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September 11th and the 40th Anniversary of the Yom Kippur War

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The calendar turns to September 11th and once more the scene shifts. The perfect blue New York sky, the succession of images, indelible now, unfathomable then. And then a persistent fear that the day of terror could be just the beginning of something or even, G*d forbid, the end. And over time the emerging of faces of new enemies and names and stories of what would be tallied as 2,978 victims.

As our country braces for, remembers and in many cases relives the day that destroyed so many lives, Jews and especially Israelis are approaching a different anniversary as well. Forty years ago the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, fell in October, not September. However, on Friday night as Yom Kippur begins, Israelis will also remember the day when this most sacred occasion of fasting and prayer was shattered by a massive invasion by Egyptian and Syrian forces and the call across the small nation to report to the front to stave off the destruction of their homeland.

By the end of the war, Israel had turned the tide and brought its forces within the environs of both Cairo and Damascus, but in a country of less than 3.5 million in 1973 and whose military is drawn from across the population, the Yom Kippur War cost the lives of nearly 2,800 Israeli soldiers and left three times that many with serious wounds. The war, while ultimately won, cut deep into the psyche of Israel, forcing a country that had felt invincible after the Six Day War to stare at its own mortality. For some, the assault meant the inevitability of hostility with Arab neighbors. For others the urgency of peace. But for much of Israel the scars are still felt, 40 years later.

September 11th stands on its own as does the Yom Kippur War. This year, however, the proximity of the anniversaries on two different calendars leads me to think about one through the lens of the other. The theme that runs through both is that we must learn both through what is broken and what is whole. The 40-day period that begins with the month of Elul, during which the attack occurred in 2001, through to Yom Kippur upon whose gateway the anniversary falls this year reinforces this theme through the dots and dashes of the shofar blasts and the words of the liturgy. Our worst fears are triggered as things seem to go to pieces, and they do not necessarily dissipate when order is restored. However, the difference between fear and hope is not a difference between being broken and being whole. The difference between fear and hope is between seeing the brokenness as something to learn from even as we hurt and stand with those who mourn.

May the memories of the fallen and stories of courage inspire us to move from fear to hope and help us bring about a world of wholeness and peace.