On Sunday night, we learned that Osama bin Laden is dead. By coincidence, the announcement came on Yom Hashoah, the day we commemorate the Holocaust and remember those who died at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.
As a New Yorker for more than a decade when the Twin Towers fell, I will never forget my first glimpse of the smoke rising from lower Manhattan, the air force jets patrolling the skies. Or for that matter the incredible mobilization, within hours of the unthinkable, to rescue survivors and deal with the wreckage. A few weeks after 9/11, I went down to the area of Ground Zero, saw the twisted fragments of the buildings and took in the smell of the still-smoldering open grave. There is no question that things changed in our country and in the world at that time.
Unlike the death of Hitler -- which also by coincidence was announced on May 1, 1945 -- or the execution of Adolf Eichmann, bin Laden's death does not close a chapter. We cannot feel the release of a final victory over al-Qaeda, its forces or those who share its ideology. If there is joy, it is only that justice is at last vindicated against a mass murderer. And that our nation and our leaders had the strength of our character in taking action against bin Laden. They selected a plan that, while risky for American soldiers, took account of the lives of people nearby. They gave bin Laden the dignity of a burial that he denied so many who died in his terror attacks.
About a week before Sept. 11, 2001, I was on an airplane, returning to New York. I spent the trip reading an article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled, "Bystanders to Genocide: Why the United States Let the Rwandan Tragedy Happen." In the days and weeks after 9/11, the gruesome images that accompanied the article, of the slaughter in Africa, sat in my mind next to the daily images from Ground Zero in the New York Times.
As Jews we have taught the world that the Holocaust was a crime against humanity, and an ongoing warning and lesson for the entire world. From the perspective of Heaven, the death of bin Laden is the end of only one monster. There are others still living, even still ruling, who have killed on his scale and far greater. Their victims' families, clans, and nations must not disappear from our vision even as we hope for a new, safer chapter in American history.
These are some of my first reflections as I continue to take in what we are learning this week. I will speak more on Shabbat morning.