My friend Neil’s daughter, Maya, was born on September 11, 2001. I am thinking of that child now as she is about to turn 15. In a sense, our memory of that day, like Maya, is transitioning from childhood to adulthood.
It didn’t take very long on that day for everyone to understand that America was under attack. What was not known was how broad the attacks would be and how many targets there were. The tallest buildings in Toronto were evacuated as a precaution and, obviously, work felt meaningless. People started wondering whether the Jewish day schools might be targets too and some parents headed to the schools to pick up their children.
Around lunch time my daughter, Naomi, then 11, called to say that most of the kids had been picked up by their parents because there was a rumour of a bomb in the school. Rather than trying to persuade her otherwise, I went to pick up Naomi and her two sisters, Orli, then 7, and Yael, who was 5. It was a beautiful fall day, sunny and crisp, and with all three kids now safely in the car I made the executive decision to take them for an ice cream on Eglinton.
As we walked into Baskin Robbins, I turned to them with teeth gritted, waving my finger and said “We are not going to let the terrorists change our lives. We are having ice cream.” I now go for an ice cream every September 11 to remember that horrible day. My kids do too.
September 11, 2001, and the weeks that followed were hard for everyone. Life had changed, but by how much nobody then knew. We were all sad. Even though we might not have personally known any of the victims, we all knew that each one could have been us. It was evident that life could change, or even be extinguished, in an instant. That was a frightening thought.
A few weeks after September 11, I saw an advertisement in The Ontario Reports, a weekly publication of court decisions. The ad simply said:
Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
I have kept that ad on my desk at work ever since.
The quote is from 17th century poet and cleric John Donne, and speaks to the fact that we are all connected and intertwined, what impacts one person should impact all of us. The first line of this passage is No man is an island.
Two years ago with Andrea Cohen I co-chaired Toronto’s 2015 UJA Campaign. In this position we lived the interconnectedness of the Jewish people every day. We saw how in our city those who can give do, in order for those who need to receive. We saw how tzedakah helps each of our fellow Jews realize his or her potential and, in so doing, we enable all Jews to realize our potential as a people. We saw how important it is to speak out against injustice and prejudice, and advocate on behalf of Israel, each and every day. Our strong Toronto Jewish community helps Israel be strong, which is something we all need. All Jews are connected: we share a common past, and we have a common future.
Spending so much time learning and talking about our Jewish community and Israel caused me to think about the ice cream I had on September 11, 2001 in a slightly different way.
I initially thought, and I said at the time, that it was an ice cream of defiance: We won’t change what we do because someone wants us to.
I now think it was an ice cream of reassurance, reflecting my hope that everything will be OK. By having an ice cream I was telling my kids, and myself, that things will get back to normal. I wasn’t certain of that at the time, but going for an ice cream was the most normal thing I could think of to do.
Similarly, when you support our community and stand for Israel, you say to our fellow Jews that they are not alone. Your actions demonstrate that, when they are in crisis, we will help matters get back to normal. Imagine how good that must feel.
Like an ice cream on September 11.