I hadn’t planned on writing anything to commemorate September 11th, but as the day has progressed, here I am. The words just started to flow, beginning when I wrote the following on the American Mussar Facebook page:
Then I read an article called For 9/11 Families, A Bittersweet Anniversary Falls On Rosh Hashanah. Reading about those Russian-speaking Jewish families who lost sons and daughters and sisters and brothers was tough. But I made myself keep reading to remember their stories. It brought something home to me: All of us lost something on 9/11. But some people lost people.
9/11 on Rosh Hashanah has a special resonance. It is a day of intense introspection that comes in a season of reflection. For example, this “like a mensch” series of blog posts started in the month of Elul, as I started to reflect more deeply on my life.
In fact, Rosh Hashanah is also known as the Day of Remembrance. Remembrance is one of the three parts of the Shofar service. The traditional interpretation is that we remember the covenant with God. Mishkan Ha’Nefesh, the Reform High Holiday prayer book, includes the phrase “The Divine wakens within us – a sudden awareness of Your presence.” If you are not sure about the Divinity, or don’t really understand the covenant, think of the Shofar blast as a reminder to connect to the Divine in other people.
We do this on two ways on 9/11. The first is to come to a state of Hineni, a Hebrew word which means “HERE I AM.” On Rosh Hashanah, we read the story of the binding of Isaac from the Torah. When Abraham is about to slay his son, an angel calls out to him and he answers Hineni, Here I am. It is a moment of total attention, where life hangs by a knife edge. If we are to remember September 11th like a mensch, we must come from a place of Hineni. Then, we do the following Mussar Practice.
*** Here’s the Mussar Practice.***
Read names out loud. In Judaism we say, “May their memory be a blessing” to someone in mourning. Saying a person’s name is one way to keep their memory alive. A widowed friend recently told me she find that people are reluctant to say her husbands name, which is the last thing she wants. “How can we make his memory a blessing if we never talk about him or say his name?”
While many of us don’t know the stories of those killed on 9/11, we can say their names.
Right now, read the names of the three people mentioned in the Forward article out loud:
- Yelena ‘Helen’ Belilovsky
- Marina Gertsberg
- Vladamir Savinkin
Another option is to go to 911memorial.org, set a timer, and read names for a minute. I did this, and read 21 names.
The Untaneh Tokef prayer on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur asks who will live and who will die? It goes on to list ways that we could go e.g “who by fire and who by water, who by war and who by beast.” And then it says, “But through return to the right path, through prayer and righteous giving, we can transcend the harshness of the decree.”
It is ok and normal to be sad on 9/11. We cannot change what happened, but we can work to transcend the harshness of the decree. Lets make this day about something more than sadness, and sharing stories of where we were when we found out about it.
Remembering those who were killed is a way for us to connect to other people, which helps us to return to the right path.
When we speak, we practice the Soul Trait of Silence, and assist the Divine in the ongoing act of creation of the world. How does reading the names of the dead create a better world?