In 2001, the worst terrorist attack in American history hit a week before Rosh Hashanah, a striking juxtaposition that repeats itself this month with the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 horrors.
As we approach the High Holidays, this most introspective time on our Jewish clocks, it is fitting to reflect on how we and our world have changed — or not.
Since that fateful day, our country has engaged in two costly wars and suffered an economic meltdown. Osama bin Laden is dead and his Al Qaeda network has been severely weakened, but Islamic fundamentalism has not, infiltrating new targets across the globe. Add to this the ever-increasing threat of a nuclear Iran and it's hard not to fear for the security of Israel, the Jewish people and, indeed, the world.
The shock and grief we experienced then was palpable during the ensuing Days of Awe, our personal teshuvah merging with our collective accounting of what was lost. It was a time when we read the chilling words of the U'netaneh Tokef prayer with more immediacy. The question of "who shall live and who shall die" took on a stark new reality amid the fresh wounds of lives lost in fire, of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters taken prematurely merely because their office was situated on the wrong floor of the Twin Towers or the wrong corner of the Pentagon.
Yet amid the trauma of that early September day emerged a rare feeling of unity, a collective pain and purpose as we tried to make sense of the senseless, mourn the thousands of victims and their families and honor those who risked –and, in many cases, lost — their lives in heroic rescue efforts.
It was perhaps inevitable that the country's unity would dissolve as people, especially those not personally touched by the tragedy, got on with their lives. Still, it is troubling to see how the civility and camaraderie that prevailed in our public arenas have all but evaporated. Our political discourse continues to devolve into unrelenting stridency and didacticism.
We spend time from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur taking account of — and striving to improve — our relationships with our family and friends, and with the world around us. As we engage in our personal teshuvah, may each of us this year remember not only the lives lost on 9/11 and since, but also how those losses inspired us to think differently, to act differently.
May the sound of the shofar provide that proverbial wake-up call to find a meaningful path for ourselves and our society. And may we all have a sweet, fulfilling and peaceful new year.