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Jewish Journal

10 years after 9/11, what has changed?

by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

September 7, 2011 | 2:14 pm

The twin towers of the World Trade Center pour smoke in New York, Sept. 11, 2001. Photo by REUTERS/Brad Rickerby/Files

The twin towers of the World Trade Center pour smoke in New York, Sept. 11, 2001. Photo by REUTERS/Brad Rickerby/Files

Even before the 110-story cloud of smoke cleared 10 years ago, America, and American Jews, grappled with a new desire to seek out the enemy — on the one hand to thwart him, and on the other to find out who he is, why he hates us so much and what we can do about it.

That desire has shaped a dichotomous response over the last decade — one of war, pumped-up security and more limited freedoms on the one hand, and of dialogue and a desire to open oneself up to help repair the world on the other.

Both the American government and watchdog institutions, particularly Jewish ones, increased their vigilance of Muslim extremism, and at the same time Jews challenged themselves to reach out to Muslims and to build personal and political relationships.

Often, the divergent goals of vigilance and building bridges played out within the same organization.

“Engaging people with hearts wide open, but also with eyes and ears wide open, was one of the main lessons for us and a key component for moving forward from 9/11,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

After 9/11, the Wiesenthal Center continued its vigilance of

anti-Semitism both among white supremacist and Muslim radicals, but it also created a new position, director of interfaith affairs, and founded a Web site called “Ask Musa,” which teaches basic Judaism to Muslims. The center forged relationships with Pakistani diplomats, and after the al-Qaeda bombing in Bali in 2002, it hosted a multifaith conference against terrorism there, with the Indonesian president as a featured speaker. It also held a multifaith solidarity remembrance in Mumbai to commemorate the 2008 attacks there.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a similar two-pronged approach.

After 9/11, ADL created a center on extremism that monitors Muslim radicals. At the same time, it puts out curricula and runs programs on tolerance, including a special curriculum in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. ADL has also worked closely with Muslim leadership to combat anti-Muslim bigotry and to monitor instances where local communities object to mosques being built.

Amanda Susskind, director of the Pacific Southwest Region, said this dual approach is what attracted her to the ADL, after 9/11 prompted her to leave practicing law and enter public service. She believes monitoring hatred while building bridges and tolerance is not contradictory.

“The Muslim community groups and leaders that we work with and that we support in their fight against bigotry also speak out against Muslim extremism. These are not overlapping groups,” Susskind said.

The ADL also works closely with law enforcement, offering training and serving as a resource for information on hate crime trends. Locally, the ADL created a regular meeting between national, state and local law enforcement so they can share information with each other and get information from ADL on hate crimes.

While ADL held occasional security briefings for Jewish organizations before 9/11, in the last decade the annual pre-High Holy Days security briefing has become a must-attend event among synagogue leadership.

Certainly, security is one of the most visible changes 9/11 brought to the Jewish community.

Jewish institutions had some security before 9/11 — and most reassessed after the North Valley JCC shooting in 1999 — but the new, very real threat of al-Qaeda pushed all institutions to new levels.

After 9/11, Sinai Temple in Westwood revamped its security on the 377,000-square-foot facility that serves 1,950 member families and nearly 1,000 kids in its day school, religious school and preschool.

The temple has armed guards and 90 security cameras, and only one entrance to the building, according to executive director Howard Lesner. People entering the facility during the week have to have an appointment or someone to vouch for them. On Shabbat, everyone is wanded, and all bags are examined.

Security accounts for 5 percent of the budget, and each member and student is assessed to help cover it.

Often, security concerns run counter to the Jewish impulse of creating a welcoming atmosphere. Lesner said security has been woven into the general operations — most of the guards have been in the building for years and are familiar faces, who wish guests Shabbat Shalom or Shanah Tovah.

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