September has always been a turbulent month for my brain. Professionally, it is the beginning of the new school year and there are the challenges of preparing for students and lots of planning for the holiday services and programs that I might be leading. The month also starts with my birthday which brings varying fond memories and baggage. My favorite memories are the years when I shared the day with my grandmother whose birthday was the second day of Rosh HaShannah September Turbulence and Memories. We never did know her secular date. (Would she have been able to vote today?) And in the last 11 years it has become the month that I remember my friend Steve Jacobson and all those who were senselessly murdered on 9/11, and in the years forward because of 9/11.
I often think of my friend Steve. He could daven faster than most people and he was a great gabbai. Even though he read in his Ashkenazi accent and his German trop, if he corrected your Torah reading, he would use whatever trop and accent you used. That is a rare skill. He was also a sweetheart of a man who left behind a wife and two daughters.
Passing the hump of the first decade, people seemed unsure how to mourn this year. There were no big commemorations and it seemed as if people were all wrapped up in the election. But just as we read this week’s Torah portion over and over as if it were brand new, every year I mourn the horror of this day with the same ferocity. Perhaps it is because I had a personal connection. Perhaps it is because I could always see the Towers from my window. (Muscle memory kept that vision there for several months every time I looked south.) Perhaps it is because as a New Yorker, I took the attack personally.
Another tie to September is that my Bat Mitzvah portion is Nitzavim. In fact, the last time I saw Steve, he was gabbai when I read this portion at mincha, the afternoon service on the Shabbat just before that fateful Tuesday. It starts with the phrase “Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem – You stand here today, everyone.” Moses is about to die and the Israelites are standing together and getting their final instructions. But it is not just the Israelites, it is everyone: The heads of the tribes and the servants, the women and their maidservants, as well as the non-Israelites who were among them. Everyone was mixed up together listening. Perhaps one of the lessons that we can take into this Rosh HaShannah is that we really are all in this together. Just as everyone listened to Moses together, when the Towers fell and the planes crashed on 9/11, everyone was equal, rich or poor, manager or worker.
It is this time of year that I realize how much I miss Steve, I miss my grandmother, and I miss the world before 9/11 when I could look downtown and see two ugly buildings whose fate changed the world.
May this year be one to build better memories!