September 27, 2001
Tehillim in the Board Room
We sat around the room in shock.
It was Tuesday, Sept. 18, 11 a.m. The images of the planes flying into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were still fresh in our minds. Leaders of the Orange County Jewish community had gathered in a crisis meeting at the boardroom of the Jewish Federation.
The central question was what our reaction would be. The questions were many. Do we continue with the community rally scheduled for Israel? Has the terror that many of us know so well in Israel come to the United States? Will Israel be blamed, and will we be subjected to a wave of anti-Semitism? The Jewish defense agencies wanted to make some kind of interfaith prayer service. Others wanted to raise money for the victims. Jewish Family Service volunteered its counseling service to assist those who had difficulty coping with this awesome tragedy.
Troubled by the conversation, I sat there in the room. Judaism teaches us a spiritual response is needed to the tragedy. It was not even part of the discussion. I suggested that before we continue, we do what is unique to Jews. "Let us say some Tehillim." Tehillim, known in English as Psalms, are those immortal words created with Divine Inspiration thousands of years ago and ascribed to King David. In time of need we turn to them for faith, prayer and inspiration. And not only Jews, even President Bush in his address after the attack used the words of Psalm 23.
Two people ran down the hall to the offices of the Bureau of Jewish Education. They made photocopies of Chapter 121. This chapter refers to God's constant protection and is customarily said in times of crisis.
I turned to Rabbi Joel Landau of Beth Jacob, and asked him to lead. He explained that the custom is that the leader recites a few lines, and all repeat them after him. So, we began, as Jews have for thousands of years. He uttered a few words in a beautiful cantorial voice, and the 30 or so assembled in the boardroom repeated. Phrase by phrase, line by line, we went through the chapter of Tehillim. In its words, we found expressions of our sorrow, our pain and our anxiety.
As we finished, a strange silence settled in the room. Just a few minutes before, the room had been filled with debate. Now we sat quietly pondering the words of King David, thinking about our prayers that had risen to heaven, contemplating the fate of thousands that lay under the rubble in New York.
Suddenly we were all together. The words had reached through the centuries and united us: Jews of all stripes and philosophies, right and left, liberal and more observant. In a time of need, we responded as one.
The Jewish Federation of Orange County will forward contributions to the United Jewish Communities Emergency Relief Fund. Make checks payable to JFOC-Emergency Relief Fund Mail to: Jewish Federation of Orange County, 250 E. Baker St., Suite A, Costa Mesa, CA 92626.