September 11 will carry with it a sense of import for a long time. As Americans, we will remember that Tuesday in 2001 when our relative complacency was swept away in a cloud of smoke. And since that date on the Roman calendar will constantly flirt with the Days of Awe on the Hebrew calendar, as Jews we will associate the two for years to come.
This year, September 11 falls on the Saturday preceding Rosh HaShanah, which means that Selichot will be conducted that evening. Selichot is the service that initiates the most intense period of introspection and contrition in the days before the High Holy Days. Traditionally, it is held at midnight, the better to get the earliest start on seeking forgiveness from those we have wronged and then from God.
As always, we will hold a program that introduces Selichot. However, this year, the confluence of opportunities is unique. And, of course, a story is necessary.
Many years ago, while our building was being renovated, I came across a book entitled Light from the Yellow Star. It was a collection of paintings by Dr. Robert Fisch, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Fisch is a Hungarian Jew, raised by a Catholic family, who survived transports and concentration camps. I was so moved by the book that I brought a copy to Dr. Laszlo Tauber, our host and benefactor during our displacement, and another Hungarian survivor. As I might have guessed, the two physicians knew each other.
I also wrote a letter to Dr. Fisch, who responded very warmly and sent me more information about his art. I offered him the opportunity to speak to the congregation "if you ever find yourself in Washington."
Days after returning from my sabbatical, as Hazzan Dienstfrey and I began to plan for the upcoming Holy Days, I received a call from Dr. Fisch. He had been cleaning some papers from his office and found my note with the invitation. As it happened, he was coming to Washington the weekend of September 9-13. Was there some time he could take me up on my invitation?
When you see Dr. Fisch's artwork, you will understand why it is uniquely appropriate for the intersection of September 11 and Selichot. His slide presentation and remarks will begin at 9:30 p.m. and conclude at about 11:00. After an opportunity for light refreshment, we will begin Selichot services at 11:30 so as to be able to begin our penitence on September 11, but still conduct the service through the stroke of midnight. I especially encourage you to invite friends who are searching for a (new) home congregation.
My conviction that there is no such thing as coincidence is borne out by experiences like this one. The approach of the Days of Awe should bring together the disparate threads of life and lead us to begin to make some sense of the months and years before. Please join us as we participate in this year's