June 12, 2024
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Shabbat Shuva: Remembrance of 9/11

The beginning of the month of Elul leads up to the High Holidays and the 20th anniversary commemoration of 9/11. When I looked at the calendar this week, it was no coincidence to me that Shabbat Shuva is September 11, 2021, right between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, strengthening my resolve to NEVER FORGET.

Between November 2001 and March 2002, I was a volunteer at the Ground Zero Relief Project, Spring Street Warehouse north and east of the Twin Towers. It was a converted art studio where volunteers procured and delivered supplies to the first responder/recovery crews at Ground Zero. When I returned to New York after a ten-year hiatus, I finally confronted my volunteer experience and the aftermath of 9/11 for the first time. The result was a poetry book published this past April—“In the Aftermath—9/11 Through a Volunteer’s Eyes,” written to commemorate the 20th anniversary and dedicated to the first responders, recovery crews and volunteers. I have included two of the poems from this collection in remembrance of the lives lost on and since September 11, 2001 and all those who continue to suffer from the toxic effects of Ground Zero.

Zochreinu l’chaim.

The Sabbath Shift

…within sight of trucks filled with body parts from the World Trade Center,

women from Stern College sat outside in a tent fulfilling the commandment

to keep watch over the dead… “The burly state trooper who guards the area

learned the girls’ names and a bit about their religion.”

(New York Times, November 2001)

With my voice

I cry unto the Lord

She sits alone

beside the trucks

intoning David’s psalm

but she is not alone—

hip,

hands,

leg,

from sunset to sunrise

sanctified by the shomer’s prayer

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom

The Trooper’s Sabbath Shift

She’s got

no business being here                             Sitting in this tent

next to pieces              of dead people

by herself

in the dark

Girls her age

are like all the other kids I know          Driving their cars downtown

Friday night                   Can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to

stop them    Give them a warning for speeding              So what’s she

doing here

                          buttoned to the neck                      Skirt down to her ankles

nothing in her hands

but her prayer book                   Just her                 and me                  Yesterday

she came by early       Asked me to hold on to her snacks and book

’cause she can’t carry them on Shabbos                              Didn’t know what

she was talking about   until she told me        It’s the Jewish Sabbath

First I thought

it was kind of strange                she wouldn’t carry            her own food

to get through the night           but now               I don’t mind

being her Shabbos helper                        And her voice!    She opens her book

chants her prayers    until the sun comes up

Last week she started with the Lord is my shepherd

Cried like a baby          Good thing none of my buddies was around

None of us   including those body parts           in the trucks

wants to be here                                         in this G-d-less place

Except her.


Beth SKMorris is the author of three poetry books: “In Florida” (2010) “Nowhere to be Found” (2014), and “In the Aftermath- 9/11 Through a Volunteer’s Eyes” (2021). Beth holds a master’s in English Language & Literature (Univ. of Michigan) and a PhD in Speech, Language, & Hearing Science from the Graduate School and Center, CUNY.

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