In 1984, when the nuclear arms race was in speed-up mode, The Shalom Center built a sukkah between the White House and the Soviet Embassy in Washington.
We focused on the line from the evening prayers - "Ufros alenu sukkat shlomekha" - "Spread over all of us Your sukkah of shalom."
And we asked, "Why a sukkah?" - Why does the prayer plead to God for a "sukkah of shalom" rather than God's "tent" or "house" or "palace" of peace?
Because the sukkah is just a hut, the most vulnerable of houses. Vulnerable in time, where it lasts for only a week each year. Vulnerable in space, where its roof must be not only leafy but leaky - letting in the starlight, and gusts of wind and rain.
For much of our lives we try to achieve peace and safety by building with steel and concrete and toughness. Pyramids, air raid shelters, Pentagons, World Trade Centers. Hardening what might be targets and, like Pharaoh, hardening our hearts against what is foreign to us.
But the sukkah comes to remind us: We are in truth all vulnerable. If "a hard rain gonna fall," it will fall on all of us.
Americans have felt invulnerable. The oceans, our wealth, our military power have made up what seemed an invulnerable shield. We may have begun feeling uncomfortable in the nuclear age, but no harm came to us. Yet yesterday the ancient truth came home: We all live in a sukkah.
Not only the targets of attack but also the instruments of attack were among our proudest possessions: the sleek transcontinental airliners. They availed us nothing. Worse than nothing.
Even the greatest oceans do not shield us; even the mightiest buildings do not shield us; even the wealthiest balance sheets and the most powerful weapons do not shield us.
There are only wispy walls and leaky roofs between us. The planet is in fact one interwoven web of life. I MUST love my neighbor as I do myself, because my neighbor and myself are interwoven. If I hate my neighbor, the hatred will recoil upon me.
What is the lesson, when we learn that we - all of us - live in a sukkah? How do we make such a vulnerable house into a place of shalom, of peace and security and harmony and wholeness?
If I treat my neighbor's pain and grief as foreign, I will end up suffering when my neighbor's pain and grief curdle into rage.
But if I realize that in simple fact the walls between us are full of holes, I can reach through them in compassion and connection.
Suspicion about the perpetrators of this act of infamy has fallen upon some groups that espouse a tortured version of Islam. Whether or not this turns out to be so, America must open its heart and mind to the pain and grief of those in the Arab and Muslim worlds who feel excluded, denied, unheard, disempowered, defeated.
This does not mean ignoring or forgiving whoever wrought such bloodiness. Their violence must be halted, their rage must be calmed - and the pain behind them must be heard and addressed.
The lesson is that only a world where we all recognize our vulnerability can become a world where all communities feel responsible to all other communities. And only that kind of a world can prevent such acts of rage and murder as we witnessed in New York and Washington.
Instead of entering upon a "war of civilizations," we must pursue a planetary peace.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Director of The Shalom Center www.shalomctr.org