A Nation Says ‘Kaddish’

Flags flew at half-staff. People on the street made a stronger-than-usual effort to meet each others’ eyes, acknowledging the sadness of the day. Parents lingered on schoolyards well after drop-off, watching their children, perhaps thinking of the hundreds of other parents who were brutally deprived of this opportunity on that dreadful day one year ago.

In Jewish tradition, the one-year anniversary of a loved one’s death marks the unveiling of their gravestone. This year, Sept. 11 marked the mourning of a nation, and the unveiling of numerous memorials for those who suffered and died in last year’s tragic attacks on our country.

At the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Wednesday morning, a moving ceremony was held, starting with the blowing of the shofar. Among those attending were consuls-general from 20 countries, including Israel. Others who attended included Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, County Fire Department Battalion Chief Juan Gonzalez and LAPD Deputy Chief David Kalish. Also present were Cmdr. Robert Anderson, director of the Navy’s information office, along with other military personnel.

"One year ago, America changed forever," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, center founder and dean. "Americans of all creeds stared down the ugly face of evil.

"In the year that has passed, we still don’t know what to say to the families of the victims," Hier said. "It is not only the victims who must never be forgotten, but we must never forget their murderers as well."

The rabbi quoted from a speech Winston Churchill gave in 1937: "For those who say that the case is fraught with danger, the greater danger is to do nothing."

"If we don’t defeat the terrorists today," Hier said. "America will have to pay, and make greater sacrifices to defeat them tomorrow. We owe it to the victims that there will never be another Sept. 11."

The ceremony included a display of artwork inspired by Sept. 11 that was created by Los Angeles schoolchildren. In addition, the lighting of memorial candles was conducted, each candle inscribed with the name of one of the more than 3,000 victims.

One of the biggest ceremonies took place at the newly opened Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. More than 3,000 people attended the interfaith remembrance service, whose sponsors included the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, the Interreligious Council of Southern California and the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council.

Prayers were offered by a diverse group, including representatives of the Sangha Council of Southern California, Vedanta Society of Southern California, Los Angeles Baha’i Center, First African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Islamic Center of Southern California.

"Though we may be people of different tribes, of different religions, and individual convictions … we are all one under God," said actress Anjelica Huston, who hosted the service.

Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, called people to prayer with the blowing of the shofar.

"May the sharp, piercing blasts of the shofar shatter our complacency and arouse us to redeem our broken world…. May the loud clarion of the shofar herald the day when all people, all of God’s children, live in peace and harmony," Diamond said.

A number of Los Angeles-area synagogues also held memorial services, some in cooperation with nearby churches. Mayor James Hahn, who attended the ecumenical service at the cathedral, said such gatherings serve two purposes.

"One is to remember and honor the memory of those who lost their lives, to remember the heroes: the police, the firefighters, the paramedics and the ordinary citizens like those on Flight 93, who made sure more lives were not lost," Hahn told The Journal. "[They are also] to remember that America is united, stronger today than we were before, and to understand the only way this country works is for all of us to be united."

On that same theme, congregants of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills joined with members of next-door neighbor St. Bernardine of Sienna Catholic Church for a joint service called, "One Community, One Humanity."

"It really reflects the Sept. 11 mentality of trying to respond as Americans, as one people, and to show a sense of unity," said Aliyah’s Rabbi Stewart Vogel. "When someone attacks your family, no matter what differences divide you, you put those aside to respond as one."

Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice held a similar service with its Catholic neighbors at St. Clements Church, with shared prayers and a rendition of 19th century composer Louis Lewandowski’s "Halleluyoh," a cantorial version of Psalm 150.

"For Jews and for all people of faith, death and life go together in many subtle ways," said Rabbi Dan Shevitz, leader of Mishkon Tephilo. "At the same time we share our sadness and our grief over loss, we also come from a religious tradition that death is not final.

"The heroism and values articulated in a good life are ultimately more lasting than death," he said. "Mourning the dead and celebrating the lives given in heroism are not two distinct things, but part of the same tradition."

Earlier in the week, Museum of Tolerance officials gave high school students from Los Angeles, St. Louis and Garrettsville, Ohio, an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings about Sept. 11 via a video conference. Most of the discussion centered on how the students felt as Americans, their views on the U.S. response to terrorism and the lasting implications of the terrorist attacks.

"Sept. 11 was an awakening of what is going on in the rest of the world, and what happens in Israel every day," said Nadav Geft, a student at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles. Some students objected to the media’s coverage of the attacks, and to the sometimes excessive displays of patriotism in the wake of the attacks. Chris Membribes, an 11th-grade student at North High School in Torrance, said that with the sale of patriot-themed T-shirts and keychains, "we gave the terrorists the publicity they wanted."

The discussion included a lecture by terrorism expert Sabi Shabti, author of "Five Minutes to Midnight." "Things are not going to be the same. I don’t think they will ever be the same," Shabti told the students. "Ultimately, terrorism is a war against democracy, because in the aftermath, people are willing to give up civil liberties and freedom for safety, security and order," he said. "We must not allow that [to happen]. It will take everyone in our society to protect our democracy, our rights, our way of life."

On Tuesday evening, Rabbi Allen Freehling spoke to more than 1,000 members at the Gathering for Civil Liberties and Peaceful Tomorrows, which was sponsored by the Interfaith Communities United for Peace and Justice, which was held at the First Baptist Church in Mid-Wilshire.

"Let us not make our Constitution the ultimate victim of what happened a year ago," Freehling declared. His remarks echoed similar sentiments of speakers throughout the night, which centered on First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and the importance of dissent in a democracy.

Bringing the principle home, syndicated columnist Robert Scheer questioned the Bush administration’s pressure for a war with Iraq. "Even his own people are asking, ‘What proof, why now?’" Scheer said. "It just doesn’t fit."

The Interfaith Communities gathering, with its emphasis on politics, was an exception. Most memorials emphasized faith over politics and focused on the victims.

"At this hour of sacred memory, we cry with their families, friends and colleagues," Diamond said. "We cry with our fellow Americans for the loss of our innocence, our way of life as we knew it. We cry with all people of good will that a monstrous evil has struck God’s creation, and dealt a heavy blow to God’s creatures."

It was a long, heart-wrenching day. At the end, the flags remained at half-staff. But we, as a people, as a nation, stood tall.

Michael Aushenker, Rachel Brand, Charlotte Hildebrand and Gaby Wenig contributed to this story.