With the High Holidays falling at the earliest time since 1899, they also coincide with the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In the dozen years since that fateful day of horror and tragedy, the initial sense of dread and helplessness has in many ways given way to resolve, hope and a greater understanding and acceptance of this country’s religious minorities — with Jews being among the smallest.
The 9/11 attacks led to an immediate response by President George W. Bush that U.S. Muslims were not guilty by association and that Islam is not America’s enemy. That set the standard for acceptance and, despite the added scrutiny they underwent and continue to undergo, American Muslims began to step out of the shadows as a community.
The interfaith Unity Walk in Washington on Sunday was another outgrowth of the 9/11 attacks. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Baha’is, Buddhists and others gathered at Washington Hebrew Congregation to begin their walk to demonstrate that religious differences can lead to curiosity and friendship, not just death and war.
While the walk had its seed in the attacks, 9/11 wasn’t a prerequisite for the increase in interreligious activity. Much the same can be said of the Yom Kippur War 40 years ago. The attack by Egypt and Syria on an unprepared Israel on Yom Kippur took 2,600 Israeli lives, shook Israel’s self-confidence and devastated the country’s economy. It also led to a peace treaty with Egypt that still stands and security understandings with Syria that has kept it out of war with Israel. But the Yom Kippur War wasn’t necessary to achieve those results.
As thoughts inevitably turn to these tragic events on Yom Kippur, it is important to remember that fate has no place in Judaism. Among the teachings of Yom Kippur is that human actions can turn a life, or a situation, around. So as we take stock we must ask, are we doing enough to make the world a better place? Are we treating our neighbors as we would ourselves?
Progress can be made without tragedy. On this Yom Kippur, let’s resolve to make things better before they get worse.