September 11. The date, the words are still so evocative. Hate, anger, fear, sorrow, loss. Nine years after the event, emotions can still be as intense as they were in 2001. For some Americans, September 11 is the anniversary of their loved one’s death. Along with the annual memorials, this year the day will also include public demonstrations both in support of and in opposition to Park51, misnamed the “Ground Zero Mosque.”
Both of us will be marking that day as part of our holy season. For Jews, the 11th is Shabbat Shuva, literally the Sabbath of turning, or repentance, wedged between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. For Muslims, it is Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of fasting during the month of Ramadan, the month when Muslims are spiritually reborn. Each year, we see this time, each in our own way, as one of deep inner work whose result, God willing, is the making of new commitments.
This year, it feels important that our religious soul-searching include addressing what is going on in the public square, the larger issues that the controversy about Park51 highlights. Our country’s pluralistic ideals often are at odds with the messier reality on the ground. The volume and intensity of the debate around this particular proposal has felt overwhelming at times, the escalation of hate speech frightening. At the same time, there has been a reaching out across boundaries and a growing recognition by many fair-minded Americans that we all have a lot of work to do to help our society live up to its best self.