The shofar and the bagpipe

The shofar and the bagpipe

Joanne Palmer

On Monday, we commemorated the 22nd anniversary of September 11.

On Friday night, we will begin the celebration of Rosh Hashanah.

Those two commemorations are radically different, but even given the vagaries of the calendars — the Jewish one is both lunar and solar, the secular one purely solar — they often fall very close to each other.

And they have something in common.

Both are profoundly solemn days; Rosh Hashanah is leavened with the joy of being with family and friends, and the challenge of eating your share of the likely-to-be overflowing plates and bowls and glasses of food and drink that most likely will confront you, somewhere between treat and challenge.

But the holiday itself is about change and return and self-reflection and community-wide reflection, and it’s about the circular and linear way that time moves.

September 11 is about memory. It’s about evil and hatred, and also about resilience (granted, for those of us lucky enough to have survived that day, and whose family and friends also survived it). It’s hard for those of us who were adults when it happened to believe that it was 22 years ago.

I distinctly remember the Friday night after Tuesday, September 11, 2001. People were asked to stand silently in front of their houses or apartment buildings with candles in their hands. We didn’t, couldn’t, because we were going to Shabbat dinner about a 15-minute walk away.

As we walked on the Upper West Side, we passed doorway after doorway; people stood in just about every one of them, silent, holding their candles, as the sun set. It was powerful and beautiful.

I always feel obligated to add that the beauty of that evening was nowhere near its cost. Finding something good in tragedy never means that the tragedy was worth it. But once it happened, once those creatures hijacked those planes and killed thousands of people, for some goal that never was clear and certainly wasn’t attained, then it was good for those of us who survived them to get whatever shards of goodness we could from it.

The element that Rosh Hashanah and 9/11 share, for me, is sound.

We hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.

On September 11, the monument at the end of my block, the Fireman’s Memorial, is where firefighters from across the city and around the country gather to remember, to mourn, and increasingly to remind younger people of what the older ones have lodged in their memories.

The ceremony includes bagpipes; if I haven’t gone to the commemoration, still I can hear it from my apartment.

Shofars and bagpipes both are basic instruments and don’t as much make music as they emit pure emotion turned into sound. They’re elemental. They’re made directly of animal parts. (Or, to be accurate, bagpipes used to be. Shofrot still are.) They sound as if the animal from which they were made is bellowing a warning directly at us.

So now September 11 is over for another year, but we are getting ready to greet the new year at Rosh Hashanah.

We wish all our readers a year of sanity, decency, health, civility, and happiness, of sweetness and the occasional streak of pure silly joy.

Shanah tovah.


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