I am writing from New York where I am vacationing and spending time with family. It’s as good a place as any to spend July 4th; and though the timing was accidental I set out to observe the day with some semblance of its original intent.
While the founding fathers might have looked askance at the Firecracker 5K which I ran on Roosevelt Island, they might have nodded with agreement at my afternoon visit to the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan.
It was an interesting visit. What I knew about the memorial had come from the excellent talk by James Young at Chizuk several years ago. In my ignorance I thought that it was complete, instead I found that the museum itself was just a shell and the memorial as it is now consists of the two beautiful reflecting pools with the names surrounding it.
All around are signs reminding visitors that it is a place of remembrance and to behave appropriately. Despite that, the atmosphere seemed little different than any other park in Manhattan that day. Families were jostling for good photo opportunities, imploring melting children to smile. Teenagers were making out and joking. Tourists were buying memorial trinkets. Security men were talking about barbecues and hitting on the volunteers.
It was troubling. I hadn’t expected quiet weeping or hushed voices. But I hadn’t expected just another tourist site either.
In honor of July 4th, workers at the memorial were handing out American flags which visitors were invited to place in a letter of one of the 2,977 names engraved around the fountains. As I did so I couldn’t help but think of our Jewish custom of leaving a stone as a symbol of our presence when we visit the grave of a loved one. At an unveiling I offer an explanation or two of why we do this. Often I say that we leave a rock to express our hope that Tzur Yisrael, the Rock of Israel, will watch over our loved ones when we leave that place.
Transposed to the 9/11 Memorial I wondered if perhaps the placement of flags for July 4th at that place of profound destruction expressed a hope that the American people might continue to remember even as we left that place.
On my way out of the memorial, past hundreds still waiting to visit, and police officers and security scanners I listened to the conversation of a family to my right. I missed the question but I heard the father telling his young teenage daughters the story of Flight 93. How the passengers had heard about the attacks on the Trade Center and rushed the cockpit.
So how do we remember? Not than differently it turns out- we leave a reminder of our presence and we tell the story to our children.