Meytal Wax, center, rides in last year’s World TEAM Sports Face of America 3-day bike ride from Ground Zero to the Pentagon. Israelis commemorated the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States last week in a number of innovative ways, ranging from interdenominational prayer groups, – to intimate gatherings with American folk singing – to a symphony orchestra concert.
But for a group of 22 Israeli and Palestinian disabled athletes, like 34-year-old Meytal Wax, the day was marked by hitting the road with hundreds of Americans who participated in World TEAM Sports Face of America, the second annual 3-day 435-km. bike ride from Ground Zero to the Pentagon dedicated to the 3,016 people who perished in the attacks.
For Wax – the only returning Israeli rider from last year – the two-day journey was a way for Israel to identify with its closest ally, and on a more personal note, it enabled Wax to honor the memory of her brother who was killed in a terror attack in Tel Aviv six years ago that left Wax handicapped.
“I feel that we’re identifying with the pain of Americans. I can understand them and how they feel, as I lost my brother due to terror and and I?m handicapped as a result,” she told ISRAEL21c on the eve of beginning the bike trip.
Wax, a librarian at Tel Aviv University, lost her left leg and was burned over 70 percent of her body when a suicide bomber blew up at Dizengoff Center. Her brother Assaf Wachs, a 21-year-old soldier, was standing next to her when the bomb went off and was killed.
Confined to a wheelchair, Wax said she trained last year on a hand-cycle for four months with Etgarim, the Israel Outdoor Sports and Recreation Association for the Disabled, but had difficulty finishing the ride. For this year’s journey, she trained regularly and was raring to go.
“The experience last year was amazing. It?s been wonderful to see all the riders from last year, so many of them remember me and have come up to me. It’s been like a reuinon. I’ve been training and anticipating this ride for the whole year. I’m a much better rider now, and I know this year, it will be easier,” she said.
‘For me, it’s a great opportunity to share my experiences of my own personal tragedy and honor the people who lost their lives,” Wax said. “It’s an honor because I think I can give hope to people who need it.”
For another member of the Israeli delegation, the ride was an opportunity to demonstrate that coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians is possible.
“This is a chance to show everybody we can live together,” Yoel Sharon, a 54-year-old Israeli paralyzed from the waist down, told The Jerusalem Post. Wounded as a 24-year old student in the Yom Kippur War, Sharon, an award-winning filmmaker, went on to found Etgarim.
“We are here to identify with the terror victims here in the States,” said Sharon, who is racing aboard a hand cycle. “It’s a kind of protest, to say we are here on the map and nobody stopped us, not even your bomb,” he said.
Two other members of the delegation were set of friends who met under tragic circumstances. Hillel Admoni, a 54-year-old orthopedic surgeon, and Faiz Raad, a Druse businessman, met in 1981 when Admoni, a medical resident at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, was called to the emergency room to operate on Raad who was injured while serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
Admoni, who himself lost the use of his legs in 1970 in a navy accident, had to amputate Raad’s feet, his right hand and part of his left hand. Raad also lost his vision. Last week the two planned to hand-cycle together with Raad, 42, now the father of three girls and an avid tandem cyclist.
According World Team Sports executive director, Steve Whisnant, Face of America was always envisioned to be more than just an event for Americans.
“We always knew that we wanted an international team. The reality is that somewhere in the world, almost on a daily basis, someone is waking up and dealing with an act of violence or terrorism. One region where unfortunately these kinds of horrible episodes occur is the Middle East,” he said.
While Wax and her Middle East delegation was honoring the victims on the highways of the East Coast, back in Israel there were other ways to show empathy for the loss America felt on September 11.
Israel’s firemen held a ceremony in memory of those who fell in the line of duty while attempting to rescue civilians trapped in the towers. The ceremony in Rishon Lezion was attended US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer.
Kurtzer also joined Arab and Jewish youth in lighting a memorial candle to the victims of the 9/11 attacks at an interfaith convocation of remembrance and hope, co-sponsored by the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel and Face to Face/Faith to Faith Multi-Faith Youth Leadership Program, U.S.A.
Kurtzer said that the those who died “were not victims of a holy cause but rather became holy because what happened to them.” He went on to tell the audience that “every life is precious and a gift from the creator who intended us to live in equality and liberty. This is what separates us from our enemies, who believe in neither.”
Later in the day, Kurtzer attended a memorial concert at the Hebrew University, in which Leon Botstein, the new music director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, IBA opened the
2003/2004 new season with Dvorak’s Requiem, Op. 89 (1890).
On a more down-home direction, many Jerusalem residents gathered together to sing traditional folk songs led by local entertainer Sandy Cash. Sponsored by the New York Jewish Federation, the event took place just a day after the double suicide bombings in Israel.
“The atmosphere was downcast at first,” said Rabbi Barry Schlesinger, whose congregation Moreshet Avraham hosted the event. “But we tentatively began singing together, and the folk songs we grew up with brought a comforting feeling to the everyone in the room.”