Remembering September 11: Reflections from a Messianic Jewish Perspective
Since September 11, people have been searching for answers to some tough questions.
So we thought we’d ask some questions of our own. We interviewed several Jewish people who are not news analysts, politicians or military experts. From a student in Manhattan, to a Holocaust survivor, to a lawyer in Washington, D.C., they all come from different walks of life.
But they all have at least three things in common: all live in the United States, all believe in Yeshua, and all have indomitable hope…
J. Vera Schlamm, M.D.
Occupation: retired pediatrician, Southern California
(Vera is a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, the notorious Nazi concentration camp.)
On September 11, a friend called me early in the morning to tell me about the terrorist attacks. She wanted to warn me about what was happening, because she knows how this type of thing affects me. At first my body responded like it typically does when confronted with a frightening situation. It was very reminiscent of how I had reacted during the Holocaust, when even the ring of the doorbell filled me with fear. The first few days after the attacks, it was hard for me to be alone, especially at night. I was reminded of when I was separated from my family during the Holocaust.
I found it hard to believe that life could go on as normal. I think that is a natural human response to any great loss. I started praying specifically about my fears and reading a lot of Psalms, such as 27, 46, 78, 91 and others, before I went to bed. In a few days I was able to exchange my fears for a renewed trust in God and his sovereignty.
Because of my faith in Yeshua, I know I can give all my anxieties to the Lord. I have seen him work good in even the most tragic of circumstances. After all, the Lord is the one in control.
As for my part, I feel a need to forgive. Just like I had to forgive the Nazis, I think we have to forgive the individuals who perpetrated this crime. This does not mean that we should not go after the terrorists. People often confuse forgiveness with absolution. When I forgive it means that I don’t personally hold a grudge against a person; rather, I let the Lord take care of it. Again, this does not preclude anything our government might do. After all, I know God can heal all our diseases, but he often uses doctors for his purposes.
In the wake of this tragedy, many people are saying, Life will never be the same again.” Life is never really “the same” from one day to the next. Evil exists. It is the opposite of good, and therefore opposed to anything God stands for. Like the Holocaust, September 11 was an example of what evil people are capable of doing. The good thing is that as a believer in Yeshua I know the ultimate victory in this battle between good and evil belongs to God. One of my friends puts it this way: “We have read the last page of the book.” In the Scriptures, God promises that we will be delivered from oppression. As a believer in Yeshua, I have experienced deliverance and redemption from my sin. I know that the Lord will give me the grace to go through anything here on earth, and I look forward to a time when I will live eternally with God.
For those who are in pain now as a result of what happened in September, I recommend that you allow yourself time to grieve. As someone who has had to endure unspeakable horror, I want to tell you that you shouldn’t feel guilty about grieving, but don’t allow yourself to get bitter. If you have never accepted Yeshua as your Jewish Messiah, do so now, because he not only will give you assurance of eternal life with him, but he can also give you the comfort and assurance you need now. Talk to someone who knows him to help you with this.
Occupation: college student, Manhattan
As a student in New York City, my life was certainly affected in the days immediately after the attacks. I was at school at the time the attacks happened, and more than a safe distance away. But I work as a counselor at different camps throughout the year, and one of my campers has a friend who lost both of his parents. I’m trying to move on, but reminders keep coming back, whether it’s a TV special on the heroes of Flight 93, or my roommate telling me about her first day back at school after the attacks. Her school is four blocks from the site and was temporarily turned into a morgue.
It’s strange how things have changed. I have found myself looking around at other people when I laugh in public. It’s like I’m checking to make sure that it’s OK for me to smile. Everyone’s been telling us to try to get back to life as normal, and laughter is definitely part of my daily life, but I’m still not sure if it’s right for me to do this. I still feel like I’m laughing at someone’s funeral.
I’m not afraid to travel. I was supposed to travel the Friday immediately after the attack, but the airports were still under lockdown. I postponed my trip for another week and a half. When I did travel, I noticed only a few differences in security, and from my view, they were quite minor. But I found myself watching people more closely. I even thought I noticed something peculiar and mentioned it to a custodian. I believe it’s true, as people have been saying, that life will never be the same again, although it is difficult for me to see how. I am already forgetting what life was like before the attacks. It’s amazing how quickly you can acclimate to things.
I definitely think my faith in Yeshua has made a difference in my reaction to everything. In the trauma of the first few days, I had a peace in my heart that I would not have felt without my faith. I spent a good deal of time praying-for the people who worked in the Towers, their families, the rescue workers and for my own needs. I asked God how this could happen. I felt like it was okay for me to ask him the hard questions. One day I was on a bus that turned off of its regular route, because it was directly above a subway line that had received a bomb threat. Even then I didn’t experience real fear. I knew that God was with me, and that if it was my time to die and be with him, there was nothing I could do to prevent it.
I’m still not sure of the best way to bring justice for this attack. All the talk these days of war just confuses me. In my life, I haven’t known war. I didn’t ever expect to, although that was probably na?ve of me. Evil is real. It is action that is contrary to God’s will and involves deliberately hurting other people. Whoever was behind this attack was simply interested in taking innocent lives. It’s different from war, because a war is declared, so both parties are at least aware of the battle. In the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, only unknowing civilians were targeted. That makes the attack an example of evil.
And yet I’m still hopeful about all the things I was hopeful about before the attacks. I’ve really been taking comfort in the prophet Isaiah’s words in Chapter 40: 25-31. I’ve also been reading the words of Job:
“But as for me, I would seek God,
And I would place my cause before God;
Who does great and unsearchable things,
Wonders without number.
He gives rain on the earth
And sends water on the fields,
So that He sets on high those who are lowly,
And those who mourn are lifted to safety.
He frustrates the plotting of the shrewd,
So that their hands cannot attain success.
He captures the wise by their own shrewdness,
And the advice of the cunning is quickly thwarted.…
So the helpless has hope,
And unrighteousness must shut its mouth.” (Job 5: 8-16)
And I’ve also been reminded of Yeshua’s words in Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I wish everyone could experience his comfort at this time.
David Bruce Rose
Occupation: psychologist and adjunct counseling teacher, Fresno, California
Since September 11 I have had deep feelings of grief, sadness, loss and helplessness, along with flashes of anger. Often I feel drained and more tired than normal, much as I did when a family member died recently. At the same time I have a strong need to “do something” or to “make it better.”
But I am not afraid. I have laughed and found that it was all right to do so. And I am certainly not afraid to travel, or to invest. In fact, I wish I had more money to invest to take advantage of the low prices caused by the panic selling that has occurred.
Because I believe in Yeshua, I am less afraid than many people, I think. And while I certainly want us to do what needs to be done to stop terrorism, I do not desire vengeance. Vengeance belongs to God, as it says in Deuteronomy 32:35. These terrorist attacks were evil. Evil killed thousands of people God made. Evil treated God’s creation as worthless. At its core, evil is opposing God. I feel secure in leaving punishment for these acts to him.
If I could say anything to those who are hurting right now as a result of this tragedy, I would tell them, “I am so sorry you hurt. What happened was wrong. But you are not alone. God loves you and hurts with you.”
Life will never be the same again. As a nation we have learned that we are not exempt from the consequences of evil. The New Testament portion of Scripture gives us some advice as to how to respond to evil:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor…rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.…Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)
As people who find themselves in the roles of victims, we have become more guarded, cautious and angry. Yet we are also more supportive and caring than before. I see that, and it gives me hope.
I cannot help but be a bit worried about the future. I am afraid we may lose liberties and still fail to stop terrorism. Yet I am also hopeful. By making evil so explicit, the terrorists have provided the world an opportunity to confront evil, and perhaps drive it back, for now.
I also find hope in this: that whatever comes, Yeshua my Messiah will be there with me. It may sound corny, but that hope is very real. No one can separate me from him and his love. With him I can face any loss.
Occupation: attorney, Washington, D.C.
The tragedy of September 11 broke my heart. We have experienced a great loss in this country and we don’t even fully know the magnitude of that loss yet. And so of course I am sad. I am in the midst of planning my wedding, and while the tragedy has not altered those plans, I have had some concerns for the safe travel of relatives and friends. But our guests have told me that they are looking forward to our wedding more than ever. Perhaps these loved ones see our wedding as something they can grasp as a sign of hope in the midst of troubled times.
I think that my faith in Yeshua has helped me come to grips with the evil of this tragedy a little better than the secular people I know. Although deeply upset, I was not surprised by the evil I saw on September 11. I realize that evil has always been there, waiting to surface, and it continues to threaten us. Before I came to believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, I think I may have thought that perhaps the events of September 11 were God’s punishment or evidence of his absence. But now I know that there is nothing that we go through that he hasn’t suffered himself. I believe now that God is with us always, especially during times of grief and trauma. As Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my shepherd…”
In seventh grade my social studies teacher said the only things we can be sure of in this life are that we are going to die and that we have to pay taxes (or go to jail). I used to agree with him, but now I am sure of one more thing: that God loves us and is here with us even when hijackers take over our planes and skyscrapers tumble down around us. In the past, I might have asked, “Where was God in this?” But now I know exactly where he was. He was comforting the people dying in the Trade Center and in airplanes, watching over their families and loved ones, guarding the people running for their lives; and he was consoling me with a kind of comfort I had never known before. I see the attacks as a shocking and terrible plot twist on the script of our lives. I think that life will never be the same again with regard to our feelings of security and safety. Yet those of us who know that God loves us enough to send Yeshua to die for us, know this also: the terrorists can destroy our great monuments and cause us great pain, but nobody can take away our faith.
Occupation: field customer service, Richmond, California
(Oded is originally from Israel. He has lived in the United States for almost thirteen years.)
My immediate reaction to the events of September 11 was shock. It was a big surprise to see such a massive attack in America. I am accustomed to smaller attacks in Israel; I am in touch with my parents frequently, and every other day they tell me of something bad that has happened. But this was huge. At first I thought to myself, Wow, they hit two major buildings, two major landmarks. I still think a lot of people focus on the destruction of the buildings, and don’t see all the lives that were lost. Then someone told me that fifty thousand people work in those towers every day. I had no idea just how many people worked there. When the actual death toll started to come in, I have to say that even though it’s a terrible tragedy, I was again surprised and relieved that more people hadn’t been killed.
In a sense, I think people here who have no idea what it feels like to live in a country like Israel, can now understand our frustration with the world telling Israelis to restrain ourselves, and not retaliate every time there is an uprising. I think now people can relate a little bit better to us.
We definitely need to go after the people responsible for this, but our attack should be addressed to the people responsible-terrorists, and terrorist organizations. They need to be taken out, for the sake of justice, and to help prevent such actions from taking place again. Honestly, this is something we should have done a long time ago. I think people realize that we don’t have a lot of time to just sit back.
As a believer in Yeshua, the idea of terrorist retaliation for any action the U.S. takes doesn’t really scare me. I have lived in a country where we knew that any day an attack could come, or war could break out. Now, even if the terrorists come at us, I’m not worried. I will do what I can to fight and resist if I need to, but I am not afraid of death anymore. Because of Yeshua, I know where I am going when I die. If I didn’t know Yeshua was my Messiah, I would be tempted to put my trust in a strong army, or in good intelligence or superior weapons, but now I know that the only thing that I can really trust, the only thing that is constant and can be depended on isn’t the government; it is the hope I have in Yeshua. I can’t imagine relying on anything else.
Now I have hope that God’s will will be done, even in this evil tragedy. In the past I would probably have worried about what this all means for Israel’s future, but now I trust God, and am not afraid of what will happen to Israel. The hope of my people should not be in their army or government, but in their Messiah.
The fact is, none of us know when we are going to die. We can survive the tragedy and attack in New York, but sooner or later something is going to catch us. It could be a disaster, an accident on the way to work, or sickness. People talk a lot about “life never being the same again.” In a way, though, I hope it will never be the same again. If there is anything good that has come out of all this, it is that people are realizing they cannot find security in the economy or the stock market. People seem to be searching for answers in other places. And I hope these people will find that they can trust in God. Don’t get me wrong-I love life and am very happy. But I know that it is fleeting; when it all comes down, the only things that last are the eternal things.
It is good to comfort those who are suffering, and share their pain. But I would ask those who are reeling from this event, “What are you trusting in? What is your hope in?” I would really want to try and show them that the only thing that won’t disappear is Yeshua. He will never leave us; he will always be here for us. He doesn’t go away in earthquakes, storms, wars or terrorist attacks. Even if we die tomorrow or in ten years or fifty years, we can have hope in him. Because he died for us, we can go to heaven.
My bar mitzvah verse keeps coming to mind:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is in the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7,8)
What do you think? Whether or not you believe in Yeshua, there are no easy answers at times like this. We believe that to find the answers to our questions we must look in spiritual places.