I spend the one closest to my secular heart among people who have become good friends, and I spend a great deal of time beforehand encouraging potential new friends to come and to enjoy, to look toward the future with one foot in the past and one's being wholeheartedly in the present. Anyone who's read this blog for any length of time knows what I'm talking about.
This year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are "early" by the solar calendar, but right on time by the moon's movements, as always. Those days will be spent with my spiritual family in the synagogue. We will listen to the sounding of the shofar, awakening us to our best and strongest possibilities as a community upholding halakhah while at the same time reminding us that life is short, and that, as a community, we can atone for our sins against God but we must constantly keep the work going when it comes to our sinning against each other. It's easier to ask forgiveness of an invisible-to-the-eye deity in shul as a "revolving door" Jew (in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, out of it on Yom Kippur 'til the next year) than it is to look one's friends and family in the eye and ask forgiveness of them. Studies of how to keep these people coming to synagogues and becoming active members can miss that important point, in my opinion - but it is very hard work, and it's something I can always use pointers on.
And then there is 9/11.
And the lessons we are still learning from it.
And the ones that seem to go horrifically unheeded.
I was alerted to the Anti-Defamation League's statement on the controversy surrounding the Islamic community center seeking approval for its construction at a site near where the Twin Towers once stood through Adrastos' post on First Draft. There had been many debates about this going on on my Queens synagogue's listserve that I hadn't really paid attention to up to that point, as the ones most engaged in the arguments started to get into city zoning laws and property rights in Manhattan. I brought the Daily Beast article about the ADL's statement up to the folks on the listserve and was directed to the ADL's actual statement....
Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.I once spoke of being disgusted at my grandparents' then-rabbi's insertion of the deaths at the Twin Towers into a High Holy Day prayer emphasizing how much repentance, charity and prayer can avert the severest decree of all - even who would be on a higher floor of the towers and perish and who would be on a lower floor and live. I still think it is a damn harsh way to look at such a terrible tragedy, and I still fill up with anger for the ones left behind who lost people that day. Throwing that kind of thing into the Unetaneh tokef so casually was too much of a hurtful act. It fed into a perversity of the main idea that motivated the terrorists: that Allah had dictated that they make their point against people they thought were infidels, so they had to drive that home by hijacking planes and ramming them into what they were taught were the biggest symbols antithetical to Islam on earth, and forget the people who died as a result, because they didn't matter in that scheme of things. A year after the towers collapsed, the Pentagon burned, and the remaining plane nosedived into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I didn't think the families and friends of victims would appreciate the personalizing of such a metaphor.
The problem now is that, after all this time, we are still thinking like the terrorists, mistaking a building for extremist views - and this time, that building is an Islamic community center. The ADL tried to straddle the fence between the victims' feelings and the principle of freedom of religion we at least claim to subscribe to in this country and ended up impaled on a post of its own making. This is a far cry from the days when Leo Frank was framed for the murder of Mary Phagan and then, despite a governor's commutation of his sentencing, lynched by an anti-Semitic mob. This is a league founded on upholding the greater good against all odds kicking sand in that greater good's face. All of this does a huge disservice to the victims in whose name the ADL purports to speak.
This message can be turned about for my people who feel this way. It's the perfect time. We say it in the Vidui Ashamnu that is added to the Amidah prayer during Yom Kippur. Only we should take its lessons and turn to those wanting to establish a community center in the name of their faith and recognize these people for who they are and not for what others have turned their faith into.
Those terrorists nearly nine years ago did not speak for them.
Once we grasp that idea, all it takes to put it into action are seven words from another High Holy Day prayer - from us to the Cordoba Center's members, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.
Big thanks also go to Coozan Pat for his many alerts and thoughts on the controversy.