When the sun sets this evening, we will enter the holiest Shabbat of our Jewish calendar – the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, also known as Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Return.
On this Shabbat, we are intensely focused on examining our behavior and on atoning for our sins. Of course, the Jewish concept of teshuvah – repentance – includes not just making a personal accounting of past behavior, but also asking ourselves what we must do in the future. It is, therefore, a Sabbath of examining our commitments.
This Shabbat Shuva has an added dimension of holiness as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001. We remember, of course, the victims of the horrific attacks and think of their loved ones. We remember the first responders who lost their lives trying to save others, and we honor all those who cared for the injured and the suffering. We remember the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country in the aftermath of the attacks.
While it is hard to look beyond the lives lost and the bereaved families, we must also use this Shabbat to remember how completely our view of safety and security was upended in an instant. All people everywhere grappled with how a relatively small group of terrorists fueled by hatred and armed with little more than boxcutters could fell two skyscrapers, damage the military headquarters of the most powerful country on earth, and, were it not for the bravery of citizens on flight 93, tear apart the seat of America's Democracy, the U.S. Capitol.
In the days and months after 9/11, the Jewish Federation system did its part in responding to the needs of the victims and their families. But, as a Jewish community, we also understood our unique vulnerability to such attacks. In the most resonant of Jewish terms, we made a commitment to never forget the lessons learned that day by taking the necessary steps to protect our community.
Many Federations – today numbering forty five – began building community security initiatives after 9/11, bringing specific and sustained security planning and expertise to all the Jewish institutions in their areas. The Jewish Federation system as a whole launched the Secure Community Network to support and connect these initiatives and to help them work closely with national law enforcement authorities. We do this not out of fear but out of love for all that Jewish life has to offer our families and our communities, and a determination to ensure that our schools, synagogues, Jewish centers, and camps are open, accessible, and safe.
Tragically, the need for this security umbrella has only increased in the twenty years since September 2001. We now understand that the threats from lone actors or from small cells of terrorists come not just from outside our shores but from within, and that Jews and Jewish institutions are indeed targets not just of the ideologies that drove the attacks on 9/11 but from extremists of all types.
We have not forgotten the victims and the horror of that day, nor its lessons, nor the subsequent victims of terror. As we enter the Jewish year 5782, communities across North America are raising funds to strengthen their security efforts, and the Jewish Federations of North America are collectively engaged in an important effort – LiveSecure - to ensure that our security umbrella covers all communities and is everywhere meeting the best practices demanded of us by the new challenges that have emerged since 9/11.
As we gather in our synagogues and on-line this Shabbat Shuva, we remember the panic in the minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months that followed 9/11. We remember the painful process of clearing the debris, the debates over how to move forward, the inspiration of finally rebuilding. We remember the lessons we learned, unlearned, and relearned as the event reverberated throughout the world in the years that followed. We remember the importance of fighting hatred in all its forms. We remember that we must always stay vigilant to keep ourselves safe.
But above all, we remember the 2,997 innocent lives that were lost, and the many heroes who sacrificed dearly to help save them.
May we all be sealed in the book of life for the coming year, and, on this holiest of Sabbaths, may we all commit ourselves to the safety, security, and protection of our holy community and of the great, free society in which we are blessed to live.
Mark Wilf is the Chair of the JFNA Board of Trustees.
Julie Platt is the National Campaign Chair and Chair of LiveSecure at JFNA.
For information about Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey Secuirty Initiatives, contact us.