What a challenging day to make a first impression. On the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, right around the time when the towers crumbled, I will be standing before my class of newly minted seventh graders. I will have to save face and cheerfully smile at my new students and welcome them to a new year of Jewish learning.
All the while, I know at this time I would usually be crying. All the while, I know, in truth, my students would rather be sleeping in on a Sunday morning. I’m wondering if any other Jewish educators of middle school aged children and older are feeling the way I do; about how to get through this first day.
Let’s hope I don’t lose it and get all teary-eyed in those first introductory moments about an event that happened when my new students were barely out of diapers. After all, ten years to a 13-year-old is a very long time.
I can hear the conversation in the Hebrew School carpool ride home tomorrow: “…..my new teacher, like, cried on the first day. Ewww.”
For better or worse, time does go on and obligations do not stop just because of a date. Over the years, the date of 9/11 shifted around the days of the week. There have been weddings and homecomings, meetings and business trips. Sometimes, the anniversary falls in the middle of the week. Sometimes it happens on a Tuesday, the very day of the attacks.
What do I usually do between 8:45 and 9:00 a.m. on the anniversary of 9/11? I’m usually alone. Everyone else in the family has left for school and work. I feel as I should watch the real-time replay of those horrible moments, as CNN plays it every year. Sometimes, I watch it. Most years, I hide in my laundry room in the basement and have a good cry. Then I get on with my day.
What do I usually do the first day of a new school year with my new kids? I go over expectations. Together, we make a list of class rules. I review classroom procedures and what we will be learning. Also, we have some ice breaker games to get acquainted.
Can we ignore the events of a decade ago and go on with business as usual? Talking about something as painful as 9/11 on our very first day will be a very difficult thing to do, but just as difficult to ignore. I don’t think crying in front of them, or showing the slightest tear will be an option. Not while we are still strangers.
It’s not that difficult subjects don’t arise in Hebrew school. In fact, it’s these really sensitive topics that have motivated my past students. They really open up and we have amazing conversations. (That’s what I love about the seventh grade, they never cease to surprise you on what they can handle.)
Kids in the seventh grade are ready to not to be kids anymore. After all, it’s the year of their B’nei Mitzvah, their coming of age. They want to talk and they told me last year that sheltering them does them a disservice anyway.
I remember last year, sitting on the floor with my seventh graders, discussing the Holocaust with them and how the lessons they learned from the Shoah still mean something to them today. But that discussion happened on one of the last days of school, not the first.
So, come Sunday, I’ll stick to my plan. Unless the plan needs to change. In the Talmud, the rabbis instruct to “go with the way a child wants to learn.”
So, if the topic comes up, I’ll share. I’ll tell them that a decade ago, I was in the middle of filling out my own Rosh Hashanah cards, wishing friends and family a happy New Year when the planes hit. I’ll tell them that I wrestled with the choice of sending those cards out at all, but in the end I did. Because that Rosh Hashanah, praying for the New Year seemed more important than ever before.
So if I have to scrap my whole lesson so we can gather on the floor, open up and talk about how to approach the madness and the sadness of this day, so be it.
Then, perhaps the next week, they will derive some meaning during Tefilot, or prayers.
They really will thank G-d for sustaining them and giving them the energy for waking to a new day.
They really will thank G-d for making them free and not a slave.
They really thank G-d for strenghening us with courage.
But for ten years now, as September approaches, I get this feeling of dread. I hate any date after August 15. I hate how the days get shorter and I hate the back to school commericals. It’s all leading to that one black day. Even the birthday of my youngest child on September 3, 2003 can’t erase it.
I guess that is just how it’s going to be from here on in: there will be the years before September 2001, and everything after. And a decade later, the emotions are no less raw.
I cannot imagine what thesee weeks leading up to September 11 must feel like if you’ve lost a loved one or friend on that day. Just knowing that day is coming without having directly lost someone is painful enough. But to all of us in the Metro Area who grew up watching them being built, and then, watched them tumble down, we truly did lose something profound that day.
This memory is one trivial, stupid sliver of before and after September 11, 2001. But I am sure it is just one of the millions of memories and associations that New Yorkers share about what role the physical presence World Trade Center had in their own memories.
This is not about what I remember from that day, but what I remember about what is no more.
In the spring of 1998, I was invited to dine at Windows on the World. It was not a romantic dinner like one portrayed in the movie Sleepless in Seattle. Windows on the World was the spot for the 1998 CIPRA public relations award dinner. The account team I worked on at my public relations firm had won the CIPRA Golden Anvil Award for our Deep Blue IBM campaign.
It was the glitziest night of my very brief career as a PR professional in Manhattan. Our boss hired a limousine to take us from our Park Avenue offices downtown to the World Trade Center. After the team piled in, we sipped champagne as the driver navigated down the FDR.
I remember taking the elevator up, up, up, and feeling that drop in my stomach the same way I did when I was a child and visited the Observatory Deck with my parents and grandparents.
I don’t quite remember what we ate. I do remember sitting next to my boss, the owner Technolgy Solutions Public Relations. A great, genuine guy who built his firm from the ground up in the high-tech boom of the 1990’s, I was humbled to sit next to him as he explained how he was avoiding eating the bread that night because he was on a new, low carb diet. I also remember how proud he was of us of us that night to be sitting on top of the world at this prestigious dinner in our industry, and how appreciative our clients were that night of the tireless work we did for IBM’s Deep Blue chess-playing supercomputer.
That was the last time I was ever at the World Trade Center. And when you were up there at sunset, you really were on the top of the world.