Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Time for Every Purpose

My birthday is March 6. It’s not too early for those who don’t have that date circled on their 2011 calendar to do so now, though that is not the reason I am giving you six months’ notice. Rather, I am reacting to a story in this morning’s NY Times, “This Life: A Day To Dance Or Weep?” (

As a New Yorker, I reflect almost daily on the void in lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers stood. Now that I’m no longer commuting to an office, most days I’m listening to WCBS880 radio news as I putter around in the morning. With uncanny persistence, the announcers each day call out the time exactly at 9:11. They probably don’t realize they repeatedly are piercing the hearts of so many listeners. Perhaps no one who was not a New York area resident that fateful day nine years ago can fully appreciate the ongoing assault to our sensibilities.

The Times article raised an important point. When is it proper to return to normalcy, to celebrate happy occasions that by coincidence, or planning, fall on September 11? In a larger sense, in the context of the current debate on the building of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, when is it proper to just...move on?

If we wanted to always dwell on the past, there are ample reasons to live a cloistered and melancholy life. A few years ago, some enterprising(?) souls put together a daily calendar listing calamities that befell Jews throughout the millennia. How comforting to know I’m part of a people with so long and rich a daily history!

When I tell people I was born on March 6, I usually say I share the date with the fall of the Alamo. I don’t mention that Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, as well as a hundred or more other Alamo defenders, died that day. I was a big Davy Crockett fan as a child. I adored Fess Parker. Even had a ‘coon-skin hat for a while.

The Alamo wasn’t the only infamous event to happen on my birthday. Of far greater import was the Missouri Compromise that President Monroe signed into law in 1820, permitting the Show Me territory to enter the Union as a slave state. Thirty-seven years later to the day, the U.S. Supreme Court issued one of its most egregious decisions. In the Dred Scott case, the court ruled, according to Wikipedia, “that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves—whether or not they were slaves—were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States. It also held that the United States Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories. The Court also ruled that because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue in court. Lastly, the Court ruled that slaves—as chattel or private property—could not be taken away from their owners without due process.” How would you like that legacy as part of your birthday heritage?

Of course, some less traumatic occurrences happened on my birthday. In 1475, Michelangelo was born. Lou Costello (1906), Alan Greenspan (1926) and Shaquille O’Neal (1972) also took their first breaths on March 6. Life ended for Louisa May Alcott (1888), John Philip Sousa (1932), Pearl S. Buck (1973), Ayn Rand (1982), Georgia O’Keeffe (1986) and many more luminaries on March 6. In short, every day has its pluses and minuses.

September 11 is no exception. Did you know that in 1609 Henry Hudson discovered Manhattan on September 11? Or that the British Mandate of Palestine began in 1922 (the Mandate might have been detested when it ended in 1948, but it was the first concrete step toward Israeli statehood). One year earlier, the first moshav (cooperative farm) was settled in Palestine. In 1978, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat came together on September 11 to sign the Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt. In 1989, the first breach of the Iron Curtain between Austria and Hungary allowed thousands of East Germans to flee repression, hastening the fall of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies. In 2005, Israel unilaterally completed disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

On September 11, 2001, a day of crispness and bright sunshine, 2,977 innocent people were killed in the terrorist attacks. We should never forget them. We should never forget, or forgive, the murderous band that rained death on our country. But it’s time to move on. As it says in Ecclesiastes, “A season is set for everything...A time for weeping and a time for laughing, a time for wailing and a time for dancing.” Every day has its history of tragedy. Our spirit demands we infuse September 11 with added meanings, new hopes, new reasons to celebrate, not just commemorate.