It's obligatory to comment on the seventh anniversary of 9-11, a day that cannot be forgotten by anyone who lived through it, as it changed the world as we knew it.
Like the Kennedy assassination in 1963, becoming aware of the terrorist attack on our own soil was a moment so imbued with emotion and adrenaline that it becomes frozen in consciousness. We each have our own stories, but I want to share one aspect of mine.
Because we live in the Northwest--i.e. on the west coast--we were not yet up, and certainly not tied into the news when the attack occurred, so we were shocked when we received a phone call from a family member living in Jerusalem. We do not have a television, but listening to the events unfold via radio commentators was terrifying--an experience we shared with everyone else in our nation. (I consider myself fortunate to be spared those searing images.)
After I heard the awful descriptions, it was my job to awaken my 9-year-old son for school. I came to his bedside, and in the protective way each mother intuits, gently spoke: "Something terrible has happened to our country." I told him that evil people--terrorists--had attacked New York and Washington DC. My son sensed my controlled distress, hugged me and we cried together.
But then came the issue of how to respond. The Jewish approach is to look inward, to see hugely negative events not only as an expression of evil on the part of the perpetrators, but as an indicator of our own failures. The need then is to come closer to God. "What should I do?" my son asked, as we both felt helpless.
"Take on a new mitzvah," I told him. "Wear tzit-tzit." My son had resisted wearing the traditional four-cornered undershirt that Jewish men wear as commanded in the bible (the fringes hanging at the corners remind them of Torah obligations). Usually little boys start wearing tzit-tzit at age three, and my son certainly had several in his drawer. But he complained, and hadn't worn them regularly--until 9-11.
Without any protest, he wore his tzit-tzit daily under his regular shirt, tucked into his pants as well as an active kid can keep them tucked in, to public school--where he was often teased when they became visible (He had always worn his kipa, the traditional head-covering, or a baseball cap). We both understood that this was a way to address the relationship between us and God; to show Him we're conscious of the cosmic impact of even small personal behaviors.
Of course, prayer was also appropriate--lots of it. And certainly support for those in a position to respond militarily to remove the physical threat. We donated to charities that aided the victims; I put a magnet on the back of my car showing an American flag with the words "God bless America." Funny, that magnet is still displayed proudly on my minivan, but the similar stickers and magnets that proliferated around that time seem to have disappeared from the other vehicles I see on the road. We say "never forget," but we've removed our symbols of solidarity as indeed, the urgency and unity of that emotional time has faded.
But beyond those responses, we could do something personal to acknowledge God's role in shaping every event. And our role in fulfilling what He wants us Jews to do.
I wish I could say that my son considers the mitzvah he undertook that day (and continued faithfully for about 5 years) to be something integral to his soul; something that connects him with that time and place, and the need to be close to God. But now that he's 16, and (since he's post-bar-mitzvah age) required to wear tzit-tzit, it's become a nag-fest to get him to wear them. He goes to a Jewish high school, where it's normal to follow Jewish law, and yet, at this time of life, being "cool"--or, more correctly--"hot" seems to trump his religiosity on that issue.
Even if I fail in motivating him to comply with that Jewish responsibility, I hope that I conveyed to my son that at times of vulnerability and anguish, we should evaluate ourselves, and approach God--as well as kick the tuchus of anyone who dares breach this greatest nation on God's green earth.