High Holy Days Journey with Amichai Lau-Lavie: 40 ways in 40 days to find your focus




‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we will now observe a moment of silence in memory of those who lost their lives on this day, 9 days ago’.


We just boarded the plane, American Airlines, NY to LA, and were about to take off when this announcement came on the PA system.

Most passengers obliged. The video screens shifted to slow motion flowers in bloom. Some girl behind me giggled.


I wasn’t happy about flying today – not on the Sabbath and not on 9/11 but it had to happen, and here I am, taking this moment of silence to remember something I have never forgotten and never will.


Remembering the dead, and recalling the traumas that haunt us as individuals and as communities or nations is a significant part of what goes on during these days of repentance – now in final ‘deadline’ phase.


The 9/11 narrative of loss has been now integrated into the Jewish process of reflection and memory, esp. for those of in New York, and esp. for those of us in Downtown NY. We were here when it happened, and we assembled not for from Ground Zero for that first Rosh Hashanah, when smoke still trailed the sky, and the following few years, looking down on the rubble and the slow emerging construction.


Today’s moment of silence is an opportunity to honor the memory of the dead, to simply remember the tragic day that ended so many lives and happy families. But it’s more than that – it is a reflection, a meditation on death itself and our relationship to this inevitable reality we so often try so hard to ignore.


There is an article by Marc Jacobson in this week’s New York magazine called ‘Skin’ – a horrific fantastic investigative journey of what may be a lampshade made from the skins of prisoners at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. One of the people quoted in the article is Shiya Ribowsky, a cantor who is also a forensic specialist who worked at the Medical Examiner office in New York when 9/11 happened:

“In this world we will do everything to isolate ourselves from the dead, to pretend that these are two completely disconnected states. 9/11 removed that barrier. So many of the people killed that day were simply pulverized, turned to dust. They became the very air we breath.”


So on this day 33 of getting ever closer to the Day of Judgment I take this moment of silence to honor the dead of 9/11 and Buchenwald, the dead in my head, the long list of those loved and lost. Who is on my list this year? Who has passed? Whose memory do I honor?


And I take this moment, and a few more to say to death – with as much honesty as possible, with as little fear as possible – the words of the psalmist: “ I am not dead, I am alive, and I am here now to tell the grand story called life.”



May memory turn to blessing.

Day 32 9.10 TEAR HERE
Day 34 9.12 VOLUNTEER