As Published on Fresh Day #145 at https://readymag.com/mwm/603212/5/
It boggles the mind to think that fifteen years have passed since that bright, sunny Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001, when our world, and our lives, changed. How can so many years have flown by so swiftly when the memory seems so fresh?
In Jewish tradition, as in other traditions, we have numerous rituals and customs associated with remembering the past. The core Hebrew root for the word remember, appears almost 170 times in the corpus of the Hebrew Bible. As the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has written, “Judaism is a religion of memory. . . “Remember that you were strangers in Egypt”; “Remember the days of old”; “Remember the seventh day to keep it holy”; Memory, for Jews, is a religious obligation. Memory is a core feature not only of faith traditions. It is a primal human characteristic.”
Fifteen years after the tragic and horrifying events of September 11, 2011, we are pausing to remember. Even the cacophonous swirl that is our political reality has paused on this day so thatwe might draw together as one nation to remember. We stand quietly to honor those who lost their lives, as well as those who acted to save the lives of so many. In the dark days following the terror of 9/11, we were inspired by the sacrifices made by so many. We witnessed a coming together that many thought impossible in our then-nascent 21st century. Harvard professor, Robert Putnam, who had written a widely acclaimed work about the disintegration of groups, community and social contexts in American society, entitled Bowling Alone reassessed his anaylsis in the months following 9/11 and wrote an updated essay entitled Bowling Together, in which he wondered aloud whether the coming together in the aftermath of 9/11 might prove to have some measure of staying power. Sadly, as I reflect on the sorry state of our nation as one more dis-united than united, I think the post-9/11 effect was limited.
In an essay published against the backdrop of a different time of remembrance, Rabbi Sacks offers, I believe, a helpful caution to us on this Day of Remembrance. He writes: “… Memory is different from history. History is someone else’s story. It’s about events that occurred long ago to someone else. Memory is my story. It’s about where I come from and of what narrative I am a part. History answers the question, “What happened?” Memory answers the question, “Who, then, am I?” It is about identity and the connection between the generations. In the case of collective memory, all depends on how we tell the story.”
His explanation may be helpful as we examine these past fifteen years, and the ways in
which we not only rememberthe events of 9/11/01, but how we tell the story and how we live our lives with that story as a part of our reality. Ultimately, Rabbi Sacks offers, “In today’s fast-moving culture, we undervalue acts of remembering. Computer memories have grown, while ours have become foreshortened. Our children no longer memorize chunks of poetry. Their knowledge of history is often all too vague . . . That cannot be right. One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is the knowledge of where we have come from, the things for which we fought, and why. None of the things we value — freedom, human dignity, justice — was achieved without a struggle. None can be sustained without conscious vigilance. A society without memory is like a journey without a map. It’s all too easy to get lost.”
His words haunt on this fifteenthanniversary. They also inspire me and challenge. I pray I am not alone as we continue to journey on from that dark time, hopefully increasing light, understanding, tolerance, and I pray, peace in our midst, and across our world.