Posts Tagged 'September 11th'

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.

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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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