Where was I on September 11th, you ask?
At the time, I was studying at the Rabbinical College in Detroit. It was a regular morning of classes and prayers and as I was finishing my morning prayers one of the students came running in and started yelling about a bomb in New York and that buildings were falling. At first it sounded too unbelievable to take serious but when I realized there was truth to it, I ran to call my parents from the payphone.
I finally got through to my mother and she was in tears screaming "Are you OK?" I wasn't sure why she was worried about me. I was in Michigan.
I then remembered that a close friend of mine had gotten engaged the day before and a bunch of my friends flew into New York to attend his engagement party. Of course they would have been on the flights back to their schools that morning. I had told my mom that I was going to be in New York for the night and fly back to Detroit first thing in the morning.
I forgot to tell her that my responsibilities stopped me from making that trip and decided at the last moment to stay in school.
Thank G-d I was OK.
It was a long and painful day. Being that there was no TV anywhere on the school campus, I ran to find a radio and kept in touch with the news.
A few days later a bunch of my friends and I flew to New York for Rosh Hashanah. The Northwest Terminal at DTW was eerie and quiet. People jumped when you sneezed. It was my first time leaving the walls of the College since that Tuesday and I was overwhelmed by the contrast of a few days. It was time for my morning prayers and I put on my Tefillin (click here for more details on that) and started to connect to my creator.
Yes, alot of people walked by me wondering what I was doing in the middle of an airport all wrapped up in leather. An airport security guard even approached me for an explanation. But while I was praying it was a tremendous feeling of connection and solace in the New World that we now live in.
Eventually I made it to JFK (after going through the brand new security protocols).
On Rosh Hashanah, I was walking to Synagogue in Brooklyn. The most interesting thing happened to me: New Yorkers—yes, New Yorkers, were coming over to me and offering me a ride. I didn't know them and they didn't know me but they were doing what neighbors do, offering to help. The was a tangible feeling of unity and caring among New Yorkers, which spread throughout the country and even through the entire world at that time.
The things that were important on 9/10 now seemed so trivial and irrelevant. We knew that we had our family, friends and other important things. We mourned for those who were lost and injured and promised to make a better world for all those we encounter.
My teacher once taught me that we don't chase away darkness with a broom or a stick. The darkest room is changed when even the smallest match is lit. The firefighters, policemen, EMT, volunteers and thousands of others showed us by example on that day what is important. They brought tremendous light into a world that seemed so dark.
Of course, time does things to us and we go back to the regular day-to-day grind and thousands of years of human conditioning pushes us back to the status quo. We still get upset when someone cuts us off on the street, or when the socks are left on the floor in the bathroom.
But 10 years later, it is time to recommit to bringing more light into any room that might have darkness.