I can’t really fathom that it has been 10 years since the attacks of 9/11. Although I look at my daughter – her birthday is Sept 7 – and I recall instantly how we were celebrating her 5th birthday in her Kindergarten class on that day. Boy, there’s a lot of growth that has happened in these 10 years. And then I reflect on the thousands of parents who were robbed of the opportunity to see their children grow these past years.
As the day approaches, our society is grappling with how to mark, recall and reflect on this national tragedy. One approach is to relive the moments, showing footage, airing interviews with minute by minute descriptions of what was occurring. Another approach is to interview survivors to discover the lives they have made for themselves in the aftermath. Still others seize the moment to talk about national security and the ever imposing threat to our nation.
There is no question that that day had a profound impact on the United States. Just Sunday I was in DC walking around the Mall and noticed how much the landscape has evolved. It’s amazing that just 10 years ago the city was an open accessible space, championing its treasures for all to see. Now it resembles more of a bunker. It’s not the screening at every building, that’s pretty innocuous. It’s the barriers and new entry ways, creating a city looking out for the next fight.
So how do we mark the anniversary of a tragedy that has changed us?
Jewish sages have grappled with this question for thousands of years. Perhaps if we look at the most poignant of tragic days in the Jewish calendar we can apply some of those lessons here. Many people know that Tisha B’Av marks the day that the Temple was destroyed. But that’s like saying that September 11 marks the day the towers fell. It is so much more. Thousands lost their lives. Hundreds were injured. The nation lost its innocence. Our reality shifted. On Tisha B’av we gather to read the historic account of Lamentations, recalling the magnitude of the tragedy that befell people in those days.
We remember the pain of the past.
We come together.
The community reads the book of Lamentations together. This is a national tragedy and to mark it we must do so in the presence of community – to fully experience what a loss this was. But communal sharing is not enough. We are asked to fast. To experience the personal nature of this tragedy. We cannot look at someone else and feel badly for them. It needs to feel bad to us. We were all the targets.
We feel ourselves in the tragedy.
One of the most poignant aspects of Tisha B’av is that unlike all other days in the Jewish year, this day does not truly end with sundown. Remnants of the mournful nature of the day remain until noontime the next day. Huge tragedies are never over. We suffer under there aftermath forever. Yet we go on. We take our new reality and forge forward.
We reflect on this day far past the calendar date of commemoration.
How has this event changed us? How will it affect our future? What will I commit myself to doing differently? How can I honor the past and engage the future?
I see my daughter struggle to remember that day. She won’t. She sees the images on TV and that is her memory. But she will join those of us who were there and those of us who will come in future generations remembering and reflecting on that tragic day.
Hurrah! School started! Wouldn’t it be nice if that were the attitude with which our children met the first day of school?
For both me and my kids, the transition back to school is a hard one. We love summer. Flexible schedules, long days, travel, swimming, no homework. So the beginning of school isn’t an extremely anticipated event. As my kids went off this morning I tried to think of some great parting words to booster them up for the challenge ahead. I went to old reliable – “Great moments are born from great opportunity…” It’s a joke in my house, a go-to line when you need to lighten the mood or give a pep talk no one wants to hear. It’s the pre-game speech from the movie Miracle. After they giggled and left the house, I thought a little harder about the appropriateness of that line for today and for all beginnings.
Every morning upon waking there is a Jewish prayer that can be said. “Modeh Ani lifanecha, I am thankful before You.” The very first thing we say in recognition of beginning our day is “thank you”. What are we thankful for? We haven’t done anything yet. Some answer that we are thankful simply for waking up. There are many people who die in their sleep and for us to see another day is enough to be thankful for. But just opening your eyes isn’t enough. Sloughing through life isn’t enough.
Each day brings about new opportunities. Every day is the possibility of a do-over or do-better. Every moment could become great if we seize the right opportunities. Going to school is a great opportunity. Many children in the world don’t have the access to the kind of education with which we are privileged. Education is about building more and more opportunities. So now, instead of looking back at the summer now ended, I say, Modeh Ani, thank you for beginnings and the opportunity to do something great.
This week’s blog post is written by Rachel Korycan, Assistant, Human Resource Development, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
After Labor Day I will be leaving my position with Human Resource Development and the Jewish Leadership Institute and will be moving down a floor to work in the Financial Resource Development department. While I am staying here at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, this move will mean a new portfolio, new supervisors, and new challenges.
It took me a while to fully embrace this new opportunity because I was so focused on what I was leaving behind. I am very lucky to have spent the last year and a half working with a wonderful team of intelligent, seasoned, dynamic professionals. I have learned so much from this team that at first the idea of not having them around me on a daily basis worried me.
But then I came across my journal from my senior year of high school. On the cover was a quotation by Helen Keller: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
I had spent so much time looking at that closed door—focusing on what had been and what I would miss—that I overlooked the new door that was opening for me! Once I embraced the idea of allowing the past door of happiness to close, I was able to see what a wonderful, exciting, enriching opportunity the new door offered.
Leadership lesson: Don’t focus so much on past successes that you overlook future possibilities. New ideas, opportunities and challenges arise every day. What makes you a good leader is your ability to step up to the new door, reach out, twist the handle and walk through to the successes that await you on the other side.
As the Talmud says, “The highest form of wisdom is kindness.” Thank you Erica Brown, Vickie Marx, Alison Mershon and Orlee Turitz for sharing your wisdom and kindness with me; it has made this door a very happy one indeed.
I love being inspired by Israel. Even if it is something as simple as the motivation to get out and walk. Maybe it’s the crazy driving, but only in Israel do I feel more compelled to walk than to drive.
Today I went out walking the dog and walked past an abandoned mansion that an English immigrant built for his wife. So much in this country is rich in stories. And this house was no different. After pouring his heart and soul into the home, the Englishman’s wife past away shortly after moving in. He left the country and moved back to England. The house had sat abandoned for close to 100 years. Today they began restoring the home. I have no idea what its use will be, but new shudders were put on the stable windows, new doors affixed to the back of the home, and the gas lines seem to be going in.
Israel is known for innovation. And many people claim it is the newness of the country that allows it to be so avant guard. I disagree. I believe it is the incredibly rich and ancient history that taught this modern country to innovate. Innovation is the ability to take something from one discipline and apply it to a new discipline. It’s the ability to look at the old and see something new. Jews have been doing that in Israel since Abraham’s time. We started with spiritual innovation. Last Shabbat we read the Ten Commandments. These were probably laws exercised by many more civilized communities, but the Bible now put these civil laws into a religious context. So many times the Jews returned to Israel and started anew – taking old structures and turning them into modern living conditions. We were nomads, tradesmen, merchants, farmers and now businessmen. The start-up nation gets most of its ideas applying military technology to business concepts.
The abandoned mansion could be an historical site or it could be a new factory. It will only depend on the restorer’s innovative vision.
Leadership Lesson: If you need to innovate and you want inspiration, try looking to the ancient rather than the modern. Who knows maybe one day someone will think of a modern ,use for ancient pottery pieces.
Hiking in Israel is a marvelous way to experience the wonder and beauty of the State of Israel.
It is also a lesson in letting go. As the saying goes: If there is a sign “No swimming”, to Israelis that means “Please jump right in.” After a few years of spending a lot of time tooling around, I have come to accept the Israeli culture of no rules apply. But with a family it is nerve-racking.
Today we went on a fantastic hike across several beaches. We started at one official beach and hiked four hours to the next. In between, we swam, waded, climbed and ate on the unofficial beaches. One of them is even called “tent city” – not the ones the students are creating in protest – but this is here on the beach every summer. People move out of their houses and put up tents on the beach. They even bring kitchens and sofas! Of course natural beaches are fun. But they are also a bit scary. Surf pounds and rocks jut and kids have no caution. So a parent struggles with how much to allow them to do and how much to be wary.
It reminded me of a supervisor. There can be a lot of lip service to “empowering subordinates” and delegating authority. But it’s scary. How much do you let your people “play on the rocks?” When is it okay to venture into the surf and when do you need to caution and hold back? These are real dangers. Business is impacted. No one advocates crazy risk. Don’t go too far into the sea – there is a point of no return. But what about the middle ground where we still waver?
Perhaps here we can learn from the Israeli spirit. Many of us are naturally cautious. Some of us learned to be cautious when so much is on the line. Israelis live every day for the thrill of the risk and the payoff when all turns out right. There are more people on the unofficial beaches than on the official ones. And you know what? They are much more beautiful. Wait until you see my pictures.
"Be the change you wish to see in the world."