Reflections on 9/11: Post-Traumatic Growth
10 years is a long time, yet for so many of us, September 11, 2001 feels like yesterday. I know exactly where I was when the World Trade Center was hit. We held our regularly scheduled senior staff meeting at the RAC. While sitting around a table in the then-unnamed Sillins library, pagers went off with a breaking news story that smoke was billowing out of the World Trade Center – possibly because of a plane crash. All of a sudden, the office phone started ringing along with each of our cell phones, all with the same message: turn on the TV now! Within minutes, we watched the first tower fall, then the second. Reports of a plane crashing into the Pentagon were relayed and then the crashing of United Airlines flight 93. Images were replayed over and over (and over!) again… And we knew our world would never be the same…
Even for those of us who were not directly at Ground Zero, what immediately followed was a post-traumatic stress of sorts. Shock turned to fear, sadness and outrage. We were shaken by the National Guard patrolling the streets of DC. Breaking news stories would stop us in our tracks. The eeriness of the silent sky in DC that would suddenly get disrupted when a military helicopter would fly overhead caught us off-guard. And once the airports reopened, every airplane in flight was scrutinized: Was it flying too low? Was it headed in the right direction?
But stress and trauma weren’t all that resulted from 9/11. Out of the ashes of destruction grew a stronger nation. Rather than succumb to the terrorists’ wishes to bring America to its knees, in a show of resilience and unprecedented patriotism, we saw what could only be described as post-traumatic growth. We struggled (and continue to struggle) with the life-altering circumstances resulting from 9/11. But we didn’t return to the baseline that preceded 9/11, rather through the suffering of a nation, we improved as individuals in deep and profound ways. Indeed, in the face of adversity, we sought growth opportunities.
For so many of us, 9/11 was a day that forced us to do a real cheshbon ha-nefesh – a sincere re-evaluation of our souls, of our priorities. We reached out to friends and family accounting for everyone’s whereabouts. People greeted and treated each other differently in the streets. In the time since, we reconnected with long lost friends and made new connections with our neighbors. Soon-after 9/11, countless professionals quit their jobs so that they rededicate their careers to public service and public policy. The number of people looking for volunteer opportunities was on the rise.
Yet, since 9/11 we’ve seen a rise of anti-Muslim attitudes and actions. Security has tightened at airports, and legislation restricted some civil liberties. Over these last 10 years, the Religious Action Center, the Union for Reform Judaism, our local rabbis and synagogues, have played important roles in numerous coalitions – building interfaith cooperation in addressing America’s social justice challenges and working to preserve our civil liberties while trying to strike a balance with maintaining America’s security. Likewise, the URJ’s two interfaith program guidelines, Open Doors Open Minds for Jewish-Christian dialogue and the Children of Abraham for Jewish-Muslim dialogue (both launched as Biennial Initiatives by Rabbi Yoffie) encourage congregations to deepen interfaith dialogue to build tolerance and work towards acceptance among people of the Abrahamic faiths. The Commission on Inter-Religious Affairs based here at the RAC continues to foster this important discourse. And in the spirit of religious freedom, despite great controversy, the URJ came out in support of the building of New York’s Cordoba House and community center.
As Jews, we are living proof of the possibilities of post-traumatic growth versus post-traumatic stress. Nearly 2,000 years ago when the Second Temple was destroyed and Israel’s survivors were to be sent into exile, the prophet Hezekiah declared to Isaiah that the people should find solace: Nachamu, nachamu ami yomar Eloheichem – Take comfort, take comfort My nation, says your God (Isaiah 40:1). Our ancestors were faced with the choice to stagnate and disappear, or to progress with altered structures, new forms of leadership, new forms of religious expression and thrive. Our existence as a people, along with our development of rabbinic Judaism and its richness of knowledge and texts and diversity of opinions and observances, is a testament to the constructive, visionary choices we made that led to our own post-traumatic growth.
Do we Americans yearn for the days before destruction? Certainly. Do we wish that we could have learned these important life lessons without learning them the hard way? That goes without saying. But given our reality as Jews and as Americans, in a post-traumatic world, we must find comfort so that we can move forward to achieve post-trhttp://urj.org/socialaction/issues/opendoors/aumatic growth.