The Jerusalem Post

A model life and a heroic death

Re­mem­ber­ing Amer­i­can-Is­raeli Daniel Lewin, con­sid­ered first 9/11 vic­tim


This story orig­i­nally ap­peared in The Jerusalem Post on the 10th an­niver­sary of the Septem­ber 2001 at­tacks on the United States.

Peggy and Charles Lewin had just spent an en­joy­able week in Bos­ton vis­it­ing their son Daniel, his wife, Anne, and their two sons, Ei­tan and Ita­mar.

The olim from Den­ver, Colorado, ar­rived back at their Jerusalem home on Septem­ber 11, 2001, the same day that Danny, as he was af­fec­tion­ately called, boarded Amer­i­can Air­lines Flight 11 at Lo­gan Air­port for a business trip to Los An­ge­les.

Fif­teen min­utes into the flight, the Boe­ing 767 was com­man­deered by five al-Qaida ter­ror­ists, who de­lib­er­ately crashed it into the North Tower of the World Trade Cen­ter in New York, killing all 92 pas­sen­gers and mark­ing the be­gin­ning of the string of atroc­i­ties – now known as 9/11 – that left al­most 3,000 peo­ple dead.

Three days later, Peggy, a pe­di­a­tri­cian, was on the first flight al­lowed to leave Ben-Gu­rion Air­port for New York in or­der to reach her daugh­ter-in-law and grand­chil­dren, who had just lost their hus­band and fa­ther – be­lieved to be the first civil­ian fa­tal­ity of 9/11.

No­body knows for cer­tain what hap­pened in the half hour be­tween the hi­jack­ing and the crash, but ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion As­so­ci­a­tion com­piled from record­ings made by flight at­ten­dants Amy Sweeney and Betty Ong to Amer­i­can Air­lines, as well as un­re­leased tran­scripts of ad­di­tional con­ver­sa­tions with Sweeney and Ong writ­ten down by an air traf­fic controller and held by the FBI, Lewin – a vet­eran of the IDF’s elite Gen­eral Staff Re­con­nais­sance Unit (Say­eret Matkal) – was likely stabbed in the throat by one of the ter­ror­ists, Satam al-Suqami, af­ter Lewin at­tempted to foil the hi­jack­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to his younger brother Jonathan, it was a likely sce­nario for his brother’s fate.

“Even be­fore we knew about the recorded con­ver­sa­tions, we were sure that he fought the ter­ror­ists,” said Jonathan, 39, who runs a hi-tech fi­nan­cial com­pany in Lod with his younger brother Michael.

“Part of it was his mil­i­tary train­ing, sure, but first and fore­most, it was his na­ture. He wasn’t one to sit pas­sively by and see some­thing bad hap­pen­ing and not try to get up and do some­thing about it,” Jonathan said. “It was in his na­ture to be a hero.”

An Is­raeli and an Amer­i­can suc­cess story, Danny Lewin’s path to ex­cel­lence was ev­i­dent from an early age, ac­cord­ing to his brother, even though there were a few bumps along the way. Like mov­ing to Is­rael.

“My par­ents de­cided to make aliya from Den­ver in 1984 when Danny was 14 and I was 12 and a half,” Jonathan re­called. “He was at an age when he had a lot of friends, didn’t want to leave and was very ‘anti’ about com­ing to Is­rael.”

In­stead of join­ing his fam­ily on a pre-aliya ex­tended Euro­pean va­ca­tion, he per­suaded his par­ents to let him go to Is­rael with­out them, where he spent two months vol­un­teer­ing on Kib­butz Galon along­side 18- and 19-year-olds.

“I think that typ­i­fied his per­son­al­ity: in­de­pen­dent and very strong-minded,” said Jonathan. “Af­ter we all met up at the ab­sorp­tion cen­ter in Mevaseret Zion, he was still re­ally an­gry with my par­ents, and I don’t think he re­ally spoke to my fa­ther that whole first year.”

How­ever, the two even­tu­ally rec­on­ciled, and within a few years, Danny trans­formed him­self into what Jonathan called “a su­per Zion­ist,” serv­ing in the IDF as a Say­eret Matkal of­fi­cer.

A gifted stu­dent, he later at­tended and grad­u­ated with hon­ors from the Tech­nion-Is­rael In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, while work­ing at IBM’s re­search lab­o­ra­tory in Haifa, where he helped de­velop the Ge­nesys sys­tem, a pro­ces­sor ver­i­fi­ca­tion tool that is used widely within IBM.

In 1996, Danny moved to Bos­ton, where he re­ceived a schol­ar­ship to study for his doc­tor­ate at MIT. Along with his ad­viser, Prof. F. Thom­son Leighton, he de­vised al­go­rithms for op­ti­miz­ing In­ter­net traf­fic which be­came the foun­da­tion of the com­pany they founded in 1998, Aka­mai. A great suc­cess in the late 1990s’ In­ter­net boom, Aka­mai made both Leighton and Danny, the com­pany’s chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer, wealthy men and es­tab­lished the lat­ter’s rep­u­ta­tion as one of the In­ter­net gen­er­a­tion’s chief in­no­va­tors.

Ac­cord­ing to Jonathan, his par­ents’ visit to Danny’s Bos­ton home in early Septem­ber 2001 was the first one their fa­ther had un­der­taken.

“My fa­ther was also kind of stub­born – Danny got it from some­where,” he said. “For a long time, he wanted Danny to come back to Is­rael, so he re­fused to visit him in the States. But even­tu­ally he agreed, and Danny took great pride in show­ing him the com­pany and what he had built there.”

The day af­ter say­ing good­bye to his par­ents, Danny set­tled into seat 9B in the business-class sec­tion of Flight 11 for the trip from Bos­ton to LA. Two of the hi­jack­ers, Muham­mad Atta and Suqami, were ap­par­ently seated ahead of him, and an­other be­hind him.

Ac­cord­ing to the recorded FAA in­for­ma­tion, when the hi­jack­ers at­tacked one of the flight at­ten­dants, Lewin rose to pro­tect her and pre­vent the ter­ror­ists from en­ter­ing the cock­pit. Af­ter he was stabbed, he bled to death on the floor, and two other flight at­ten­dants and the cap­tain were mur­dered. The hi­jack­ers took over the cock­pit and di­verted the plane on its mur­der­ous path to New York.

“I’m sure he acted out of pure in­stinct,” said Jonathan.

“To this day, those of us who knew him well can’t fig­ure out how only five ter­ror­ists man­aged to over­power him,” said Leighton less than a year af­ter the at­tack, dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion of the newly re­named Danny Lewin Best Stu­dent Paper Award at a Mon­treal sym­po­sium on the­ory of com­put­ing.

“Dur­ing his short life, Danny made ex­tra­or­di­nary con­tri­bu­tions to the In­ter­net and to com­puter sci­ence through his work in al­go­rithms and com­plex­ity the­ory. The im­pact of his work will be felt through­out the hi-tech in­dus­try for many years to come.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tors ini­tially couldn’t lo­cate his body, but over a year later, some of his re­mains were dis­cov­ered and are buried in Bos­ton, at his re­quest.

Ev­ery year on Septem­ber 11 the mem­bers of the Lewin fam­ily gets to­gether in Jerusalem, as they’ve done for the last decade, for an in­for­mal memo­rial ser­vice for Danny.

His brother Jonathan sur­mised that, de­spite his vast achieve­ments at such a young age, the fu­ture had only been open­ing up for Danny, a fu­ture he was sure would have in­volved Is­rael.

“Danny al­ways thought that he might like to come back and en­ter Is­raeli pol­i­tics and in­flu­ence the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion,” said Jonathan. “He had some strong opin­ions about a lot of things, and I wouldn’t have been sur­prised if he had come back to Is­rael and made his mark.”

For the pas­sen­gers of Flight 11, and for all the other peo­ple he touched dur­ing his life, Daniel Lewin’s mark is al­ready in­deli­ble.

 ?? (Cour­tesy) ?? DANIEL LEWIN is be­lieved to have died while try­ing to pro­tect pas­sen­gers from ter­ror­ist hi­jack­ers on an Amer­i­can Air­lines flight from Bos­ton to Los An­ge­les dur­ing the 9/11 at­tacks.
(Cour­tesy) DANIEL LEWIN is be­lieved to have died while try­ing to pro­tect pas­sen­gers from ter­ror­ist hi­jack­ers on an Amer­i­can Air­lines flight from Bos­ton to Los An­ge­les dur­ing the 9/11 at­tacks.

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