23 Elul 5761 (September 11, 2001 ) made all of us witnesses and mourners. We mourn individually, collectively, and we mourn different things. As Jews, we look to our traditions, values, and creativity for ways to understand these profound losses. Jewish custom calls for reflection on the anniversary of a death. In that spirit, Yahrzeit: September11 Observed at the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City, honors the yahrzeit - the anniversary - of the losses sustained on that day. How tragic an event to spark an exhibition. Yet, how rich the opportunity to explore the ways in which Jewish law and customs deal with loss.
The exhibition examined the ways in which New York's Jewish community was affected by and responded to the attacks. The out-pouring of volunteers addressed a breadth of needs: physical, spiritual and mental health needs. The exhibition also explained ways in which Jewish law deals with a widow whose husband's body was never found and who needed a rabbinic ruling to continue her life. One particualry moving part of the exhibition reflected on the Jewish custom of shmirah, the vigil of 24-hour prayers in the morgues set up around the city. Shmirah of September 11 lasted eight months.
From stories of frantic flight that beautiful Tuesday morning to examples of the rituals and laws dealing with death and mourning, the exhibition presented a selection of the many ways in which Jews, Jewish organizations, and neighborhood institutions experienced and addressed September 11 and its aftermath.
As Jews and Americans, when challenged by the events of September 11, we saw once again that connections to our past could give us strength in the present.