In the Aftermath of the Attack
a sermon by Rabbi Marx
"Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink
in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep
waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me
without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who
attack me with lies." The psalmist knew heartfelt pain. He knew
what it was to be hated and alone. I suspect that we resonate with
September 11, 2001 will be a day that we will always remember. It
was a day that changed our lives forever. Whether we knew one of
the approximately 6,000 Americans killed or we didn’t, doesn’t
affect the profound pain, shock and fear that we all felt and still
feel today. I must admit, it doesn’t feel like Yom Tov today. I’m
still in a daze, going from event to event, without fully
appreciating the sanctity of the day. Many of us are not here to
welcome the New Year in joy. Many come here in mourning.
I stand before you as your Rabbi, but also as an American, who
like you is searching to comprehend the incomprehensible.
The World Trade Center, the center of our economic machine is
gone. The Pentagon the foundation of our national defense is
vulnerable. Travel is restricted. Sporting events are canceled, if
only for awhile. President Bush, often in tears before the nation,
spoke of terrorism as an act of war, which of course, it was.
The terrorists were not uneducated bumpkins who went in to blow
up a pizza shop or a bus stop with dynamite strapped to their
backs. They were trained pilots, who believed in their cause of
hatred so much, that they were willing to die and kill thousands of
innocents. They chose four airplanes loaded with fuel to crash into
their destinations The terrorists weren’t even trying to make a
political statement by blowing up a symbol of America like the
Statue of Liberty or the Liberty Bell. Their goal was clearly to kill
as many people as possible, so they chose the World Trade Center
where tens of thousands work and they chose the Pentagon, which
also houses thousands. What kind of human beings can do such a
thing? There have been many who have likened this to December
7, 1941. But there are profound differences, the Japanese attacked
service men, fighting soldiers who signed up for combat. It was
horrible to be sure, but that was soldiers killing soldiers. This past
week, we witnessed the murder of civilians, working men and
women and their children in day care centers. Think of the
countless children who have lost their mothers and fathers.
Are we weakened by this dastardly event? Absolutely. Our lives
will not be the same for a long time. We will see security the likes
of which we could only imagine. We will feel real fear when we
travel to public places. The country is very nervous. The Capitol,
the Empire State Building, Penn Station to name a few have been
evacuated, because of suspected packages. America is afraid. It is
angry and it is vulnerable. I’ve heard some expressing concern
about terrorist flying planes into nuclear reactors. We are not a
people accustomed to war or terrorism. Life will not be the same in
this country for a very long time.
Are we destroyed? Absolutely not. I am certain that in the minds
and hearts of our people still, there still lie well springs of
inexhaustible and indestructible amounts of faith; faith in the
things we cherish, courage, determination to defend ourselves, of
sacrificial devotion and unbreakable unity of purpose. I am certain
that, however great the hardships and the trials, which loom ahead,
our America, will endure and the cause of human freedom will
On the day of the attacks, many didn’t want to send their children
to Hebrew school. Many have expressed fear for their children on
Sunday morning. And yes, some of you have stayed away today, I
suspect, out of fear for their safety. We have armed guards to
respond to that fear. As important as that is, however, this is not
the best armor that we can use. The best armor against fear is
internal. We must first of all, not lose our Jewish nerve and our
fundamental American values.
Moments of crisis test our character like none other. We must
struggle not to be consumed with hate. I remember reading about
an American soldier who liberated Auschwitz. He entered the
barracks and saw the degradation, smelled the fetid conditions, and
witnessed death in the eyes of the inmates. He wrote, "Now I
understand what hate can do. It can make us turn others into
animals." We must learn from him. We must not allow ourselves to
be transformed into bigots. We must fight the demons within that
threaten to turn us into the evil, that we are dedicated to destroying.
We must be prepared to make profound sacrifices for our country.
George Romney wrote, "Our founding fathers did not hand any
generation of American a neatly packaged, ready-made America.
Instead, they handed us a set of tools-principles and institutions-for
us to use in shaping the kind of nation we want. The people must
win and rewin America in every generation." My generation has
not been called upon to rewin America. Most of us had had it
pretty easy. Now, we must think of what it means to give for the
benefit of our country and its ideals. We must be brave. We must
have faith. We must be willing to serve in a way that will transcend
our own self-interests. Just yesterday, as I was leaving the shul to
go home to prepare for Yom Tov, I received a call, from a
congregant still grieving. He spoke of his pain and his willingness
to help. So, with that, he asked me to call upon Beth Or to join him
in supporting the New York firefighters and police officers. He
started a fund with chai, $18,000. No names, he said, you can’t use
my name; just tzedakah from our community. He is one of many
examples of what it means to pull together.
The blood that flowed in our streets, was not the blood of women
or men. It was not the blood of English, German, Hispanic or
African Americans. It was not Jewish, Christian or secular blood.
It was the blood of Americans. And this blood courses through our
collective souls. On Wednesday, the day after the attack, I felt a
camaraderie with my fellow citizens that I have rarely felt before.
People asked, how are you doing, how are you feeling, and they
really meant it this time. I hate to say it, but this event, might just
pull us together, as tragedy has always united the Jewish people.
As I watched the news, I was filled with dread. I thought of all
those lost lives. I thought of my fellow citizens and their orphaned
children. I thought of the conflict that is yet to come, knowing in
my heart that there probably won’t be a quick end to it. But, I also
looked at the news and interpreted the events as a Jew, and a lover
of Zion. I must admit that I initially become fearful that Muslim
fanatics, possibly connected to the Palestinians made Americans
suffer. The attacks, as you know, coincided with the twentieth
anniversary of the Camp David Accords, the beginnings of the
peace process. As time went on, however I realized, thankfully that
the attacks were not specifically about Israel, but more likely about
America and it’s policies and values. Israel's terrorist crisis,
ironically changed on September 11th. Americans will no longer
criticize Israel’s targeted assassinations of known terrorists.
America will no longer accuse Israel of provocations when it
aggressively responds to terrorist attacks. Sharon moved tanks into
the Palestinian town of Jenin and tightened the blockade of other
Palestinian areas following the attack, for once without eliciting
the charge of "disproportionate" from the State Department and
other Western foreign ministries. I don’t think that the world will
call upon America to negotiate with Osama bin-Laden, as they call
upon Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians. No one will call bin
Laden a "partner-for-peace," as Arafat is called. No one will
accuse America of being provocative when it finally responds
aggressively to terror. No one will call for American concessions
to the terrorists, as the world regularly demands of Israel. Instead
newspapers ran these op-ed articles with headlines, "We must fight
this war," "Destroy the network," "Hidden hand of horror,"
"American holy war," "To war, not to court," "End of illusion." No
one, from now on, will call terrorists "guerrillas" or "freedom
fighters", as Palestinian terrorists were often identified in the
May America look and look again at the footage of the
Palestinians rejoicing in the streets, handing out candy to the
children, to understand what Israel and now the USA are up
against. Arafat is struggling to confiscate media footage of jubilant
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. I pray that they leak out
and that America understands who’s on our side and who isn’t.
This past weekend I received several calls from troubled families.
Some were concerned with how they will explain this to their
children. In truth, that is nearly impossible. There is no sense to
this senseless act. Others were concerned with how they will
rejoice at their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and their weddings. Was it
appropriate to have a big band and a grand affair when our country
is in mourning? I knew in my heart that despite the profound pain,
life must go on. I take my lessons from two sources. First the
Talmud. It teaches us that life should not be delayed because of
death. If a funeral and wedding procession meet at an intersection,
the Talmud teaches that the wedding takes precedence. Life must
go on. My second lesson comes from the Israelis. Despite death
and carnage on a daily basis, they continue to live as normal a life
as possible. They will not give in to the terrorists. They will not
grant evil in the world the right to destroy the lives of the living.
Weddings, celebrations, life go on. And it must go on here as well.
We must have courage. David Ben Gurion wrote, "Courage is a
special kind of knowledge: the knowledge of how to fear what
ought to be feared and how not to fear what ought not to be
feared." When I learned about the heroism, the courage of those on
United Flight # 93 who fought the terrorists, I was so inspired and
uplifted. While the terrorists were brutally murdering women on
the plane, Thomas Burnett, an American hero, phoned his wife
from the plane and said that he had to do something. He couldn’t
let the terrorists destroy Washington. So he, and a few others
fought and died for others. Was he afraid? I suspect he was. But he
taught us Ben Gurion’s invaluable lesson. Heroism is not being
unafraid. It is knowing what to fear. Be afraid of passivity in the
face of evil. In an instant, without any training for the moment, he
and several others were there. I wonder, would you or I be able to
be so heroic? I pray that I would.
It’s stunning, how one minute something is so important and the
next it seems trivial. Diane Sawyer, in her broadcast, made this
point crystal clear to the American viewers of the tragedy. She bent
down and picked up a stack of important papers scattered on the
street. She held invoices, faxes, checks and memos. She
commented, "Twenty four hours ago, these papers were important.
Now they are meaningless." On Rosh Hashanah, we are bid to
reflect on what truly matters in life. We are called upon to
differentiate the trivial from the profound. September 11, 2001, has
taught us that lesson in vivid detail. Please, don’t get caught up in
petty hurts. Make amends. Bring peace. Value life, while it is ours.
Do some good. Keep the ridiculous annoyances of life in their
proper place. Death teaches us to keep our troubles in perspective.
I found myself drawn to sacred text over and over again. As I
watched that fateful moment; as I witnessed the bravery and
dedication of our faithful fire fighters and police officers; as I
wondered what will become of our great country, my soul took me
to Ezekiel 37. Listen to its words carefully.
Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley,
and it was full of bones. And he led me round
among them; and behold, there were very many
upon the valley, and they were very dry. The hand
of the Lord was upon me and he brought me out (to
the valley). And he said to me, ‘…..Can these bones
live?’ And I answered, "O Lord God, only you
know." Again he said to me, "Prophesy to these
bones and say to them O dry bones, hear the word
of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones.
Behold, I will cause breath to enter you and you
shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you and will
cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with
skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and
you shall know that I am God. So I prophesized as I
was commanded: and as I prophesized, there was a
noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came
together, bone to its bone. And as I looked, there
were sinews on them and flesh had come upon them
and skin had covered them; but there was no breath
in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the
breath, prophesy , to the breath, ‘Thus says the
Lord God, come from the four winds, O breath and
breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I
prophesized as he commanded me and the breath
came into them and they lived and stood upon their
feet, an exceedingly great host."
These words were read to the people of Israel when they were lost,
when their cities had been destroyed, the people butchered and
those that survived the carnage were exiled to Babylon. Ezekiel
inspired his people that life can come from death. Not that the dead
will live again, but rather the community as a whole can be reborn
from the ashes. We are never dead so long as there is hope. We are
never dead so long as we dream. We are never dead so long as we
have faith. We are never dead so long as we hold together. We are
never dead so long as we are courageously dedicated to rebuilding
our lives. May New York rise from the ashes, taller, prouder, more
just, more committed to freedom than ever before. May our leaders
and our soldiers in Washington repair the breach, rebuild the wall,
strengthen the bulwark of freedom. May the God of hope and
goodness breath new life into our dry bones, our weary souls.
May God comfort all those who mourn in our country. May God
strengthen the hands of those who heal. May we find the
knowledge that will bring us a realistic courage. May we have faith
in our dreams, honoring the dead, building a better tomorrow. May
we never forget how great this country is, for God has indeed shed
His grace on thee. Please join together in "America the Beautiful"
on p. 532.
Gregory S. Marx Rabbi Rosh Hashonah Sep ‘01