Every morning on my way into work, I would glance over at the twin towers as I crossed the bridge heading into the city from New Jersey. It was a reflex and a habit to look at the tall buildings standing firmly and majestically. I knew some people that worked in the towers and then, after September 11, I knew of many people that died in the towers.
Today it’s striking to think that many don’t recall this seminal event in our country’s recent past. In fact, 9/11 is “ancient history” for most children today, much like the war of 1812. Students in elementary school or even high school were not alive in 2001, and many teachers were themselves very young when terrorists struck the twin towers. Yet for those of us old enough to remember that day, the world as we knew it was profoundly changed!
So, how do we, as Jews, convey the message of this day of national mourning to our children?
When the Children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, and then were wandering in the desert, we learned to become a different type of nation; a people who would embrace and promote compassion for others, protect the poor, welcome the lonely and sustain strangers. We became a people who would adopt and embrace a national identity devoted to the highest values transmitted by our patriarch Abraham.
The horror of 9/11 tragically illustrates the opposite. The terrorists are products of a distorted world-view shaped by hatred; those who are different in their religion or ethnicity are not human – their death and suffering are therefore justified and deserved. Attacker and victim, according to the terrorists, do not share a common humanity. Rather, in their distorted world-view, there is no room for compassion or mercy – only blind hate and vengeance.
When our children ask about the significance of 9/11, the message to impart to them is simple:
- remember that all human beings are G-d’s creations and that every life is sacred.
- remember that we are all members of the community of humans.
- remember to always include everyone, in their diversity, in our prayers, or we risk demeaning our own humanity.
As Rosh Hashana and 9/11 coincide this year, the introspection of the High Holy Days merge with the painful reflections of the savage attack on our country. The juxtaposition of the Jewish New Year and 9/11 underscore our vulnerability and help concretize the meaning of the unesane tokef prayer; “Who shall live and who shall die…?”
The answer to that difficult question is not in our hands, but how we chose to live, as Jews and as human beings, is entirely up to us. We can empower our children to experience the message of unity in their daily encounters both inside and outside the home – through compassion, inclusion and random acts of kindness. That is the Jewish way to defeat the narrow mindedness of evil.
However dark the world can seem at times, every Rosh Hashana greets us with hope for a sweet new year and with the potential to transform violence into compassion, and to bring us peace and harmony from anguish and sorrow.
Praying for a peaceful world for our children and our children’s children.
Dr. Tani Foger
Psychologist and Educational Consultant
Founder of Let’s Talk Workshops – Guidance workshops for all ages at all stages