Ten years ago, today, on September 11, 2001 I was in high school, and when I heard someone mention the words “plane crash” early in the morning, I didn’t think twice about it. I mean, plane crashes do happen, it’s not so unusual. I assumed it was an accident. It wasn’t until just a little bit later that morning when the principal called us all into an assembly did I find out the news about the act of terror that occurred. Like everyone, I was shocked. How could this happen? America is a safe place, this is the type of thing that would happen in Israel, but things like that don’t happen here, I remember thinking. I had learned about Pearl Harbor, but attacks on the United States like that were things we learned about in history. How could planes fly into the World Trade Center? I saw the Twin Towers many times from a distance, and still picture them today.
Those who remember 9/11, remember exactly where they were. I always like to ask others: “Where were you when it happened? How did you find out?” Everyone has a story, and it was a moment that changed every person in a different way. The place where you were when you heard the news was the place you were when your world changed.
I remember that I couldn’t believe that something so horrible had happened. I remember being scared and no longer feeling safe. Classmates of mine who had parents who worked in the World Trade Center or nearby or even in the city were crying and terrified. In the days after 9/11 I heard countless stories of how many of those fathers were late to work because they went to Selichot, and were saved.
I remember what the world was like in the days and weeks following 9/11, the sense of unity and community. There were American flags everywhere, on people’s cars, on their homes, in store windows. People were friendlier to each other, we felt closer somehow to those around us, especially strangers. There was this sense of, we are all going through the same thing, we are all here together, and we all experienced this.
I remember how many pointed out the proximity of the event to Elul and Rosh Hashanah, where we say “Who will die and who will live? Who by fire and who by water?” Many of the ways mentioned in that prayer were ways in which people died on 9/11.
There are so many, many messages to take out of 9/11. Some focus on the amazing acts of heroism, the people who died to save others, who risked their lives to save others, those who were strong and brave despite the extreme tragedy.
One of the messages that I took from 9/11 was the same message that I relearned a few weeks ago. When Hurricane Irene hit two weeks ago, it reminded me of one thing: Who is really in control of the world: Hashem. The Shabbos right before the storm I had heard a nice idea from the Rabbi at shul. He said that the upcoming storm should remind us that it’s not walls, bricks, wood, or stones that protect us; it’s Hashem. I hadn’t thought about that. When thinking about the storm my main thought had been “Oh, it’s OK, I will be safe in my house.” I realized this meant I was putting my faith in my house, which certainly has no power of its own to save me. If my house succeeds to protect me, which Baruch Hashem, it did, then it is only because Hashem gave it that power.
The message that I took out of Hurricane Irene is: Wake up! Look who is really in charge! Sometimes, unfortunately, sometimes it is hard to see Hashem’s involvement in the world and be aware of His Presence every second of every day. When it’s raining, we think our umbrellas are what keep us dry, or our raincoats. We think that building shelter us and that electricity comes from wires. We rely on the fact that when we turn on a light switch, the light bulb will light up, and when we plug something in to an outlet, it will turn on or the battery will begin charging. We have to remember that Hashem is in charge of the world. Hashem keeps us safe, and we have to put our trust in Hashem.
That is the same message that I took out of 9/11. Like Hurricane Irene, 9/11 was a wake-up call. The Twin Towers were massive buildings, they seemed so permanent, and when you looked at them it looked like nothing could destroy them. September 11 was a terrifying day and made me think about life and death, and that you don’t know when you’re going to die. We can think about hurricanes and about terrorism and be afraid. Or we can accept the fact that there is so much out of our control and we must do whatever is in our ability to do, but the rest is up to Hashem, and He is running the show.
Today I remember those who died on September 11, 2001, and all of those who were affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United 93. I remember those who risked their lives, the firefighters, the police officers, the rescue workers, the family members, the relatives, the friends, the heroes, and all of those whose lives will never be the same. I remember the world before 9/11 and the world after 9/11. I remember that this tragedy is a wake-up call and pray that we all use the tenth anniversary of this horrific event to take to heart the messages that we each need to hear.