Jewish World Review Sept. 12, 2001 / 24 Elul, 5761

Lewis A. Fein

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'Los Angeles is under attack!' -- THE three-hour time difference between Los Angeles and New York City meant everything yesterday, September 11, 2001. What otherwise would have been the familiar but unpleasant sound of a ringing cell phone, indicating the pattern of an early riser, became a constant rhythm: first call before sunrise; second call more constant; third call less persistent; fourth call and a voice - America is under attack!

My brother banged on my door, and we tried to absorb the news. My immediate reaction, as rational as one could hope during a moment of spontaneous and insane violence, was escape. No terrorist could execute such coordinated mayhem; no madman, domestic or foreign, would possibly approve such murderous deeds. No, an evil nation had attacked America, and the full might and fury of the United States - including a nuclear exchange - would ensue.

The fear of nuclear war - a fear caused, in part, by distance and time - led this Angeleno toward escape. A frantic trip to the ATM, the hoarding of medication, desperate phone calls, planned evacuation - this was morning.

In the shadow of my apartment, residents walked past the Los Angeles Federal Building, home to countless government workers and the FBI. Few people even knew America's symbols of commerce, civilization and strength had been attacked. And then one man grieving. His brother-in-law presumed dead 3,000 miles east, and Angelenos still didn't know. Pedestrians crossed Wilshire Boulevard, having furtively inhaled a cigarette or imbibed the first brew of many forthcoming cups of coffee.

Running toward the Federal Building, I asked pedestrians if they had heard about the destruction of the World Trade Center. Then the man and his brother-in-law. Completely devastated, he observed the passersby: government employees, UCLA medical students and corporate executives, all of whom were largely unaware America had been attacked.

"These are the symbols of America," he proclaimed. Indeed, the "facts" became clearer. No nation would target and attack the vaults and fortresses of American capitalism and strength. The price - especially for the citizens of such an illegitimate regime - was too great. Rather, terrorists had planned and performed these terribly violent acts. And, no matter how passionately I suppressed the painfully obvious, America and her relationship with Israel would be attacked. Was this the price of freedom, in New York City, Washington, D.C., and even Jerusalem?

The man, his brother-in-law presumed dead, simply nodded. No militia member bore responsibility; this was not the signature of Timothy McVeigh's sick disciples. And then panic.

The man - his name forever remains a mystery - kept repeating: "They don't know yet! They don't know yet! They don't know yet!" Indeed, we didn't know yet. Solitary grief was the price of cable and the Internet, instantaneous information delivered 3,000 miles west.

Tonight, FBI agents patrol the Federal Building, armed with machine guns and other military hardware. News crews approach and photograph law enforcement personnel, capturing the heroic stoicism of duty, honor and country.

The flags still fly at full-staff, as a wholesale exodus prevented an official lowering and honoring of the nation's dead. But what the flags disguise, no Angeleno can ignore: America's largest city stands visibly and emotionally crushed, while the country's second largest metropolis, Los Angeles, awaits any future devastation.

Yet the flags still fly, as they will; as they must.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Lewis A. Fein