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Hoping for a Repeat – Pre Rosh Hashanah (Nitzavim 09/17/20)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Hoping for a Repeat
This past Friday, 9/11, was one day off in the Jewish calendar from that horrific day nineteen years ago. This synchronicity was not lost upon me.
The Jewish calendar is based upon lunar months averaging 29.5 days which equals 354 days in a 12-month year. Since a solar year is 365 days, the lunar year is shorter by 11 days each year. We compensate by adding an extra month (Adar II) 7 out of 19 years. That’s why the holidays are always in flux, coming out earlier or later in the year. In the 19th year, the calendars synchronize to the same Jewish and secular date once again. This year, due to a leap year anomaly we were one day off.
In 2001, September 11 was Elul 23; this Friday was Elul 22. I remember that period well. Anxiety filled the air as we feared for our lives, and communities gathered together for prayer. Because of the severity of the times, most rabbis had to rewrite our High Holiday speeches, for whatever we had previously thought important was minimally relevant at the moment.
This is how I started that speech nineteen years ago:
“One week ago, our lives were radically altered.
We were living the blessed American dream. We had our comfortable homes with cars in the garage and affordable gas. Food was aplenty, and we delighted in our technological gadgets and leisure pastimes. Most importantly, we enjoyed peace and security.
Our tranquility ended last week, though, when terrorists attacked us on our soil.
Unfortunately, this does not seem like it is going to be a one-time occurrence:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Sen. Gary Hart, who helped draft a commission report on national security, warned on Monday that the United States remained vulnerable and ill-prepared for subsequent terror attacks.
“This is not the end; this is just the beginning. There will be other attacks on this country,” “The next attack will not be airliners. It will be chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in cities like Denver or Seattle or Nashville or cities like that.”
Hart noted that 1.3 million people, over 300,000 vehicles, and thousands of shipments traversed U.S. borders each day, but the U.S. Customs Service was able to inspect only one or two percent of the border traffic.
Moreover, the Dow Jones lost more than six hundred points yesterday. The airline industry suffered a $6 billion loss in total market capitalization, as many airlines plunged by as much as fifty percent on Monday.
Will our trust and comfort in air travel ever be the same?”
Nineteen years later, we can take some comfort from this speech. Air travel permanently changed, but we started to fly again (at least until recently).
The market rebounded and is worth more than three times now than it was then. More importantly, subsequent attacks on our mainland were minimal.
It’s very easy for fear to overcome people and for us to envision the worst.
Most of the time, however, things turn out better than we expected. We rise to the occasion.
Today we’re also living in exceptionally challenging times, with numerous global and national issues. Rising to the occasion will mean considerable efforts by our government, local communities, and individuals.
May this High Holiday season help us see how we are part of the solution; that we are players in the process for a better future. May we soon breathe that sigh of relief once more and be proud of our role in bringing it about.
Shana Tova, wishing us all a year of healing, blessing and friendship
R’ Neil

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