September 7, 2011
10 years after 9/11, what has changed?
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The emphasis on security — and on what is scary and evil in this world — while necessary, can also skew our sense of priorities and has thrown parenting into disarray, according to psychologist Wendy Mogel.
“Everybody is kind of a nervous wreck and anxious, so we displace these global fears of things we have no control over onto the one thing we can control — our child’s safety, and whether they will get the better second-grade teacher,” said Mogel, author of “The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers” (Scribner).
But parents’ desire to safeguard their children from any potential harm actually makes the children more vulnerable in the long term.
“Look, for example, at these crazy safety-first playgrounds, where they don’t have swings or high monkey bars or Tarzan ropes, and the idea is to keep children safe. But the paradoxical part is that it has the opposite effect, because children don’t learn to titrate their level of risk if they’re not faced with any risks on the playground,” she said.
Others wonder if the impact 9/11 had on personal behavior went deep enough.
“In the days and weeks right after 9/11, our community responded with increased thoughtfulness, selflessness and personal sacrifice. There were lessons learned from the tragedy, but as time has passed, unfortunately, we have mostly slipped back,” said Jay Sanderson, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “We have to reconnect to the feelings we felt and remember how simple acts of kindness can make us and our community stronger.”
Other generous impulses in the immediate aftermath of the attacks also failed to penetrate, according to Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom.
“Generally, Americans are still … oblivious to how the world lives, especially in underdeveloped — what we used to call ‘Third World’ — countries. We’re oblivious to how we’re seen in that world. As Jews, we are taught to view the world as a whole. Torah begins with the creation of all,” he said. “But, in general, Americans view their world much like that old New Yorker cover — we see our own neighborhood in perspective, and the rest is an undifferentiated abstraction, far away geographically and culturally.”
Some have responded to that sense of isolation by joining interfaith groups.
“One of the things I realized after 9/11, as someone who had just gone through undergraduate and graduate school, was that although there were plenty of Muslims at both universities, I didn’t have a Muslim friend, and I could not point to any Muslim with whom I could have a discussion about Sept. 11 or other domestic issues or about Israel,” attorney Nick Merkin said.
Merkin was an early member of NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change. The group was founded after 9/11 by the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, and recently became independent. It brings together small cohorts of Muslim and Jewish young professionals, twice a month over the course of six months. Around 80 people have gone through the program since it was founded in 2004.
It was the Iraq War following 9/11 that prompted the founding of AFPI, the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative, a Los Angeles-based group of clergy and religious activists who advocate peacemaking as an essential and defining mandate of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater of the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, the group’s chairman, said that an essential part of the group’s success has been members’ willingness to look at troubling parts of their own tradition and to be open in their conversations with each other.
“What is unique about us is we don’t agree on everything, but we respect one another and have built relationships with one another, so we stay at the table when someone says something that might be challenging,” Grater said.
Working over several years, the group put together a 50-page covenant that explores traditions of peace in all the religions. The covenant will be the basis for a curriculum at Claremont College’s new interfaith program. AFPI is co-sponsoring two interfaith commemorations for 9/11.
In contrast to the interfaith groups 9/11 spawned, it also offered proof to others that fundamentalist Islam has no place in America.
The David Horowitz Freedom Center “combats the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values and disarm this country as it attempts to defend itself in a time of terror,” according to its Web site.
“Islam is a problematic religion, there is no question about it,” Horowitz said in an interview. “It’s problematic because it’s never had a reformation. It’s a political religion and doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state. It’s rife with Jew-hatred, and has no central authority like the Vatican to expunge those portions from the Quran,” he said.
He said Muslims who don’t decry the genocidal vitriol other Muslims launch at Israel and the West can’t call themselves moderate, even if they participate in dialogues.
“I think in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was a huge shock when people became aware that there is a violent hatred of America coming from the Muslim world,” Horowitz said. “But I think in the ensuing years, although there have been over 17,000 terrorist attacks since 9/11 by Islamic warriors, that Americans in general have been lulled into a false sense of security. I think there is a lot of denial in the Jewish community about the threat to Jews in particular. Unfortunately, Jew hatred is rampant in the Muslim world.”
The polarization between right and left, in America and in the Jewish community, is something 9/11 did affect, but for the worse, according to Rabbi Feinstein.
“9/11 has contributed to the hardening of our communal polarization on issues related to Israel, anti-Semitism and the place of Jews in the world. The right is more fearful, more wary, more militant that the priority is security. The right readily views any dissenting view as treasonous to the Jewish people and its future,” Feinstein said. “The left is even more suspicious of expressions of particularism, readily viewing them as extremism. … The left views dissenting views as un-Jewish and a violation of the essence of Jewish social ethics. 9/11 has turned our communal debate into Ground Zero. There is no safe place to discuss, discourse, debate, listen and learn from one another. Civility died when the towers fell.”
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