Looking back on the 20 years since 9/11, what is the most important human rights lesson you draw from the American response to those attacks?

Becky Jaye, Rabbinical Student

“(11) Because God has disarmed and humbled me, they have thrown off restraint in my presence. (12) Mere striplings assail me at my right hand; they put me to flight; they build their roads for my ruin. (13) They tear up my path; they promote my fall, although it does them no good. (14) They come as through a wide breach; they roll in like raging billows. (15) Terror tumbles upon me; it sweeps away my honor like the wind; my dignity vanishes like a cloud.”  -- Job 30:11-15


On September 11, 2001, I was with my seventh-grade gym class in a Coney Island public school. 

It is an understatement to say that the world-entire changed that day. Witnessing my friends suddenly become orphans was a stark reminder of the ephemeral nature of life, making me feel small in the vast universe. 

This feeling of smallness reverberates strikingly in the Book of Job. As readers watching Job’s mounting tragedy, we also face our own powerlessness. 

Not two months after 9/11, the Patriot Act was passed, limiting individual Americans’ right to privacy in an endeavor to fight the “War on Terror.” Among its goals, the Patriot Act allowed law enforcement to widen its surveillance to monitor suspected terrorism. 

As a twelve-year old, I remember the distinct feeling of safety, knowing that there was at least some way -- any way -- that would prevent another attack. 

Looking at the last twenty years, I cannot help but feel how Job’s cry has an eerie resonance today. As a summer intern for the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, I have learned of the precise intensity with which government law enforcement agencies such as ICE disproportionately surveill communities of color. Our history is littered with examples of how systems to surveill communities of color--like the FBI and Dr. King--have been “roads that have led to their ruin,” humbling whole communities by stripping them of their constitutional protections. 9/11 just allowed these age-old systems to assume new forms, and our growing reliance on technology has only accelerated the trend.

As Job continues his lament with “terror,”  I realize that perhaps the most important human rights lesson is how the terror we feel impacts us. In my most formative years, I didn’t speak up against xenophobic policies because I was prioritizing my own safety. In the comfort of my complacency and my submission to fear, I not only aided in the diminishing of others’ human dignity, but I damaged my own dignity as well. 

Hosea 14:9 states, “One who is wise will consider these words, One who is prudent will take note of them. For the paths of the ETERNAL are smooth; the righteous can walk on them, while sinners stumble on them.” Too long have we traveled roads that ensure only the racially and economically privileged reach the most desired destinations. Most times, we have been unaware that we even do so. On this anniversary, I wish to return to the day before, to begin again, to smooth those roads that may honor the righteousness of each human able to travel them. 

Becky Jaye will be ordained a rabbi by HUC-JIR in New York in 2022. Her internship at S.T.O.P. is part of her participation in T’ruah’s Rabbinical/Cantorial Student Summer Fellowship in Human Rights Leadership.

Booklet Section: Remembrance, Prayers for Healing & Peace, Meditations
Source: T'ruah