America will never be the same again. The world will never be the same again.
One would have to go back to Orson Welles' War of the Worlds, his realistic radio broadcast of a Martian invasion, to capture the panic this morning on the streets of Manhattan. The kamikaze bombings on Washington D.C. in an old Tom Clancy novel and the attack on Manhattan from the sky a la Independence Day are no longer in the realm of fiction.
All the metaphors used by defenders of Israel to convey to Americans the nature of the threat facing Israel - e.g., 20 Timothy Mcveighs at large, or a Pearl Harbor-style attack on the nation's capital - are no longer metaphors.
Last year on the eve of Rosh Hashana Israelis found themselves again at war after nearly a decade of being told that peace was at hand. With dreams of peace dashed, seeing no way out of the current morass, 22% of Israelis between the ages of 18 and 35 are contemplating emigration.
A year later, again in the week prior to Rosh Hashana, Americans are experiencing the same vulnerability with which Israelis have been living. Over and over they watched the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, symbol of American technological superiority and its role at the center of world commerce, crumble like a child's pile of blocks.
The strongest country in the world, protected on both coasts by wide expanses of ocean and with friendly neighbors to the north and south, America considered itself invulnerable to attack.
In a meticulously planned operation, Islamic terrorists simultaneously infiltrated four large jets, laden with fuel, commandeered the planes, and directed them at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. All the airport surveillance and electronic sensors proved useless.
For years, experts in radical Islam like Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson have warned that large networks of Islamist terror were operating within the United States. Rather than being heeded, they were vilified as religious bigots and blacklisted by prominent media outlets. America is now paying the price for elevating political correctness over self-preservation.
Societies that celebrate killing and suicide, that teach their young to sing peaens to the beautiful smell of earth drenched in blood, Pipes wrote recently in these pages, spell disaster for themselves and their neighbors. This week we learned that their neighborhood encompasses the entire world.
The full ramifications of what has taken place will not be known for months, perhaps years. That America will strike at Osama bin-Laden, and strike hard, is a given. No one will counsel American restraint and America need not worry about being accused of over reaction or of acting without due process of law when it seeks to kill bin-Laden.
But the Islamist counter response is unknown. Saddam Hussein has already cheered the murder of thousands of Americans. Will we soon realize the price of not finishing him off during the Gulf War, and learn the extent of his non-conventional arsenal - nuclear, biological and chemical?
The World Trade Center housed many of the world's largest banks and most powerful brokerage firms. No one knows whether their destruction will plunge already petering world markets toward a full-scale worldwide depression.
For Israel the immediate short-term consequence will certainly be greater understanding of what we have been facing and perhaps toleration of a serious effort to enter Palestinian Authority territory to confiscate Palestinian weapons.
Leading US media outlets such as NPR and CNN had long since dropped the term "terrorist" in favor of the more neutral "militant" when referring to Palestinian suicide bombers, on the grounds that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Tuesday, terrorists and terrorism returned to the news with a vengeance.
Nor are we likely to soon read empathetic profiles of today's perpetrators comparable to those that appeared recently in The Chicago Tribune and other papers "explaining" the acts of Palestinian suicide bombers in terms of the circumstances of their lives.
The penny has dropped that the Western world faces an implacable foe that cannot be bought off with compromises and concessions because that foe views the West's very existence as an intolerable threat. America is the great Satan not because of what it does, but because of what it is.
But will Americans retain that clarity? Or as fears grow of a new Arab oil embargo - already on Tuesday, panicked motorists caused gas prices to triple in some areas - will we see the reappearance of signs proclaiming, "We need oil, not Jews." Already NBC's Tom Brokaw has not so subtly linked today's attacks to Israeli incursions into the West Bank.
Nearly 24 hours ago, I sat down in St. Louis to write a column called "Reflections on our current situation as Rosh Hashana approaches."
I did not get far before the news came that rendered such a piece impossible. But one thought from that column has only been magnified exponentially by today's events: Our situation has rarely looked so desperate.
For those of us who believe that everything that takes place in the physical world has a root in the spiritual one, that means the pipelines of God's blessing to the physical world have become perilously blocked. Recently someone came to Israel to visit one of the great Torah giants. He pleaded for some guidance as to what we can do in the present situation.
The latter replied, "What do you want from me? Do you think I can give you a few chapters of Psalms to recite every day and that will make everything all better? Don't you understand how desperate the situation is?
"We don't just need some fine-tuning, a checklist of items to bring us up to standard. We need a complete overhaul."
May we all merit to remake ourselves from our very core this Rosh Hashana.