My first instinct would be to look at history. How did American Jews observe the anniversay of December 7th, 1941, "a date that will live in Infamy"?
Personally, I am prone to using the Hebrew Date - namely the 23rd of Elul. This maps out precisely to ONE WEEK before the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah [R"H]. In fact 9/11 was the 3rd day of the Ashkenazic S'lichot season, while S'phardim had started weeks earlier. Perhaps a S'lichah or Kina [elegy] would be appropos - see Below
Of course many Jews will join secular commemorations.
If we set up our own Jewish Program, then I don't think we need a specific prayer ritual, so much as an outline of "which bases to cover"
Here is an outline I hope is helpful.
1. Psalms to fit the occasion
2 Appropriate selections from the Scroll of Eichah or other Kinot Lamenting similar tragedies
3. A speech or sermon discussing what happened and reflecting upon the aftermath.
4. Memorial Prayers for those who fell - E.G. "Eil Maleh Rachamim"
5. Perhaps prayers for protection in the future E.G.
6. Psalms 121, 130
In the long run, the memory of Sept. 11, 2001 may begin to fade as did the memory of 12/07/1941. And perhaps that is as it should be. While the. survivors are with us however, it is fitting to observe the anniversary of this tragedy.
As the rabbis teach, ‘Al Tifrosh min haTzibbur’ – ‘Do not separate yourself from the community’ (Pirkei Avot 2:5). Observing a solemn day like 9/11 should best be done in community. Contact your local synagogue or JCC to see if they are doing something to commemorate 9/11.
If your local Jewish community does not have plans to commemorate 9/11, ask if you can lead a program, then seek the help from educators, rabbis, or interested community leaders.Below are some suggested texts. These are also good choices to read alone if you feel that an activity with a group is not your style.
Tehillim – Psalms – are a traditional way to read and reflect on tragic or challenging times. Psalm 121 with ‘I lift my eyes to the mountain- from where will my help come?’, or Psalm 23 with ‘The Lord is my shepherd’, or the traditional Psalm for the High Holiday season, Psalm 27 with ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?’; these are all great readings, among others.
On Tisha B’Av, the day the Temple was destroyed, Jews traditionally read from the book of ‘Eicha’ – ‘Lamentations’. Certain selections, which dealt with the traumatic event of the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples and the violence that accompanied it, would be a good think to use as a parallel to the horrendous events of 9/11. A mention of Amalek, the forces of evil that sought to destroy the innocent throughout Jewish history, might also be appropriate. Those texts can be found in Exodus 17 and Deuteronomy 25. Some modern poems or a story from the events of September 11th that would be reflective and evoke the memories of those who were lost would also be fitting.
Finally, some text reflecting on peace and non-violence might frame the day appropriately. The Jewish response to 9/11 is not particularly different than any faith-tradition’s response to violence: the killing of the innocent is an act of evil, and although we may act to defend ourselves, we as Jews should constantly strive for peace. In this way, we fulfill the aspirations of our prophets to ‘beat swords into plowshares’, remembering the words of our sages ‘Hillel said: Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them close to the Torah.’
The September 11 attacks were not a unique Jewish experience. The appropriate response would be the same as any other American would commemorate the horrendous event, just as we do the attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Answered by: Rabbi John Sherwood, Deceased (z"l)
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