When Community Memorials Fall on Shabbat

One of the most traumatic experiences of the past decade here in Boston was the Marathon Bombing, on April 15th, 2013. I think back to the many meaningful moments of interfaith collaboration in the weeks that followed: Working with Governor Patrick’s team on the interfaith healing service with President Obama; then the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization pivoting (not the word we used in those days) so that our U.S. Senate special-election candidate forum with then Representative Markey and Representative Lynch – Sunday night following the lockdown – became a community gathering of prayer and support. It was a period that both challenged and strengthened interfaith partnerships and I was proud of the work we did at JCRC. 

In recent days I’ve been thinking of the events of the first anniversary, in 2014. That year, April 15th fell during the sacred first days of Passover, and Patriots Day, along with the marathon itself, was during the final days of Passover. This coincidence of the calendar created a dilemma for many Jews and our institutions. At the time, I told the Times of Israel that “One way or another, like so many in our Jewish community, I will be navigating this space of being Jewish and being part of One-Boston in the same breath this week.”  

When then Vice President Biden came to Boston for a city-wide memorial on the 15th, the service did not include official representation or participation by the Jewish community. And that was okay. Others on the program, our interfaith partners, acknowledged our absence on one of our sacred days; and folks were fine with it. Because April 15th was, is, and always will be the anniversary of the attack, and it should be marked on that day. 

And when the marathon was held a week later, many individuals in our community ran, or volunteered at the event – to honor the victims and to celebrate Boston’s resiliency. And some, like myself, whose holiday observance precluded volunteering, walked over to the race after morning services to cheer on our friends and neighbors and to be part of this unified celebration of our city.  

These memories come to mind now because, in a few weeks, we will mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on our nation.  And, this year, September 11th will fall on Saturday, our shabbat

We all share the trauma and impact of that day. For so many of us, especially here in Boston, in New York (where I was living and working in Manhattan that morning) and in DC, the memories remain vivid, sometimes painful.  

Still. 9/11 was, is, and always will be on September 11th. And the national and community memorials should and must go forward on that day, not the day before or the day after. 

So, in recent weeks I find myself reminding and assuring our community and our partners that it will be okay, this important anniversary year, that there will not be official Jewish representation or participation at memorials on that day. And it is most assuredly okay that there will be events on that day – including faith-based days of service and volunteerism, for example – that will not be “interfaith”.  

I imagine that many rabbis and synagogues will find ways to mark the day during our sabbath services. Personally, I’ll probably walk over to whatever memorials are happening in Cambridge (where I live). I’ll be there in my personal capacity, as a member of my community and as a citizen of our society. I’ll be there to take a moment to reflect on the memory of those who I knew who died on that day, and to pray for those who I know who live with their losses to this day. But I won’t be there on behalf of JCRC or the organized Jewish community. 

And that’s the way it should be, this year. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy