September 11 and Its Aftermath


The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon seem so long ago and yet remain so fresh in our minds.

What has happened in the last three months is the shattering of the fundamental trust that underpins our daily life. We try, of course, to restore our sense of continuity. Therapists advise us to go back to our daily routines. We reassure our children that everything will be all right.

But from our long history we Jews know a simple truth: The world is a threatening place where serenity is rare and violence is rampant. And all Americans will now have to live with a greater measure of danger and uncertainty.

Still, in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, we are struck most of all by what has not changed.

Because we saw, once again, the kindness and caring of the American people. We saw the remarkable heroism of everyday men and women who met the call to serve. We saw Americans rising up instinctively to give what had to be given--contributions, blood donations, embraces, prayers.

And we saw too the deep spiritual energy of this country.

When tragedy struck, where did American Jews go? To their synagogues. We were reminded once again that the defining character of a synagogue is not its size or its budget, but whether it provides direction and meaning for those who feel helpless in the face of tragedy and death. We were reminded that our synagogues thrive because they provide us with an anchor of stability--they take the abstract ideals of Torah and turn them into tangible relationships of community and Jewish fellowship.

We witnessed as well the revival of a long dormant American patriotism. Religious people, Jews included, are wary of a blind devotion to country that can so easily become idolatry. But the resurgence of public spirit that has emerged in recent months has been very different. It has flowed from a feeling of shared destiny and an ethic of service, and has been rooted in tolerance, with President Bush setting the example and leading the way.

We are now engaged in a war against Islamic radical terrorism, the Nazism of our day. This is America's war, and Canada's war, and the war of democratic countries everywhere; it is also the war of the Jewish people. And it will not be won by appeasement, compromise, or social work. It will be won by hunting down and destroying those who seek to destroy us. President Bush deserves our thanks and our support. He has presented American policy in moral terms, saying that any country that commits or shelters terror will be our enemy. He has warned there is no quick fix. He has tried to insure that innocents are not harmed by our military actions. And he has taken on our homegrown fundamentalists, cautioning Americans not to discriminate against Arab and Muslim Americans, and condemning Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson when they tried to blame the September 11 attacks on gays, lesbians, and liberals.

The President's policies are a work in progress, and no president--even in wartime--gets a blank check. He has been right to say that in an emergency, restrictions on freedom will be necessary--not to deny basic liberties but to prevent their abuse. But some of the emergency orders he has issued erode our rights without making us safer. We believe that civil liberties are our strength, not our weakness.

But on balance, the President has acted responsibly and has caught the mood of the country. Recognizing that the campaign to eradicate the machinery of terror is of vital importance to the well-being of America and the world, we say to the President, "'Chazak v'ematz...lo tira v'lo teichat--be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid or discouraged (Deut.31:7,8);' We are with you."

THEREFORE , the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:

  1. Offer our condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the September 11 attacks, and our prayers for the safe return of those who are serving our country in the armed forces;
  2. Commend President Bush for his leadership in the war against terrorism, offer our support in that effort, and call on him to continue to conduct the war against terrorism in moral terms by, for example:
    1. Ensuring that, to the extent possible, innocents are not harmed by our military actions; and
    2. Providing humanitarian and economic development assistance to the innocent victims of the war against terrorism;
    3. Cautioning not to discriminate against Arab and Muslim Americans; and
  3. Continue to engage in dialogue with responsible representatives of the mainstream North American Muslim community;
  4. Speak out and join with others in combating Islamic radicalism. Recognizing that Islamic radicals and their allies are waging a battle against liberty, democracy, and humanity, we commit ourselves to this campaign knowing that it will not be won by appeasement, compromise, or social work; and
  5. Call on the President Bush, the American Administration and Congress, and the Canadian Parliament, and to avoid broad Administrative orders and policies which could lead to assault on civil liberties to ensure the protection of basic liberties, even during wartime, working to ensure that we not breach the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.