Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Passenger in 9B

I like to check the Daily Mail from the UK periodically because of my interest in the EPL and soccer in general. They love to traffic in celebrity news as well which seems a regular preoccupation of the English media. Today, though, I read something which blew me away. As I believe I may have mentioned in my initial post, my worldview was turned on its head on September 11, 2001. Prior to that very moment, I believed in accommodation, the Democratic anti-war dogma, the evil tendency of Republicans. I voted for Al Gore over George Bush (what could I possibly have been thinking?) and believed, like David Gregory who had camped out in Austin during the period when the election was in question, that Bush had stolen the election. Everything changed for me on 9/11, as I knew immediately that no private plane from Teterboro had caused that level of damage on a skyscraper, and I was swept up in Bush's controlled outrage. From 1948, Islamists had threatened and executed attacks on Israel, and now the movement had grown strong enough to reach out and attack America.

Dan Lewin was born in the US and his Jewish family made Aliyah when he was 14 (emigrating to Israel). He joined the IDF and became an officer in Sayaret Matkal, an elite special forces group. After he left the military, he attended the Israel Institure of Technology and then MIT. He cofounded Akamai Technologies with an MIT professor and became a billionaire. At 31, he boarded American Airlines flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles on September 11, 2001, to attend an Akamai meeting in LA. He was seated in row 9B, near Mohammed Atta and his cohort al-Omari. It is reported that Daniel understood what was beginning to unfold that day and he attempted by himself to prevent Atta and al-Omari from reaching the cockpit. He did not know that a third hijacker, al-Suquami, was seated directly behind him, and he became the first casualty of 9/11 when his throat was cut.

Like the passengers on United 93, can we possibly imagine how we would react in similar circumstances? Twelve years after the event, I continue to react with emotions that are very close to the surface as I watch the events of that date unfold. But I've never heard the story of Dan Lewin and really knew nothing of him. This young man of extraordinary accomplishments did not seem to hesitate to sacrifice himself to try to save the lives of his fellow passengers. He could not have known what Atta and the others had planned for American 11. He had everything to live for and yet those things appear to have taken a back seat when he was personally confronted with evil. He is survived by his wife and their two sons and he has been named one of the most influential figures of the Internet age. All of that may be true, but his selfless courage and willingness to sacrifice himself to prevent harm to others will never be forgotten and should be honored by Israelis and Americans alike. He embodies what binds the countries together.

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