Is it possible that 19 years have passed since the devastation of 9/11? On one hand it seems like just yesterday. We turn around and nearly two decades have passed. But when we stop and consider how we have been affected individually and as a nation, it is almost overwhelming.
The trajectory of each of our lives has been altered. The tremendous effect it has had on our lives is felt when we travel, and when we are at home. There is scarcely an area of politics or the economy that is still not being directed by the realities of the tragedy, or the fears of a similar attack. We are still calculating the losses emotionally, physically, financially, psychologically and spiritually. Even in the midst of a global pandemic that is further changing our lives, we must never forget the impact of 9/11.
Immediately after the tragedy in 2001 our congregation held a community-wide memorial, represented by every member of our Interfaith Council. The following year, on Sept. 11, 2002, beginning at dawn, the names of every victim were read in an extremely emotional ceremony. For five years immediately after 9/11 we hosted a morning service within our community, allowing everyone to join us for prayers and light candles of remembrance.
But remembering 9/11 did not get easier, it got harder. Fewer and fewer people came as the years went on. Even as we have adapted, as is our nature, we are forgetting what life was like before, the freedoms we took for granted. As we have taken comfort in the knowledge that we were too strong to be hindered even by the devastation of these brutal attacks, we have almost become oblivious to what we have had to rebuild. And many would simply pass the day repressing the feelings of loss, anger and mourning, because it is easier that way.
Yet, as painful as it is to remember the tragedy, it is necessary and vital. As difficult as it is, it makes us face the reality of how much damage intolerance and baseless hatred can cause. As agonizing as it is to revisit those feelings each year, we must remember that each life lost was holy and precious. And when we pause to reflect on our loss, we are simultaneously reminded of all we possess. By looking back, even in mourning, we are able to direct our energy into preserving the positive in the present, and strive toward protecting our values for the future.
This is also the goal of the High Holidays, which we enter into this time of year. Our tradition instructs us to be in a similar frame of mind each year, even if that specific tragedy hadn’t happened. This year Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of this period, falls one week after Sept. 11.
The Memorial or Yizkor service at Yom Kippur, 10 days later, teaches us how important it is to remember the lives that were lost in the last year, as well as previous years. Many people also visit the graves of their parents and of other loved ones during this period, recalling those who have made an important impact on us in the previous years, and whose memories we cherish as a source of inspiration for the coming years as well.
These Days of Awe teach us to be grateful for the highs, as well as to be mindful of the lows. To appreciate what we have, even as we learn from our loss. To grow from the lessons of the past, as we envision tomorrow.
We hope this year ahead will be a chance for all of us to make real teshuvah — repentance, return and renewal.
Rabbi Mark Blazer is the rabbi of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita.