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Educating for Democracy: A Walk for Peace on 9/11

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I was moved last Sunday morning by the recital over the radio of the names of those who had been killed on September 11, 2001. Their humanity and the loss of so many parents, children, brothers and sisters was embodied by the sometimes dispassionate, often emotional voices of those who were themselves bereft of family and friends (At the Brooklyn Society of Ethical Culture where I am a member, I met a man who told me that he lost fourteen friends on that day, all killed in one of the top floors of the Twin Towers.).

That afternoon, since I wanted to participate in some expression of my own feelings on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I went on "The Children of Abraham Walk for Peace." Participants met at 2:00 P.M. at the Dawood Mosque in downtown Brooklyn which all were invited to visit. The march, consisting of about 150 people, many, like myself, activists from the 60's but also an encouraging proportion of younger people some with children, heard speeches from a number of community and religious leaders. These included Ellen Lippmann, Rabbi of Kolot Chayeinu Synagogue, a spokesman for the Mosque, and the ubiquitous President of the Borough of Brooklyn, Marty Markowitz, whose presence was very much appreciated. Most notable was the appearance of Debbie Almontaser, the former principal of the Khalil Gibran High School The tenor of all the speeches was that of reflection, the hope for peace, and a recognition that many of us there had had their losses, whether literal or spiritual.

The march then proceeded to the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue where we were greeted by Rabbi Serge Lippe and spent a few minutes visiting the synagogue after which we went to All Souls Bethlehem Church where we were briefly hosted by Rev. Tom Martinez. Before concluding the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, we visited a local firehouse some of whose members had lost their lives in the collapse of the Twin Towers and the children in the march presented a card of appreciation and a bouquet of flowers to the firemen.

A handout given to us when we first met at the Mosque embodied the sentiments of many participants:

We Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all people of good will, are walking together today to demonstrate that it is possible for us to walk in peace and live peacefully as neighbors. We understand ourselves to have grown from the same roots, starting with the Biblical Abraham, and so we call ourselves the Children of Abraham. Like many children of the same father, we have disagreements and arguments, and in too many parts of the world those arguments erupt in hatred and violence. We abhor that violence and pledge to continue to work together here in Brooklyn in peace and for peace.

Among sponsors of the Peace Walk were the Arab Muslim American Federation, Brooklyn for Peace, Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, Jews Against Islamophobia, Women in Islam, Church of Gethsemane and a total of over thirty Muslim, Jewish, Christian and secular peace organizations.

I would have wished that there were many such marches in New York City and around the country on this significant day. It would have been instructive to young learners to make common cause with children of other faiths, begin to get to know them, and thus be able to resist through their own experiences the stereotypical demonizing of one group by another.

I would have also hoped that, deeply wounded as many Americans still are over the loss of their loved ones, there be some acknowledgement, publicly and in the schools, of the losses of the countless thousands of loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of whom were relatives of American citizens. This would require the leadership of civic and political figures who are willing to recognize that as we have been victimized, we, in the name of the United States, have also been victimizers. Admitting our mistakes and pledging to learn from them in the future, I believe, would be the most fitting tribute to the victims of 9/11.