Israel Salutes America's Heroes

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel is saluting Americans involved in the Sept. 11 rescue efforts this week, a tribute one American Jewish leader described as a "tangible manifestation" of the relations between Israel and the U.S.

A 12-member delegation representing U.S. rescue workers arrived in Israel on Feb. 11, the five-month anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks. The Ministry of Tourism is hosting the group during their weeklong stay.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, came up with the idea of honoring American heroes in Israel. He said it didn't take more than 15 minutes to convince Israeli leaders that it was the right thing to do.

"I think it's a tangible manifestation of the bonds that unite the people of the United States and the people of Israel," Hoenlein said following an awards ceremony on Monday, which kicked off the Americans' visit.

Hoenlein noted that Israel was the first country to organize a national day of mourning in solidarity with the U.S. after September 11 - before the international day of mourning was declared - and Israel was the first country to organize a blood drive for the U.S.

"I thought that there was a way to make sure that we do not forget either the sacrifices or the common bonds that were emphasized that day, that the people of America came to understand what Israel was going through and the people of Israel identified with what the American people were going through," he said.

"I think that we [are] joined today both by positive values and in the war against the forces of evil. These people are in the forefront of that battle," he added.

The Americans, many of whom have never been to Israel, were given a symbolic red, white and blue yarmulke (Jewish skull cap) with the words 'God Bless America' on it. They also received a plaque bearing a Biblical inscription, "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor."

During their stay the Americans will meet with Israeli leaders as well as security and rescue personnel. They also will visit religious and historical sites around Israel.

"I feel honored to be brought here by the Department of Tourism, by the Israeli government, because of everything that's gone on in this country and I feel honored to represent the rescue workers from New York City," said Lieutenant Phylis Byrne, of the New York City Police Department who has worked to administrate rescue and recovery efforts at ground zero.

"What happened on September 11 brought everyone closer together and I saw that right away in New York. It was an absolute tragedy. If anything good came out of it, it's that people realized that they're all basically the same and people really started to talk to each other. It's been a different world since September 11," Byrne said after the short ceremony on Monday.

Lieutenant Rodrick Covington, who is the liaison between the New York state troopers and the New York City police department, was responsible for pulling together and overseeing the 500 state troopers who were called in immediately to help with the rescue efforts in the city.

The state troopers, some of whom had never been in New York City, were responsible for securing ground zero and the morgue, supplying canine units and bomb detection equipment, and dealing with DNA samples of remains, Convington said.

The events of September 11 strengthened the "common bonds" between Israel and the U.S., said Covington.

"I don't think that those in New York really had an understanding for what happens in this country. This is the first time that it actually struck home," he said.

"You read about it [terrorism], you hear about it, you see it on television but [to] the average person it's a blip in the news until it's that close to you."

Sgt. Major Tony Rose is one of five survivors of the attack on the Pentagon on September 11 who is included in this delegation. Rose received the army's Soldier's Medal for Heroism and the Purple Heart for his actions that day.

"I've always wanted to come to Israel, [and] would have never dreamed it would be under these circumstances," Rose said.

"This is absolutely an honor, to think that the [Israeli] people thought that much of us to bring us across the ocean and take the time to do this when they go through so much of this all the time. I think it's a real blessing," he added.

Pointing to the framed award certificate, Rose said he was really "pleased" with it.

The framed certificate, which salutes the heroism of the recipients for their "courage and valor in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," is signed by Tourism Minister Benny Elon.

"I don't put many things on my wall," Rose said. "Thirty years in the military, I put [most of them] in a box and put [them] in the closet. This will go on my wall."

E-mail a news tip to Julie Stahl.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.