A Generation After 9/11: Creating National Memory

I make this covenant…not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day…and with those who are not with us here this day.” Deuteronomy 29:13-14

As we mark the 21st anniversary since the September 11th attacks, we come to the realization that an entire generation has grown up in a post 9/11 world.

So the questions arise: How do we create national memory? How do we sustain a personal connection to an event that occurred generations before?

Well, is there a group of people who have tackled this challenge more than the Jews? 

It starts with ritual. Passover, Is the Holiday dedicated to reenacting the origin of our nationhood. The festival of freedom is engulfed in ritual that not only remembers our liberation but also the suffering that was endured in slavery. Each year we delve into a brilliant multi-sensory pedagogic lesson, traveling back in time thousands of years to experience the Exodus with our children and grandchildren. Events that are ritualized are internalized. 

But to sustain national memory for generations it must go much beyond that. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained in his seminal work Kol Dodi Dofek, that each of  the two Biblical covenants had a role. The first in Exodus, is a covenant of fate, recognizing that our stories and fortunes are intertwined. We rise and fall as one, and as a nation, we are bound together and are responsible for one another. There was no better example of this than the incredible display of sacrifice, heroism, and compassion that we witnessed following the 9/11 attacks. The terrorists attacked us all, and the unintended consequence was that it united us as a nation. 

Secondly, and just as integral, is the covenant in Deuteronomy, which Rabbi Soloveitchik referred as “The Covenant of Destiny.” Through this, it becomes ingrained in each of us, that our nation as a whole has a higher purpose, and a greater mission. In Judaism that means to have an innate sensitivity to the poor and to those that are in need of help. For us as Americans, it means that we go back to the vision of our founding fathers: that we must always fight to preserve a nation that upholds the democratic values of liberties and justice for all. 

Perhaps this Septemeber 11th, and every anniversary that will follow, we would all benefit to remind ourselves what is it that these evil terrorists tried to take away from us, and why it is that we hold those values so dear.

About the Author
Rabbi Ira Ebbin serves as the Rabbi of Congregation Ohav Sholom, a Modern Orthodox Synagogue in Merrick, NY.
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