Each year, on the anniversary of 9/11, I dedicate this column to Joshua Birnbaum. Joshua, a recent Columbia University graduate, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and was trapped on the top floors of the World Trade Center on that fateful morning when he knew that he would not make it home.
Joshua’s best friend was my resident advisor. I never met Joshua in person, but I have told Josh’s story every single year for the last twenty years for anyone who would listen. The 20th anniversary of 9/11 falls in between the two holiest days of the Jewish year. Our Amidah during these days is filled with special additions calling us to value each day given to us on this earth. Rabbi Robert Scheinberg writes in his poem Immortality: “Each moment I contemplate the rebirth of our people; I recall that You put the breath of life into dry bones. Praised are You, Adonai, for planting immortality in my soul, in my people, and in our world.”
Zachreinu lc’hayim: Remember us for life. Joshua Birnbaum was murdered by terrorists at 24-years-old. Today, he would be 44. Who would Josh have become? And while we will never know, we can be certain of who we have become because of Joshua’s life. Twenty years….two decades…..how do you measure Josh’s life? How do you measure the thousands taken that day and the many more affected for all time?
How do we respond to tragedy? We tell our stories, we never forget, and we use the sounds of music. In honor of those lost on that tragic day, which to so many of us feels like yesterday, I offer you the ancient prayer of Zachreinu, with a modern melody and English interpretation which I composed in preparation for this commemoration.
Zachreinu L’chayim: Remember us for life. Guide us on our way. The people are our journeys who guide us through our days, remember us for life.