On September 11, 2001 I was one whole week into my professional career. I was an assistant teacher in a day school, had recently spent a very hot Labor Day weekend in Burlington, Vermont, and was a few months removed from returning from Israel and the Second Intifada. After a year spent in Israel that was punctuated by a litany of terror attacks and suicide bombings all over the country, including the horrific Dolphinarium attack the week before I left, coming home to the safety of Boston was comforting.
Imagine my shock when I was sitting in the teacher’s lounge and the principal came in to announce that the towers had been hit. I spent the rest of the day in a state of disbelief as news reports kept coming in from Washington, Pennsylvania, and beyond.
I’ll never forget the how different the world looked and felt that day. I vividly remember driving past the softball fields off of Beacon Street by the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and it felt like the whole world was shimmering in color. The radio was only playing news and as I drove by kids at practices and runners running, it felt like I was watching a movie whose only soundtrack was whichever news reporter was giving their update.
It was a day when there was nothing else to talk about. What else could you talk about?
13 years is a long time. We mark that time in Judaism with a Bar Mitzvah, which can be poor-man-translated as a coming of age. Has 9/11 come of age now? When does a tragedy like 9/11 stop being raw and painful to those who witnessed it? Can it ever? So far the answer is no, and that’s good.
An unfortunate consequence of the human condition is occasionally bearing witness to the horrors that take place in the world. It’s true today, it was true on 9/11 and during the Holocaust, it was true during the Crusades, and it was true in the days of the Bible. This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, takes great pains to describe the multiplicity of calamities that will befall the Jewish people should they stray from the mitzvot. And while I’m not the kind of guy who ascribes blame to the Jewish people for sinning and causing their own suffering over the millennia, I acknowledge that we have seen our fair share of awfulness as participants in the history of the world since the early days of recorded history.
Part of the Jewish tradition is sitting with a history that is pockmarked with suffering and marking it, commemorating it, and ritualizing it. As 9/11 retreats farther into history and becomes a part of our national and communal memory, our responsibility is to never forget, always remember, and forever honor the victims of a day that changed the world.