I had never heard the word terrorism before that fateful morning. The TV screen in my parents’ bedroom showed an airplane crash into a tall, important building in New York; I assumed it was all just a terrible accident. I went to school that day, but my fourth grade class didn’t proceed as usual. We spent the morning fixed on the news, watching repeats of the first crash, and then the second. I vividly remember thinking to myself, “how could the pilots make such a mistake?” And though my young mind couldn’t answer the questions, at that point, neither could anyone else.
On September 11th of this year, I was privileged enough to attend a panel discussion held by SCWSC, YSU, YCSA, TAC, SOY-JSC, SYMSSC and the Psychology Club called “Where Were You?” The night began with a commemorational prayer led by Rav Yona Reiss, who was the head of the Beis Din of America during 9/11. The evening included a panel composed of noteworthy individuals who all had unique perspectives and insights to lend on this anniversary, and included Rav Reiss, our own Dean Karen Bacon, Stephen R. Boak, a member of the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Dr. John C. Markowitz, adjunct professor of clinical psychiatry at Cornell University, and Dr. Michael Widlanski, author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat. The speakers reflected on their experiences, their thoughts, and their reactions to that painful day.
Dean Bacon shared heroic stories about Stern girls who acted as shomrot for the makeshift morgue that had been set up on the East side after the attacks. Dr. Markowitz enlightened us about PTSD and studies he is currently conducting to try to help those who are still traumatized. Rabbi Reiss spoke about halakhic issues that faced the Beit Din of America during 9/11, particularly horrific classical cases of Agunot.
The evening concluded with a sensory exhibit run by the Stern Art Club that tried to guide the audience through feelings of pain and hope through photographs, poetry, video, and sound.
The purpose of the event was not merely to encourage us to remember 9/11, but to cause us to ask ourselves, as President of SCWSC Adina Minkowitz noted, “where are you going?” How do we continue on and grow from this tragic experience? Dr. Widlanski made it very clear that to him, vigilance is the answer. We cannot become complacent after these attacks, as new radical Islamic terrorists arise each day. We must take their threats seriously and respect them—these men mean business.
After the Holocaust, we as Jews promised ourselves and the world, “Never Again.” Now as citizens of the United States, we must take action, pay attention, and repeat the same phrase— because we can’t afford not to.