Shmuel Polin
ניט מיט שעלטן/לאַכן קען מען די וועלט איבערמאַכן

Sermon for 9-11

Today we gather in solemn memoriam of the terrorist attack of 9-11-01. The attack was the most disastrous terror attack on U.S. soil and extinguished 2,996 lives. The event 22 years ago shattered lives, peace, and security.

I am personally aware of where I stand in proximity to the events of 9/11. I grew up in New Jersey. I was born here, and I was attending school in Princeton, New Jersey, on the morning of 9/11. I vividly remember our principal calling all students above the age of 13 to the auditorium. There, standing disheveled, afraid, and on the verge of tears, he delivered the news to us. I recall the exact words”

“Today at 8:46 a.m. and again at 9:03, two planes have struck the World Trade Center buildings. At 9:37 a.m., a third plane has struck the pentagon. At 10:03, a fourth plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. Our nation is under attack.”

I turned to the girl sitting next to me at this time. She sat hysterically crying as a teacher distributed tissues to her. Her father worked in the North Tower above the 100th floor. We had just celebrated her Bat Mitzvah with her family. She was only 12 or 13 years old, as was I on 9/11. However, the effect it had on our lives was profound.

The events forced a generation out of a false sense of security into a seemingly cruel and horrifying world.

These events traumatically molded and morphed our psyche. A generation would mature propelled by these events, volunteering to serve in the War Against Terror or in Public Policy. I personally was so impacted by these events that I would chose to immigrate to Israel, country in a perpetual state of War against Terrorism to be of service.  Afterwards I would return to Washington, D.C., at American University to study international relations at the School for International Service.

For myself and others, I was reconciling the unreconcilable. How could this event happen? How could evil walk into the beating heart of our country and rob us of peace? For years, I searched for the answers to these questions while studying public policy. I studied Farsi, Arabic, and Hebrew. I served non-governmental organizations and worked at think tanks based in Washington, D.C., Vietnam, and Israel.

Yet, for all this valiant effort, I was disappointed by the emptiness my efforts brought myself. Yes, perhaps the answer to how terror had marched its way into the beating heart of our nation could be found in a greater understanding of international relations and foreign policy; however, this knowledge in hand did little to the pain and grief left 15 or 20 years after 9/11 unfolded.

For me, processing trauma couldn’t happen in pursuing a quest for knowledge. Instead, I had to pursue it in faith.

In the faith of the goodness of humanity over evil. Of the triumph of a war against evil, against terrorism that we would overcome. We would prevail. 22 years later, I stand before everyone here today to preach for the goodness of humanity.

Today marks the Italian rite Selichot in Judaism. Its date falls consecutively on 9/11 this year. Selichot in Hebrew beckons us to call upon forgiveness. It is the time of year when we change out the covers of our Torah, our holy books, to white reflecting the purity from sin we strive for in the upcoming days of Awe in the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement. At this time of year, we customarily sound the ram’s horn, the Shofar beckoning in our souls to awaken from slumber to become better people. To bring goodness into this world. To create light where there is darkness. To create love where there is hate.

Let the sounding of the Shofar today be a reminder to ourselves of this calling. May we strive to build a society upon these principals and remain faithful to this calling today and always.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuel Polin is the Rabbi of Etz Chaim Congregation - Monroe Township Jewish Center on Monroe Township, New Jersey. A New Jersey native, he completed his B.A. at American University in Washington D.C. where he studied Jewish Studies and International Studies. He also completed both an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from Gratz College of Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. His thesis focused on the depiction of European antisemitism in 1930's-1940's American and foreign cinema. Subsequent to both of masters programs, Rabbi Polin graduated with a third Masters in Hebrew Letters and received his Semikhah (Rabbinic ordination) from the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. Shmuel has years of experience of teaching Hebrew School at Kehillat HaNahar of New Hope, Pennsylvania, leading as a student rabbi at Beth Boruk Temple (Richmond, Indiana) and Temple Israel (Paducah, Kentucky), and also working for Israeli non-governmental organizations.