By Rabbi Yehoshua S. Hecht, Beth Israel of Westport/Norwalk, President Rabbinical Council of CT ~
So, do you remember where you were ten years ago when the terrorists struck the World Trade Center? Although the details of the past few days of the long Labor Day holiday may be blurry the Tuesday morning of 9/11 is as crystal clear as the events of last week’s hurricane Irene.
I do recall how Robert, the synagogue custodian notified me “a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.” I turned from my class preparation to check on the internet which was reporting that a plane had indeed crashed into the World Trade Center. Minutes later the horror repeated itself with a second plane hitting the other tower.
Less than ten minutes later I was seated with my study group comprised of women ranging from the age of 35 to 86 who attend the weekly Tuesday study group. As it was only a few days before the Jewish New Year began, our study centered on the meaning of life and the idea of renewal, as amplified by the teachings of the Torah.
That same day at around five in the afternoon, a young man who works at a nationally syndicated sports channel came hurrying into the synagogue. He was the embodiment of the surreal. His face was ashen white, his clothing discolored by ash and smoke. He told me he had been running all day –actually escaping NYC and this being his first stop to rest since he left lower Manhattan.
He had been up close to the falling towers and was engulfed by the ensuing terror that gripped Manhattan. He instinctively joined the hordes of frightened people, running to escape by foot and by auto– what seemed to be the beginning of the end of the world.
With rushed sentences and deep anguish he vented his harrowing seven hour ordeal escaping NYC to return to the relative calm of Fairfield County.
This young man was one of many who shared with me their experiences and miraculous escape from the inferno called 9/11.
Seeing their pain and sharing their anguish was emotionally wrenching. Now that a decade has passed since those tragic events it compels me to ponder the present situation we find ourselves in.
On one hand 9/11 marks the gallantry of so many who sacrificed their lives to be of help to their fellow co-workers. The heroic first responders are testimony to Man’s innate spiritual core ready to be selfless in the most harrowing of situations. The coming together of all people regardless of race, creed or color was testimony to the bond of brotherhood and unity of all-humanity.
The incredible solidarity and expressions of faith and prayer during those fateful days strengthened the bonds of our nation and should not ever be forgotten.
Now, ten years later we sadly witness the ongoing destruction and mayhem fueled by despotic fundamentalism based on hatred and bloodletting that engulfs much of the Middle-East and Africa and continues spreading to every continent on the globe. We have learnt that those who do not value human life will continue to force their perversions of religion with the singular aim of bringing the Western world to its knees.
On the downside, since 9/11, America and its unique values are also under assault. And not necessarily from a foreign invader. At present the very values and principles that civilization is built upon are being questioned. A homegrown liberalism spanning both sides of our country has upended Biblically ordained family values. We have seen the erosion of ethics highlighted by both government agencies and individuals. We are also noticing the cut-throat corporate greed practices being adopted by even non-profits.
In short our society has become compromised both from within and from without. Personal and communal Integrity is something that seems to be in really short supply.
All agree that 9/11 was a watershed event in our time. Now a decade later we are called to remember and to commemorate. Let us do so by returning to the values that have made America great and its citizenry optimistic.
We have gone through a very difficult era and it’s time to stop shirking responsibility and for creating a social milieu that disparages dishonesty and fakery and honors integrity and upholds family values.
It’s not too late and it’s never too early to begin so that the lessons of 9/11 will be remembered loud and clear.
9/11 should be remembered within the context that it is a call to return to the values of faith, hard work and honesty in our every relationship.
In doing so we will rebuild our society and create something far taller and more durable that the physical Twin Towers.
We will have rebuilt and fortified the very foundation of the world as the Sages of the Talmud exclaim: Upon three pillars the World stands; they are Torah (ethics and moral education) Prayer (recognition of the Creator) and Acts of Loving Kindness (charity).
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