Thirty years ago, I attended a Syracuse University basketball game as a six year old boy. Over 20,000 fans were about to cheer on the home team. That night was also when my world view changed…
Sitting in the stands, my father told me that we just learned about Pan Am Flight 103, an airplane bombed by terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland. 35 of the 270 passengers and crew killed that fateful day were Syracuse University students returning home from a semester abroad to spend the holidays with their families. I recall my father, a Rabbi, leaving the stadium to make the short walk to Hendrick’s Chapel, where a vigil organically formed.
Today, the Remembrance and Lockerbie Scholar Program exists, made up of 35 students chosen to represent the lives of the 35 lives lost those 30 years ago. In addition, two students from Lockerbie study at Syracuse University each year. Each one of these students carries on the legacy of those students whose lives were cut short.
As the Torah recounts the life of Jacob, we learn both of his 17 years in Egypt and of his 147 years on earth. The Baal Haturim suggests that his 17 years in Egypt were the best years of his life. Even though they were in exile, they were full of content. The Talmud teaches that yeshivot and institutions of learning were setup in Egypt until the splitting of the sea, when we left for our homeland. Egypt was the most difficult of our exiles, with slavery under a strange and mighty nation. Yet, we survived because we were bound to our values of education and remembrance.
Today, I am transported back to my 6 year old self in the bleachers of a college basketball game. Over the past thirty years, I have grown, learned and led. Yet, as we remember that often forgotten day of Pan Am 103, we recall the lives that could have been and the actions that would make this world a gentler place. We also pledge to apply their memories to how we live our lives today.
May the memories of those who passed on Pan Am 103 on December 21, 1988 continue to be a blessing.