Posts Tagged '9/11'

Yahrzeit for 9/11

The 23rd of Elul is the 18th Yahrzeit of 9/11. Where were you when you heard about the Twin Towers being hit? Where were you when you realized we were under attack? These are moments we will never forget. This series of four coordinated terrorist attacks killed 2,977 people and changed the world as we  knew it. For many of us, 9/11 is formative to the people we are today.

We are two professionals, partners, and parents jointly committed to strengthening institutions of Jewish Life. Adina has spent much of her career working in Jewish Federations on behalf of synagogues and more recently day schools and strengthening the pipeline of professionals in Jewish communal organizations, Avi has spent his career working at a national umbrella on behalf of camps and on a college campus. As we recall that inauspicious day, each of us found ourselves taking solace in institutions. When the plane hit the first tower, Avi was in the basement of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Adina had just come out of the subway on her way to HUC cantorial school after the second tower was hit, catching a horrifying glimpse of the first tower crumbling. While both of us had already chosen paths of  Jewish communal life to make an impact, in the days that followed 9/11 we were inspired by the heroes who were driven to fix this broken world and we recommitted ourselves to doing our part through our sacred communal service. 

We pause today to take stock of who we are as individuals, the blessings of our family and our community, and what we have become as a nation. Looking back 18 years we shutter to realize that this year the 9/11 babies born after this fateful day will go to college. The junior counselors in our camps who will be looking after our children were born into this new reality. Like our own kids, this generation will only know a post 9/11 world. 

As we think about what will become of the legacy of the institutions of Jewish life that we inherited, we must note the poignancy that to this next generation, 9/11 is their legacy. On a visceral level this generation will have a radically different orientation to brick and mortar buildings, to the value of community, and to the causes that matter.  We must recognize that 9/11 represents a radical paradigm shift, especially for a generation for whom active shooter drills are the norm and the daily effects of global warming remind them of the fragility of their future. They are a generation living with existential and physical angst; where will they seek comfort? As we learn in Psalms 121:1, “I lift my eyes to the mountains, from whence shall my help come?” Our daily work is informed by the need to radically rethink our institutions, so that the next generation continues to find comfort, be motivated and inspired by Jewish life. 

 

Cantor Adina H. Frydman is the Executive Director of Community Resources at UJA-Federation of New York. Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow is the Vice President of Innovation and Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Together, they are the proud parents of four children born after 9/11.

* reposted from ejewishphilanthropy.com

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Creating Memory – 9/11 for Another Generation

This week we commemorated the anniversary of 9/11. This was a transformational day for me personally. A the time of the event I was learning in yeshivah and living in Manhattan. There are so many memories I have from that time it is hard to imagine communicating them to someone who has not experienced it. I was shocked to realize that all of the Bnai Mitvah from now on were not even alive when 9/11 happened. I pause  to ask, how will we communicate the nature and gravity of this event to the next generation?

I was thinking about this when reading Ki Tavo, this week’s Torah portion. There we read about the ritual of Bikkurim, bringing the first fruit on Shavuot to the Temple. About this we read:

And you shall come to the priest that shall be in those days, and say to him: ‘I profess this day unto the Lord your God, that I am come unto the land which the Lord swore unto our fathers to give us.’ And the priest shall take the basket out of thy hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall speak and say before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. And we cried unto the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.  ( Deuteronom7 26:3-8 )

The generation who entered the land of Israel did not have first hand experience of the slavery and redemption in Egypt. This ritual was a means for this next generation to preserve a memory they never had. It is interesting that this ritual had a script. We learn later that in order to make the script more accessible the priest would say it and the person coming would repeat it.

We have a crises in being Jewish today. How will we share our memories with the next generation? I think we can point out a few things from the ritual of Bikkurim. Like the priest repeating the words,  we need to find ways to make it more accessible to more people. We need to build this difficult memory into something festive and not let the next generation get stuck in the gloom We also need to find the balance between the script that they need to say and the innovation. The next generation needs to find a way to breathe their own imagination into the ritual in order create their own memories around the ritual.

The script from this Bikkurim ritual is the foundation for the Hagadah. The Hagadah is the model of balance between tradition and innovation in order to keep memories vital throughout history.  In every generation we are to see ourselves as having been redeemed from slavery in our own Egypt. I would venture to say it is the most rewritten book in history. In order to get my children to connect to Jewish History  or even 9/11 I need to give them the space to explore what these events mean to them in their lives without the full burden of my understanding of history and what it means to me in my life. Rituals help preserve a dynamic tension between tradition and innovation. Without this tension we will break the chain linking our past to our future and our future to our past.

What, Too Soon?

Have you ever seen Aristocrats? It is a movie that is made up of various comedians telling different versions of the same dirty joke. At the core of the movie was a version of the Aristocrats joke  told by Gilbert Gottfried not long after the 9/11 attacks. If there was anything of lasting value form the movie, it was that it asked the question, “Too Soon?”  Without ever talking about it explicitly, we all seem to know that the severity of a situation can be measured against the moratorium on talking about it. This humility and silence gives me hope in our basic humanity. But at the same time there is a reality that not talking about issues makes it hard for us to move forward and deal with the causes. Things can just get too heavy. When is too soon to make light of something?

I was thinking about this in regard Vayechi, this week’s Torah portion. After Yakov’s death, Yosef and his brothers carried out their father’s instructions that he be buried in the Land of Israel. On the return trip to Egypt, the brothers were overcome by the fear that now that their father was out of the picture Yosef would seek revenge for their having conspired against him to throw him into the pit. They implored him in the name of their father to spare them:

Before his death your father left this instruction: So shall you say to Yosef, ‘Forgive, I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brothers who treated you so harshly.’ Therefore, please forgive the offense of the servants of the God of your father. And Yosef was in tears as they spoke to him. (Genesis 50:16-17)

After all of the years and despite all of their recent good fortune, neither the brothers nor Yosef could talk about how they failed Yosef so many years earlier. Their lives are filled with fear and everything is heavy. Even with all of the pain, you have to think that one joke would have broken the tension and lifted the whole family. I am not saying that the joke would have made things right, but it would have reminded them that they are still a family and that they can start talking about the pain they have caused each other.

A couple of years ago Rabbi Jennifer Gubitz shared with me a great midrash that speaks to our portion. There we read:

And Yosef’s brothers saw that their father had died. What was it that they saw which caused them fear? On the way back from their father’s burial they saw that Yosef went to recite the blessing at the very pit into which they had cast him. And he recited the blessing which one is obligated to recite at a place where a miracle happened: ‘Blessed are You who performed a miracle for me at this place’. (Midrash Tanhuma Vayehi 17)

In this account, the brothers seemed justified in their fear. Yosef returned to the scene of their crime. Retribution seemed like it was soon to follow. But instead of a joke, the Rabbis help break the tension with a blessing. Yosef has matured. Looking into the pit Yosef sees how far he has come in his life. He no longer sees himself at the center of the universe. Yosef responds:

Have no fear! Am I a substitute for God? Besides, although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result–the survival of many people. (50:19-20)

And still I want one of the brothers to break the tension with a joke. “Look who thinks he is not God? Mr. Stripe-y Coat himself”. What, too soon? OK, I will have to be happy with Yosef’s saying a blessing. But still I believe that real humor (not ridicule) has unique ability to accelerate healing.

September 12th

For my parents generation the question was where were you when JFK was shot? For our generation it is where were you on 9/11? This being the 10th anniversary of the attacks it seems appropriate to tell my children where I was that day. I was learning at in the basement of Ramath Orah which was the location at the time of YCT. While it usually felt horrible to be learning all day in a room without windows, on a day where New York City was under attack it felt rather comforting being underground  ensconced in sifrei kodesh. We were totally safe there in our Torah bunker. The issue was that your mother was learning at HUC at the time which is all the way downtown. It is from there that she witnessed the Towers falling down. After a long day of difficult communications and a long way uptown, she got back safe. We were both very lucky. Many were not.

I have not spent that much time thinking about that period of time over the last decade, but seeing all the press around this 10th anniversary has brought back many memories of that time.

For me the memories are less of 9/11 then 9/12. It is not the story of terrorism that sticks in my memory, but the tremendous altruism that followed. During the summer of 2001 I spent the summer as a student Chaplain at NYU Medical Center. When I came to YCT on 9/12 Rabbi Avi Weiss came into the Yeshivah asked me to join him. I grabbed my Chaplain ID and book with Tehilim and I was off to spend the day at Ground Zero. In many ways it is still soon to put those experiences into words. I hope to return to this topic over the next few years to share my reflections of 9/12 with you. In subtle ways that day has framed my rabbinate and my being your Abba. For now let me just say that I feel blessed to have witnessed first hand the humble heroes who responded selflessly to the call to save lives.

While it often gets lost amongst my intense love of and passion for the Land, the State, the People, and the Torah of Israel, I am proud to be an American. I do not always know how to talk about it , but it is something that I choose to celebrate every September 12th.


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