June 24, 2024
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Preserving Precious Moments in Time: Reflecting on Two Days in September

While the month of Tishrei always seems to be rushed, filled as it is with holidays, momentous themes and the attendant preparations, this year the days flew by faster. I shouldn’t be surprised, as the month carried the added weight of continued COVID-19 concerns, the aftermath of Tropical Storm Ida, and the national shock at the tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan.

I understand the emotional roller coaster many of us have experienced. At the same time, I hope that two particularly significant days this month do not get short-changed as we wrap up our productions of “Yomim Noraim 5782” and put our memories in storage.

Let’s take a moment to linger on those two days.

I. The 20th Anniversary of 9/11/01

September 11, 2001, was an experience of epic proportion that changed the lives of so many and continues to reverberate 20 years later. As I look back to that time when the unfathomable turned into reality and remained the main topic on everyone’s mind for months afterward, I recall that one powerful reaction for many was a surge in patriotism. Very suddenly the red, white and blue, not only with American flags but on all kinds of clothing and other articles, became ubiquitous, as well as the slogan “United We Stand.”

Suddenly so many were now united by tragedy; it was a veritable reflection of how the tragic loss of life at the World Trade Center impacted people of all backgrounds, with the common thread that this attack was clearly on America. It cut across whatever differences may have existed up until that time. There was a period when so many chose to focus on what they had in common as a way of coping with the pain, shock, grief and all else the destruction of the Twin Towers left in its wake.

Alas, as with so many examples of euphoria born of powerful emotional surge of a particular experience, ultimately this perception of unity dissipated over time. But the fact that it happened should be a point of encouragement that it can indeed occur; and indeed one way may be when people focus on what we have in common while respecting each other’s differences. Perhaps we can draw on that spirit of patriotism even now if we consider (and encourage others to do so) what a wonderful blessing and privilege it is to live in a country that believes in freedom of religion and allows us to practice our faith and rituals without persecution or punishment.

II. Yom Kippur 5782

The experience of introspection and desire to improve, blended into the intense prayers, rituals and fasting of Yom Kippur, can help one to come to an emotional state of ecstasy and renewal by the conclusion of Neilah.What a moment for so many when the shofar is sounded, marking the departure of Yom Kippur with a feeling of having achieved such a spiritual surge! And then? It is up to each person to utilize the experience as we return to everyday life.

Just as not every day of one’s existence will contain a shocking larger-than-life event that will traverse time and leave an indelible impression, like September 11, 2001, not every day is going to be an exercise in an intensely spiritual uplifting fashion like Yom Kippur. As we return to the everyday journey of life with its ups and downs, the Yom Kippur experience of truly longing to improve our relationship with Hashem and our fellow human beings, may serve as a springboard of impetus and strategy as we try capture this feeling in our daily lives.

As the exhortation goes from the prophet Hoshea: “Kichu imachem devarim v’shuvu el Hashem—“Take with you words and return to Hashem” (Hoshea 14:3). It begins with words, i.e., prayer and/or resolve to improve, and then action, which can manifest itself on a practical level in numerous ways. For some, maybe it means now learning more, either live or via technology. For others, maybe it means devoting one’s time and energy to one’s congregation or community. Perhaps there is someone homebound whom you could do errands for. Maybe get in touch with someone who is lonely. Whatever it may be, the idea is to resolve to make a consistent effort that shows a commitment to make a positive difference.


Rabbi David Blum provides pastoral care throughout New Jersey as part of the Rabbi Chaim Yosef Furst Chaplaincy Program, which is conducted via Congregation Ohav Emeth of Highland Park, and the Joint Chaplaincy Program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest. He resides with his family in Highland Park and may be contacted at [email protected].

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