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9/11 prayer: May unity then unite us today

House of Representatives prayer, September 10, 2021

Two years ago, I had the honor of delivering the prayer in the US House of Representatives on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

My words of prayer recalled the way Americans united following the attack, across religious and party lines.  Where the terrorist plane hit the lawn on the side of the Pentagon, we created a memorial to the attack. But even more importantly, I think, is the fact that on the other side of the wall — where the plane bounced from the ground and made impact with the wall of the Pentagon itself — we built an interfaith chapel. That chapel was dedicated on September 11, 2002, one year to the day following the attack.

Some years later I would participate in a chapel ceremony where a sefer torah — torah scroll — would be completed and dedicated, for use during Jewish services.  The Ark within which that torah scroll is housed was made in Israel.

When we dedicated that scroll, I remarked that the Pentagon has five sides (a well-known fact), 5 floors (a fact not so well-known), and now, thanks to the sefer torah, the world’s five most important books.

The day of the attack, America’s congressional leadership gathered on the steps of the Capitol.  Side-by-side, they first joined in silent prayer, and then, together, sang God Bless America.

I offered that 2021 prayer during the High Holy Days.  Now, on the eve of the 22nd anniversary of the attack, Rosh Hashanah is less than a week away.  My prayer noted that the High Holy Days are sacred to us as Jews — but that now, after the attack, the memories of our united response to the attacks…the memories of the heroism and sacrifice of those who came together to save and comfort others in the face of those attacks…would make these days forever holy to all Americans, regardless of faith. Perhaps, in a larger sense, holy to all who take a stand against terror and for freedom, around the world.

I am proud to share the prayer I offered two years ago in the House. As we commemorate the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — and our response to them — and as we celebrate the hope of better times in the year ahead, I pray again, with all my heart, “may unity then inspire us now.”

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Almighty God, Twenty years ago today, an era ended: the pre-9/11 world.

Twin towers stood. No deadly Pentagon attack. No civilian airline passengers, crew, had sacrificed their lives to protect the Capitol from attack.

Next day, our world forever changed.

High Holy Days now challenge Jews world-wide: assess, atone, improve.

But regardless of religion, Americans now share holy days, blessed by memories of the righteous, who kept faith alive.

Terrorists did their worst. We responded with our best: heroes sacrificed, rescued, healed, then we united to rebuild, as we must unite today.

Where the Pentagon was stuck, we built a chapel — interfaith.    Our beliefs attacked, we celebrated unity, diversity, and hope.

Day’s end, leaders gathered on Capitol steps. Democrat, Republican, side by side. Silent prayer, then God Bless America, they sang.

May unity then inspire us now, heeding America’s Liberty Song:
“Join hand-in-hand, brave Americans all; By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.”

And may we say amen.

About the Author
Rabbi Resnicoff is a retired U.S. Navy Chaplain, former National Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, Special Assistant to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force for Values and Vision (with the military equivalent rank of Brigadier General), and Command Chaplain for the United States European Command -- at that time, the "top chaplain" for all U.S. forces in 83 countries, spanning 13 million square miles. His Naval career began in the rivers of Vietnam followed by Naval Intelligence in Europe before rabbinical school and ordination. Part of a small group of Vietnam veterans that worked to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he delivered the closing prayer at its dedication, and personally convinced the US military to participate in the U.S. Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust. He was the first chaplain to teach at a U.S. military war college: "Faith and Force: Religion, War, and Peace," Naval War College, in Newport, RI, where he was also a frequent guest speaker at the annual “Ethics and Military Leadership” conference he helped create. His numerous military awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, and besides ordination and an honorary doctorate, his academic degrees include a masters in International Relations, and another in Strategic Studies and National Security Affairs. He delivered more prayers in congress than any other rabbi, and is the only rabbi Guest of Honor at the historic USMC Marine Barracks parade. On Oct 23, 1983, he was present in Beirut, Lebanon during the 1983 terrorist attack that took the lives of 241 American military personnel. His report of the attack and its aftermath, written at the request of the White House, was read as a keynote speech by President Ronald Reagan. Click here for text. Click here for video. Click here for more background information.
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