Chabad-Lubavitch centers across the United States are planning a plethora of events commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people.

From a walkathon to honor victims of 9/11 co-sponsored by the Chabad Center for Jewish Life at Binghamton University in New York to a memorial gathering at the Dell Jewish Community Campus in Austin, Texas, with participation from the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at the University of Texas, the tributes revolve around one central cohesive theme: bringing light into a world constantly under the threat of darkness.

Chabad of Oregon’s aptly titled “From Darkness to Light” ceremony on Sept. 7 at Portland’s Old Opera House promises to be an evening of communal pride, featuring live performances by local bands and appearances by representatives from the Portland fire and police departments, who will receive an award of recognition for their courage as first responders during 9/11.

“The memorial event at Chabad of Oregon was deliberately fashioned by co-directors Rabbi Moshe and Devora Wilhem to build a loving and humane society,” says Charlie Shiffman, retired director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and longtime member of the Portland Chabad community. “That is the best response to 9/11.”

The Judaism website has also produced a special section in advance of the anniversary where visitors can find a collection of articles and first-person recollections from the days, weeks and months following the attacks, as well as leave their own thoughts and reflections. The site’s multimedia portal Judaism.TV also released a series of clips from a recent interview with the “Chaplain of Ground Zero,” Col. Jacob Z. Goldstein, who spoke of his memories in the aftermath of the collapse of the Twin Towers.

For Rabbi Sholom Leverton, director of Chabad of the Windsors in West Windsor, N.J., the commemoration of 9/11 is not only an opportunity to remember those who were murdered, but to serve as a reminder of the collective responsibility to bring as much light into the world.

“Because of our close proximity to New York City, for many people in this community the pain and the loss is personal,” explains Leverton, who is scheduled to deliver an invocation at a public memorial service Sept. 11 at Ronald R. Rogers Arboretum in West Windsor Township.

West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh will be at attendance at the event.

“We don’t get rid of darkness by confronting it head-on,” proffers Leverton. “We get rid of darkness by doing good and creating a sense of spirituality and holiness in the world, and then the darkness vanishes on its own.”

Chabad of Scripps Ranch in S. Diego, Calif., is hoping to increase the world’s light by the hundreds – literally – during its “Shabbat 500” memorial event planned for Friday night.

“We’re calling it a Sabbath dinner with 499 of your closest friends,” says Rabbi Motte Fradkin, co-director of Chabad of Scripps Ranch and coordinator of the event. “It’s going to be an evening dedicated to the celebration of community spirit.”

To that end, the event will include a brief memorial ceremony, prayer services held outside under the stars, the singing of traditional Chasidic melodies and a multi-course kosher dinner.

“As a Jewish community, we strongly believe in the power of goodness and kindness to combat the evil of the world,” asserts Fradkin. “The bright light of 500 Sabbath candles burning together can dispel much darkness.”

Rabbi Sholom Leverton and West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh
Rabbi Sholom Leverton and West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh

Law and Ethics

On a slightly more logistical front, those convening in New York City on Sept. 13 for the Terrorism and Counter Terrorism in American and Jewish Law conference sponsored by the Institute of American and Talmudic Law (IATL) are hoping to tackle many of the political and moral issues related to 9/11.

Topics to be addressed at the all-day conference include: Ramifications and approaches in Jewish law of those whose remains could not be recovered after the 9/11 attacks; U.S. and Israeli counterterrorism law, policy and politics; and resolving the ethical challenge posed by the need to respond to terrorism and the conflicts between incompatible values.

“One of the core issues that we’ll be addressing is what are the fundamental values that drive us,” says Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, one of the conference’s key speakers, dean of IATL and scholar-in-residence at the Chabad House at Harvard University. “We’ll be discussing what right one has to interfere with people’s free will while trying to protect the innocent, the potential of over-suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity and methods of interrogation that could possibly deprive people of their liberties – many of the same issues that secular experts are speaking on.”

“The Talmud is a set of laws that were established over the course of some 250 years,”

notes Rabbi Mendel Wolf, the institute’s educational director. “There are rabbinical discussions on terrorism, the laws of war, and who’s considered a soldier. All of these topics are the core questions when you deal with terrorism.”

“We felt that it was important to join in with the rest of the city in commemorating 9/11,” adds Rabbi Noach Heber, co-founder of IATL. “Dealing with what happened and understanding how it happened can help us prevent another terrorist attack from happening again.”

Leverton believes that such observances can reawaken the sense of national solidarity that followed that fateful September day.

“There were no strangers that day,” recalls the rabbi. “Everyone and anyone shared the common horror and pain and fright. Everybody was attacked – blacks and whites, Jews and non-Jews, Muslims and Christians. There was a common bond; we were all connected. If we can re-establish that connection, then surely those people didn’t die in vain.”