Remembering September 11, 2001

As we approach the anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, we turn to our tradition to help us commemorate the day and find a way to honor the memory of those we lost. Below are four Jewish texts and discussion questions appropriate for the day.

Prayer for Victims of September 11, by Rabbi Stephen Belsky

אל מלא רחמים שוכן במרומים, המצא מנוחה נכונה תחת כנפי השכינה, במעלות קדושים וטהורים, כזהר הרקיע מזהירים, לנשמות הנרצחים בפיגועי הרצח ההמוני אשר ביצעו מחבלים מרושעים ביום זה לפני (ארבע עשרה) שנה בעיר נו-יורק, במחוז הבירה, ובשדות פינסילוויניה – הנרצחים במטוסים, והנרצחים על האדמה, והמצילים אשר מסרו נפשם להוציא חיים משערי מוות – בעבור שאנו מתפללים לזכרם. לכן בעל הרחמים יסתירם בסתר כנפיו לעולמים, ויצרור בצרור החיים את נשמותיהם, בגן עדן תהא מנוחתם, ה' הוא נחלתם, וינוחו בשלום על משכבותיהם, ונאמר אמן.

God full of compassion, who dwells on high, provide proper rest under the wings of Your divine presence, in holy and pure heights that glow like the heavens, to the souls of those who were murdered in the mass attacks by evil terrorists on this day (#) years ago – in New York City, in the area of our national capital, and in the fields of Pennsylvania – those who were murdered on the planes, and those who were murdered on the ground, and the rescuers who gave their lives to pull the living out of the gates of death – for the sake of our prayers in their memory. Therefore, may the Lord of Compassion shelter them, hidden under Gd's wings for eternity, and bind their souls in the bundle of eternal life; may their rest be in Paradise, with God as their home, and may they rest upon their places of repose in peace, and let us say amen.

Questions for Discussion:

  • In this prayer, we ask that the people we remember be bound "with the bond of eternal life." This phrase comes from the book of Samuel. Avigail, who eventually marries King David, tells him that even if he were to die in battle, his soul would continue to be valued and remembered.
  • Read stories about some of the people who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. What aspects of their lives remain most closely connected to your life? What characteristics that they embodied do you most want to hold on to and bring into your life this year?

Honoring the Memory

Did you know that Rosh HaShanah is the original Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day)? Memory is a recurring theme in the Rosh HaShanah liturgy, which is why one of its four names is Yom HaZikaron, or Day of Remembrance. The Zikhronot section of the Mussaf Amidah makes a claim that we are all remembered - ourselves as individuals, as well as our biblical ancestors - and that, even if the Divine sits as King on a lofty throne, every one of us is considered and remembered by God.

אַתָּה זוֹכֵר מַעֲשֵׂה עוֹלָם וּפוֹקֵד כָּל־יְצֽוּרֵי קֶֽדֶם. לְפָנֶֽיךָ נִגְלוּ כָּל־תַּעֲלוּמוֹת וַהֲמוֹן נִסְתָּרוֹת שֶׁמִּבְּרֵאשִׁית. כִּי אֵין שִׁכְחָה לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶֽךָ.

You remember the dealings of [people in] today’s world, and You [also] consider the behavior of all those who lived in earlier times. In Your Presence are revealed all hidden things and the multitude of secrets from the beginning of creation; for there is no forgetfulness before the throne of Your Glory, and there is nothing hidden from Your eyes.

Question for Discussion:

  • Many years after the loss of 2,996 lives on 9/11, how might the memory of those who died continue to shape our actions?

Standing Up

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר... וּבְמָקוֹם שֶׁאֵין אֲנָשִׁים, הִשְׁתַּדֵּל לִהְיוֹת אִישׁ:

He used to say...In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.

Questions for Discussion::

  • How did the first responders fulfill this well known piece of wisdom from Pirkei Avot?

  • How might their actions inspire us and serve as a model of behavior?

  • Not all of us are first responders, but there are lots of ways to make a difference. How can each of us be upstanders in our communities?

Doing our Part

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה...

He [Rabbi Tarfon] used to say: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it...

Questions for Discussion:

  • There is no way to recover what was lost that day, but this teaching from Pirkei Avot reminds us that we are still obligated to try to honor those who died by working to make the world better, kinder, and safer.

  • Starting with your family or friends and moving to the wider circle of your classroom, school, and community, how can you work in small ways to improve the world around you?