Remembering September 11, facing new hate

This week, we mark the 16th anniversary of September 11.

We remember again, as we do every year, the way hatred and foul irrational sulphurous evil came out of what literally was a clear blue sky, a sky as gloriously cobalt as we’d ever seen, a sky almost impossibly blue.

And then unthinkable monstrosity came from it, death and pain and stench and loss, the courage of first responders and the unthinkable decision people at the top of the towers had to make as they chose between death by smoke or death by jumping and plummeting to the ground, pulled by gravity ever faster and faster.

Many people in this community — the local Jewish community and the larger north Jersey one — died on that day.

There was some good that came out of that nightmare, examples of courage and heart and healing, an attempt to understand each other better, to see past labels into hearts. People lined up to donate blood, to search rubble, to post signs, to give food, to give love, to do whatever they could to help. Even if they could do nothing else, they could give love, and they did.

One of my most powerful memories of that time — other than the smell of death that was blown upriver every evening for weeks — is the first Friday night after that monstrous Tuesday. That night, at twilight, hundreds of people came out and stood silently, holding candles, holding vigil. We were on our way to Shabbat dinner then, so we had no candles, but we were lit by their flickering light, and somehow we felt hope and love.

But now the world seems again plunged into a morass. The situation in North Korea is terrifying. This country’s moral and physical fabric seems to be fraying. We are at each other’s throats. With the repeal of DACA. we are turning away the immigrants who were brought here as children and know no other home,  young immigrants who are just like many of our grandparents and great grandparents, also  dreamers, equal in their hopes but not in their welcome. And as Charlottesville shows us, anti-Semites seem to be crawling from the woodwork where they apparently have been flourishing in the fetid darkness.

We cannot possibly let this happen. And we don’t have to.

This is the month of Elul. Selichot is next Saturday night — September 16. It is a time for reflection, not only about ourselves but about our place in the world. We are a strong community. And our new year comes at a physically beautiful time, when the world is about to turn bright with vivid color, when the light is gold and the shadows are sharp and the sense of excitement and change is palpable in the air.

There have been grassroots movements springing up all over, declaring that hate has no home here. There have been vigils, outpourings of love and solidarity, visual representations of the truth that love can trump hatred, that goodness can overcome wickedness, that Dr. Martin Luther King was right when he said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

As we remember September 11, as we look toward an unclear future in a suddenly unfriendly world, let us keep hoping that the moral universe continues to bend.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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