This week, America marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. A few years ago, I was recounting to my fifth grade Ashar students my personal memories of that horrific day. I mentioned that it was the first time in my life that I, and many of my friends, felt genuine fear.
I also related that immediately after the attacks there was a sudden surge of patriotism that swept the country. Suddenly, almost every car had an American flag attached to its antenna, or bumper stickers depicting flags and slogans of American pride and courage. Flags couldn’t be produced and sold fast enough to keep up with the influx of demand.
I asked my students—who were not yet born at that time—why they thought that occurred. Why the sudden surge of patriotism? They offered some insightful comments, and then I added my own. I pointed out that as I was speaking to them I was holding a pen in my hand. I wasn’t holding the pen too tightly and I wasn’t paying much attention to it.
Then I asked one of the students to grab hold of the pen and try to pull it out of my hands. As he did so, I asked him what my reaction had been. He replied that I had immediately tightened my grip and was pulling back even harder.
I explained to the class that we are all content and happy with the freedoms afforded to us in America. But the bustle of life and the lure of our electronic gadgets divert our attention from truly appreciating those rights and thinking much about them.
On September 11, Islamic terrorists tried to yank away from us our freedoms and all that America stands for. Our immediate national reaction was to tighten our grip on all we take for granted. We declared our pride and our indomitable will to defend our freedoms with passion and allegiance. Thus, the eruption of patriotism was a direct response to the nefarious efforts to destroy what we forgot to appreciate.
I then related to my class that as Torah Jews we often fall into the same trap. We take our ability and freedom to keep Torah and mitzvot for granted. There are countless stories of Jewish heroes who were ready to give up their lives and endure torturous suffering to preserve one mitzvah or to learn just a few words of Torah. During Crusades, pogroms, expulsions, auto-da-fés, in Siberia and Bergen-Belsen we refused to capitulate. But in the freedom of America we often fail to appreciate how lucky we are.
We shouldn’t wait until, God forbid, our enemies try to yank away those freedoms. We must maintain our Jewish pride and proclaim our privilege at being the Chosen Nation and our unyielding allegiance to Torah and mitzvot.
That is essentially our task on Rosh Hashana. It is a day when we contemplate and accept upon ourselves the coronation of the King of Kings. The call of the shofar is also a call of triumphant joy, a call of honor and glory, which emanates from the recesses of the soul of the blower. It is a proclamation that we are proud to be the bearers of the greatest and most sublime responsibility in the world.
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead as well as guidance counselor and seventh grade rebbe in ASHAR, and principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is: [email protected] His website is: www.stamtorah.info.