18 is Chai. It means life, a time to celebrate. But 18 years ago, the world changed.
I am amazed at how quickly the years fly by, feeling as if I just wrote this same message yesterday, and the day before that. 9/11/2001, as a sophomore at Columbia University and a pre-med student, I saw a different future than the present I live in. That day changed my life as I asked myself, “Who do I want to be?” That semester was the end of my pre-med career and the beginning of my Rabbinic and musical journey, intertwining at each step.
Today, 18 years later, I live 3,000 miles from Ground Zero. Yet, each 9/11, I feel no distance. Instead, I feel proximity to that hallowed ground that now stands for so much more.
For the last 18 years, I have made a commitment to myself to remember. I will never forget watching my Resident Advisor in tears, learning that she had lost her best friend, Joshua David Birnbaum. He worked on the 104th floor, 8 floors above where the planes hit, and he was trapped. As he understood his fate, Joshua called his mother and said, “I need to tell you I love you. I am going to die.” And so for the last 18 years, on this Shabbat, I take on the responsibility to share Josh’s life with you.
Each morning of Elul, straight through until the end of Sukkot, we read Psalm 27, day and night. It concludes with the words, “Hope in Adonai, be strong, have courage, hope in Adonai.” Eighteen years….Chai….. Let’s dedicate this anniversary of 9/11 to life, to the life of Joshua David Birnbaum z’l, and let us hope for a better tomorrow.