Evil’s bar mitzvah year
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Evil’s bar mitzvah year

imageThis is a very complicated time of year.

It is the start of a new Jewish year, and of the school year (as we note below). It’s when the seasons turn, when the days, which have been getting gradually shorter for more than two months, seem to end dramatically and before their time. It’s when the soft light of summer harshens. It’s Elul.

Some of those cycles are natural, some historic, some cultural, but all predate us, most by millennia. (The school calendar is new, relatively speaking.)

But as we celebrate cyclical time, the world rushes on, straight ahead, linear as possible, sort of like a runaway train, gathering speed, going faster and faster – this year, more than ever, it seems as if it’s either going to jump the tracks or collide with something on them. Either way, disaster seems inevitable. This has been a very bad year.

And for the last 13 years, this also is the time of year when we mark our communal loss of innocence. September 11, 2001, the time when evil took a form that almost none of us could imagine, was a turning point for our understanding of the world.

We have been living in that world, full of terrorists and fundamentalists waving swords, throwing bombs, and spewing hate, ever since.

Our Jewish cycle, though, talks and even sings to us about returning, about forgiveness and the love that is on the other side of pain.

This photograph, taken on September 12, 2001 – exactly 13 years ago – is of a hand-drawn sign taped to the fountain at the top of a flight of stone stairs on Riverside Drive and 100th Street in Manhattan. The fountain is part of a fireman’s memorial, soft stone sculpted in the 1920s, with much of its sharp detail already lost to time, hastened by pollution. Every year, firefighters from around the country join there, in neat uniforms, standing at tight silent attention, as the names of their peers dead on 9/11 are read.

That day, 13 years ago, the memorial was full of taped signs asking for sightings of the vaporized. Bouquets lay in great heaps. And this sign, with the words of Rav Nachman of Breslov, was taped in the middle. “Kol ha’olam kulo, gesher tsar meod,” they read. “All the world is a bridge.” “Ve’ha ikar” – and the point – “lo l’fachad clal.” Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid at all.

That is hard to do. The world right now is a terrifying place. But we will try not to fear it, because to fear is to freeze. Instead, we will accept the invitation posed to us by the High Holidays, we will be enlivened by the freshness in the fall air, we will glory in the light that ends sooner but turns to gold before it goes, and we will try our best not to be afraid. –JP

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