9/11 united local groups by faith, tears, blood - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

9/11 united local groups by faith, tears, blood

September 11th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
9/11 united local groups by faith, tears, blood

By Josh Ortega
Staff Writer

Bloodshed united the nation as it mourned the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Pennsylvania and on the Pentagon.

Last week, leaders of the Interfaith 9/11 Memorial Blood Drive tried to unite people again with a blood drive that brought together the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Phoenix, the East Valley Jewish Community Center, and the Chandler West Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Since 2015, the interfaith group has held the drive as a unifying tool for the community despite doctrinal differences.

“We’re all trying to help humanity in some way,” said Robin Finlinson of the Chandler West Stake. “And saving lives literally by donating blood is a great way to do that.”

The drive was among a number of activities organized under the umbrella of two groups, JustService and 9/11 Day, to encourage a day of service during the week leading up to Sept. 11 to honor those who were killed, injured or responded to the 9/11 attacks.

The service days were “intended to invite people to unify and rekindle the extraordinary spirit of togetherness and compassion that arose in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy,” said Jennifer Wheeler a spokeswoman for the LDS Church.

Finlinson, the blood drive coordinator for the Chandler West Stake, said the faith groups have worked together for similar events but this year is one the few times all three of their schedules have aligned.

“Whenever possible, we get all three groups together,” Finlinson said.

Along with remembering the attacks of 9/11, Finlinson said this project is one of her favorite traditions because it brings together people of different faiths and helps those in need. It also came at a time when there is a nationwide blood supply shortage.

“I just love seeing that act of kindness amplified when people get together, because more people are helped when we do things together,” Finlinson said.

Finlinson said she was a teacher in Mesa in 2001 and remembers, like many others, waking up that Tuesday morning and watching the events unfold live on TV.

While attending a former roommate’s wedding in Washington, D.C., in December 2001, Finlinson said she drove up to New York City and witnessed the destruction at site of the World Trade Center firsthand.

Finlinson held back tears as she recalled experiencing such “a sacred place” that held so much death and destruction and said she couldn’t bear herself to even take a photo.

“I wasn’t offended by those who did, but I felt like I just couldn’t because I knew what happened,” Finlinson said.

After retiring in 2005, Finlinson said she has dedicated her life to being a mom to her two teenagers, volunteering full-time and some writing and photography on the side.

Finlinson said she knows people of Muslim faith who seek to actively help people and these blood drives help drive their reputation in a positive light.

“It doesn’t matter what faith group or if they are people of faith if they’re willing to give up their blood to help save that person in a time of need,” Finlinson said.

Imam Ahmad Salman, who recently moved here from Puerto Rico, said the drive gave the organizers a chance “to raise awareness, and at the same time save lives, regardless of color and creed.”

Salman was born in Pakistan but attended high school in Canada and said he remembers watching the terror attacks unfold on TV.

After 9/11, Salman said the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was the first Muslim community ever to launch a Muslims For Life campaign.

In working with American Red Cross, the community has helped donate about 120,000 pints of blood across the country.

Salman said that although the events of 9/11 were committed in the name of Islam, the true teachings of the religion and the Quran emphasize that if someone kills a person to cause disorder in the land, it’s as if he’s killed all of humanity.

The same passage, he said, also states that if someone saves a life, it’s as if he’s saved all of humanity.

Salman said although there’s sign of hope all these years later, we still see “impatience and violence” that we must eradicate, and events such as this blood drive promulgate his community’s motto “love for all, hatred for none.”

“We need to have these events to cultivate the understanding that, although we may seem divided, we have a lot more in common,” Salman said.

Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, has lived in Arizona since 2015 and has been a rabbi for nearly 30 years.

Beyo said this partnership with the LDS church, as well as other nonprofit and faith-based organizations, has taken place long before he arrived in Arizona and its part of the interfaith work they do regularly.

Beyo said he lived in Israel in September 2001 and remembers receiving a call from his father about the initial reports of a small plane crashing into the Twin Towers.

Eventually, like many that day, he watched the second plane hit the second tower on TV and it personally shook him to his core, considering he stood inside the towers exactly one week before that day.

“If I would have been there just a week later or the terrorist who would have decided to do this a week earlier, I might not be here,” Beyo said.

Beyo became a U.S. citizen about four years ago but said back then, it didn’t matter what nationality you identified with, especially considering that people from all walks of life died that day.

“I think that everybody felt that this is an attack against democracy, against peace, against peace-loving people,” Beyo said.

Beyo said he has a “strong belief” that most Americans want to keep the unity and hold values that won’t allow extremist of any kind to tear us apart, and events like this remain a positive sign that we can work together despite our differences.

“I think that the message is a tool to be able to look past our differences, and to focus on what unites us,” Beyo said.

Chandler West Stake President Dan Shkapich has led the stake for nearly three years and said it was a thrill to continue this partnership with the other two faith groups.

“It’s a great blessing for us to come together in different faiths to have a combined focus to help one another,” Shkapich said.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Shkapich said he remembers exercising in the fitness center of the hotel his family stayed at in Littleton, Colorado, because their home had to go undergo some work.

Shkapich said watching the news that morning and recognized the “very somber” time that our worlds had changed.

“Since that time, it’s just been heartwarming, inspiring and uplifting to see how, not just America, but how the world responds to terrorists,” Shkapich said.

Through the years, America has changed but Shkapich said when we endure challenges in our personal lives, and the country as a whole, hard times and difficult moments unite us.

“We have to come together to be able to heal, and to persevere and ultimately to get stronger going forward,” Shkapich said. “So in an interesting way, these kinds of events really make us stronger, and unite us more than ever before.”

Shkapich said he enjoys coming together with other faiths to continue this tradition.

“When we have a common goal of loving one another, serving one another, helping one another. It unites us even though we may have different beliefs in religion,” Shkapich said.