Eight years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Jewish students at universities across the United States are collectively harnessing the painful memories of that day to fuel a push to bring goodness into the world.

At Binghamton University in New York, where the first Mitzvah Marathon was hosted by the campus’ Chabad-Lubavitch center just one year after the attacks, students are once again spending Thursday preparing sandwiches for the homeless, collecting food donations for local hunger organizations, contributing to charity, donating blood, and designing greeting cards for soldiers oversees and get-well cards for hospitalized children. Each participating student is documenting their good deed and attaching a note with a photograph of a Sept. 11 victim to a 28 foot by 8 foot memory wall.

“The memory wall is [powerful] because people see it and it really stands out,” says science major Zachary Ainsberg, a senior from Westchester, N.Y., who constructed the wall this year. “Doing a good thing in memory of someone who was lost is a great way to remember them.”

Similar activities sponsored by local Chabad Houses are taking place at Pennsylvania State University, Brandeis University, Johns Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Southern California, the University of Arizona, the University of Florida and many others.

Rivkah Slonim, education director at the Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life at Binghamton University, notes that for most students, the Sept. 11 attacks happened while they were young children.

“It is important for all thinking people to remember the events of 9/11 and how it changed the landscape of our country and the entire free world,” she says. “It is important for emerging adults on a college campus who were children when this event occurred to think about how this relates to their lives, and to take responsibility for the world they live in to make it a better place.

One of the Mitzvah Marathon’s central activities is making sandwiches for the homeless. (Photo: Chabad of Binghamton)
One of the Mitzvah Marathon’s central activities is making sandwiches for the homeless. (Photo: Chabad of Binghamton)

Uniting Force

Slonim further emphasizes that the Mitzvah Marathon encapsulates the Jewish idea of responding to tragedy by “turning tears into action.”

“It’s about channeling our feelings of angst and sadness to more forward rather than ‘get stuck,’ to bring healing and perfection to a world that so obviously needs it,” she explains. “We must assert that we will not allow this world to be overtaken by darkness and random and wanton acts of destruction. Rather, we will do all that we can to shed light.”

For Rena Asher, a sophomore from Lower Merion, Pa., the project is something that students from all backgrounds can participate in.

“The marathon not only raises awareness for victims of 9/11, but it also reaches out to all students to do all sorts of good deeds,” says Asher. “It shows that people still have a good heart and are still supportive of people in need, that 9/11 didn’t wreck the country.”

Senior human development major Jacqui Boroda, coordinator of the marathon at Binghamton, says that each year, the event has united the entire campus.

“It’s a great way to bring people together,” says the Boston native and veteran of the last three marathons. “Everyone notices it on their way to class because it’s in the center of campus.”