to provide meals for a local police department. 9/11 is typically a national day of service, Deutsch said.
One of the highlights of Friday’s program was when DeSimone shared his personal experience with 9/11. He was a police detective in Charlotte, N.C., assigned to the FBI joint terrorism task force that investigated Hezbollah, based in Beirut. “I was very familiar with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.” DeSimone explained that he was assigned to the FBI taskforce because of his military reserves experience. “I spent about half of my life away from my friends and family deployed oversees either in Iraq, Afghanistan or North Africa, West Africa.”
DeSimone described 9/11 as a “tragic day, but as Americans, we are strong, we are resilient, and we’ve got a long memory.”
He said he and many of his senior staff have been through the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange program, founded by Robbie Friedmann, who attended the Zoom program. The training “allows us to provide better security for the Jewish community here in Sandy Springs and we’re more sensitive to threats of the Jewish community,” DeSimone said. He also recalled a fellow reservist who was killed during 9/11 at the Pentagon while sitting at his desk. To put a name with the tragedy, DeSimone told the students to look up Lt. Col. Bob Elseth, who was 37 at the time, leaving a wife and child.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul discussed the ties of his city with the Jewish community and Israel, where its sister region Western Galilee is located. Paul said he’s been to the Jewish state three times and noted how 15 percent of Sandy Springs is Jewish and the majority of Jewish day schools are located in the city. He spoke about Israel’s constant terror threats and compared 9/11 to the Holocaust. “Just as we remember the Holocaust, we also have to say about the events of 9/11, ‘Never Again.’”
One of the only known 9/11 memorials outside of the U.S. listing all the names of the victims is located in Israel. A video of the JNF memorial in Jerusalem was shown and Anat Sultan-Dadon, Israel Consul General to the Southeast, elaborated about the 300-foot high American flag folded into a flame. A metal shard from the Twin Tower ruins is incorporated into the base of the sculpture, she said.
The monument “reflects the shared values between Israel and the United States and our everlasting commitment to standing together in solidarity and in unity for peace and against terror.”
The memorial has been expanded to include a section for those who perished in the Pittsburgh massacre, according to Marnie Nadolne, of JNF Israel Programs. Israel honors 9/11 with a solemn annual ceremony at the JNF Living Memorial Plaza attended by the prime minister and president, Nadolne told the AJT.