9/11 remembered in Sydney

September 11, 2011 by Henry Benjamin
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The doleful tones of the shofar blown by Sydney’s Great Synagogue’s Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence resonated throughout the majestic St Mary’s Cathedral today…invoking the memories of that fatal day ten years ago when the horrors of 9/11 shocked the world.

William Barton, Sheikh Dr Mohammed Anas, Cardinal George Pell and Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence

Sitting in the front rows were families of the ten Australians who lost their lives following the attacks on the World Trade Centre when two passenger jets smashed into the iconic twin towers causing them to collapse resulting in the deaths of over 3,000 innocent people.

Two other domestic flights were hi-jacked and were deliberately crashed with a further loss of life in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The ceremony was attended by Governor Marie Bashir and Premier Barry O’Farrell. It began with the stirring sounds of a digeridoo played by Aboriginal film-maker William Barton. Father Paul Hilder introduced the Consul General of the United States Niels Marquardt.

Neils Marquardt

He commented about the Australian way of remembering significant events of the past citing the oft-used “Lest We forget”. He said: “Today I thank you all for gathering here in a similar spirit.” The Consul-General said this was an unprecedented attack against innocent unarmed civilians and that this is infinitely difficult to

Families of those who lost their lives

understand. He added that a monument had been dedicated on a site facing the Opera House on which were engraved the ten names of the Australians who died in the 9/11 attack. He added that he had been in Washington at the time and saw the smoke billowing from the Pentagon after one of the aircraft had been flown directly into it. He added that Australian Prime Minister John Howard had been in Washington on that day and joined American leaders the following day in a display of “mateship”.

He said: “Confronted with hate we choose to reach out confronted with death we choose to live confronted with fear we choose to hope. I took comfort with speed with which the Pentagon was rebuilt although it has taken much longer  as how to rebuild Ground Zero…that hallowed space.” He said that families of the victims still struggling to fill the chasm of their loss.

Following as address from Ken Allen, former Australian Consul General in New York in which he said that he saw the second plane crash into the second tower the gathering joined together in silent prayer. Bells tolled as the names of the ten Australian victims were read out and a candle lit in their names.

David Campbell sang “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables…a sole voice filling every nook and cranny of the majestic cathedral.

Cardinal Pell

Governor Marie Bashir in silent prayer

Cardinal Pell said in his address: “While belonging to different religious traditions, we are united in our opposition to terrorism, the killing of innocent bystanders: in our opposition to blind and random vengeance. We all commit ourselves to working towards peace and harmony in the future and doing what we can to ensure that that the terrible evils of the twentieth century, the most violent in history, are not repeated. We pray that this century will not see two World Wars, no repeats of the scourges of Nazism and Communism, two systems built on lies and violence.”

Sheikh Dr Mohammed Anas

Sheikh Dr Mohammed Anas said: “Let’s all reflect on this day as to what the world has to offer our grandchildren rather than how many children our actions may have orphaned. An attitude of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and an ‘eye for an eye’ will either leave us all blind or in a perpetual atmosphere of hate, anger and distrust.”

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence was the last to speak and J-Wire publishes his address in full…an address which concluded with the blowing of the shofar.

Rabbi Lawrence blows the Shofar pic: Henry Benjamin

How do we respond to the evil destruction of an iconic landmark and symbol, thousands dead, thousands more lives ruined?

This very question was posed by the rabbis of the Talmud writing of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the magnificent home of monotheistic belief.

How do we go on after such tragic loss and now that our splendid edifice and monument has been reduced to rubble?

The destruction of the twin towers on 9/11 ten years ago will be remembered for its horror and its magnitude.  Many of us who saw it unfold on live television will carry for all time the awesome sequence of images; the smoke billowing from the North Tower after it had been hit by American Airlines Flight 11, and watching… as it happened… the second plane UA 175 collide with the South Tower, the explosions, the fire, the horror on faces, people falling, jumping, rescue workers moving in, buildings collapsing.  Shock.  Disbelief.  Incomprehensible.

With AA flight 77, with UA 93 and the people on the ground at the Pentagon almost three thousand lives lost.  Thousands more ruined.

The buildings and the planes, emblematic of human achievement; our ability to build, to rise and to soar came crashing down.  The physical burned.  Lives were extinguished.

When the Rabbis of the Talmud posed the question after the fall of the Temple, one school, the Mourners of Zion decreed that there could be no further happiness.  Jerusalem should remain without music and celebration until it was blessed with messianic redemption.  In Hebrew, the expression “Zecher LeChurban” means remembrance of destruction.  Within Jewish practice today every home is supposed to have a “Zecher LeChurban” a remembrance of the destruction with a prominent area left unpainted or undecorated.  We should have a constant reminder that our lives have lost some of their lustre.  At every Jewish wedding we shatter a glass, Zecher LeChurban.  However great our joy at the occasion, we remember the Temple with solemnity and sadness.  All joy is incomplete and fragmented in the remembrance of what has been lost.

Josie and Ian Lacey, Jeremy Jones, Jeremy Spinak, Yair Miller

Another school remembered the Temple with a different slant.  “Zecher LeMikdash” means a remembrance of the sanctuary.  Every Passover we eat unleavened bread in a sandwich that the sage Hillel recalled as a Temple practice.  On the feast of Tabernacles today we process for seven days with the palm, which used to be done only in the Temple.  “Zecher LeMikdash” exhort the rabbis.  We should celebrate and honour the buildings and the lives lost by incorporating their memories, their virtues and their values into our ongoing lives.

How must we respond to tragedy?  Do we focus on the churban, the destruction or the mikdash, the sanctuary and its vibrancy.  For sure, we do not forget.  We do not abandon.  Nor do we lose ourselves and augment the ruin.

With twin responses we confront the ambivalence of our psyche expressing on the one hand our profound grief that our world is damaged and that we are bereft.  But we express on the other, defiance and ongoing struggle; a striving to renew and rebuild.  The physical may crumble but the spirit endures.

We must not let ourselves be defeated by acts of destruction; nor may we lose hope that we shall see reconstruction and redemption; nor ought we dishonour those who showed faith and resilience in the face of adversity through our own hesitation.  We respond by living better lives, through celebrating life and imbuing it with meaning.

“How remarkable is the King of Kings,” says the Talmud.  “When an earthly monarch mints a coin with his or her image, every coin is identical.  But with the King of Kings who fashioned man in His image, each of us bears a different face.”

I recently encountered that passage of Talmud in the responsa literature of American Rabbis assessing the value of DNA analysis of charred remains.  In Jewish law could identifying a fragment of recovered tissue prove the death of an individual who had been missing since the Twin Towers?  The presumption of death was of course manifest, but for the religious families religious protocols must be observed.  As the rabbis discussed this passage in the context of our unique image encoded in our DNA, it was a reminder that the King of Kings has fashioned us all deliberately differently, whatever our colour or our creed, whatever personal choices we make or may have made.  But He has fashioned us all.

That different image imprinted upon us is the image of God.

What is the image of God?  Scripture teaches: He is God who is merciful, a God who enjoins us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves; He is God who teaches us to honour the stranger and give refuge to the persecuted.  He is God whose name is Peace.  He is a God who repudiates moral relativism – calling upon us to identify good and evil – to live a life which is Good and disassociate from wrongdoing; and in so doing, He calls upon us to respect the sanctity of our relationships and the sanctity of life.

God is the supreme architect.  “The world is built by kindness,” writes the Psalmist in Psalm 89.  “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne.  Love and truth shall go before You.”

Today we honour the memory of three thousand people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life who shared a common tragic fate.  Murdered by those who didn’t look for the image of God in all humanity; who sought to subvert our world and who showed no mercy or compassion.

We honour the memory of the victims through our ongoing building and sustaining of a world through kindness; through extending righteousness and justice; love and truth.  Just as we are gathered here in St Mary’s today, through encouraging understanding between diverse peoples – of our common humanity and our shared, infinite spiritual worth.

BenTziyon Spitz is a mechanical engineer for Raytheon which had offices on the 89th floor of 2 WTC (the South Tower).  He had been in the building in the 1993 bombing.  He lost 13 colleagues on 9/11.

In two prayers he authored, he invokes Divine blessing of “the first responders, the security and rescue personnel – brave in their hearts and heroic in their deeds…  May God be filled with compassion for these heroes, may the creator of all breath blow His spirit into their souls and alleviate their shortness of breath that they might merit long life and good sustenance; God’s crown of glory on their heads.”

For those who have perished, he entreats the Almighty “God full of mercy, dwelling in the lofty heavens, bring Peace under the wings of the divine Presence to the souls of the men and women who perished in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, those who were burned and strangled in brimstone and fire, who were buried alive or jumped to their deaths, whether flying in airplanes or sitting in offices – and to the rescue forces who gave up their lives to enter the burning wreck and save others… May their resting place be Paradise and may they rest in peace.”

From the 89th floor back to the 89th Psalm, the world built by kindness, righteousness and justice.  The Psalm continues “Love and truth shall go before you.  Happy is the people who know the joyful note.”  Ashrei Ha-Am Yodeah Teruah.

That Hebrew verse will be recited in every synagogue around the world in just under two weeks as part of our New Year liturgy.  It accompanies the notes of the ram’s horn or shofar – itself a reminder of our Patriarch Abraham – who offered up a ram, caught by its horn in a thicket – atop what became Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

What is the Teruah?  The note of the Shofar is trifold.  At its heart is a cry.  It is a broken note.  What is the cry?  Perhaps it is a wailing… perhaps a sobbing as we turn to God reflecting on our losses or our failings.  But the wailing, sobbing is sandwiched between two solid blasts of hope.  Hope, Sadness and Hope.  This is how we respond to the destruction of an iconic landmark.

This 9/11, this tenth anniversary, we have our Zecher LeChurban, our mourning, our remembrance of destruction.  But as I sound the shofar with simple breath – the breath of all that lives – so common, so basic, so essential to us all; our remembrance of destruction of the three thousand who perished is sandwiched between the blasts of hope – the admiration of the valour of those who struggled to save themselves and others as flames engulfed them and smoke choked them and rubble fell upon them… and the hope and admiration for all of us who move forwards saying, “I see God’s imprint upon all who draw breath.  I see shared humanity in all around me.  With God’s kindness I shall continue to civilise this world.  I shall rebuild on foundations of righteousness and justice.  Love and truth shall I set before me.”

But for some, at a time like this, all words are redundant.  The simple cry of the shofar is eloquent all on its own…

Tekiah / Shevarim-Teruah / Tekiah







One Response to “9/11 remembered in Sydney”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    The doleful sound of the shofar resonating through the cathederal must have been a moving experience, many would never have heard one before.
    Maybe next year as an act of bipartisanship, the Remembering 9/11 the service could be held in Sydney’s Great Synagogue.

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