Nation’s capital remembers Sept. 11, 2001

September 11, 2011

Only the soft, steady chimes of a bell marked the time at the Washington Hebrew Congregation at 8:46 a.m. Sunday, the exact moment when, 10 years ago, the first airplane struck the World Trade Center in New York.

Here, where the nation’s capital began its remembrance of the devastating terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, reflecting on that moment and the three others when airplanes crashed into the second tower, the Pentagon and an isolated field in Pennsylvania was only part of the purpose.

Far more central to the ceremony were the expressions of love, optimism and, above all, tolerance by religious leaders and musicians from across the spectrum of faiths. They stood together to reject the hatred that brought about those attacks, and they stood against the divisions, mistrust and even religious bigotry that have threatened to become the event’s greatest legacy.

“We haven’t always come together in ways such as this,” said the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, which hosted the commemoration, although it couldn’t be held there. “It has been easy for religions to keep to themselves, to cherish the particular jewels of their own traditions, the truths that they know, and not to be especially curious about the others. Nine-eleven changed that.”

At least 600 sat in the large sanctuary of the Washington Hebrew Congregation listening to a Hindu chant, a Russian Orthodox hymn and prayers from all the faiths represented. More trickled in as the morning wore on — some for a talk on compassion by Karen Armstrong, a former nun who has written books about the world’s religions, and others for the cathedral’s regular Sunday morning service.

Lloyd represented one of six religions participating in the commemoration. Mindrolling Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, a Buddhist, spoke of “loving-kindness” and compassion. Imam Mohammed Magid reflected on the Muslim commandment to be merciful. And D.C. Rao, who is Hindu, spoke of the unity of all things in God.

“We all came together for the same purpose,” said Judy Tice, 55, a retired teacher from Newport, Ohio, who happened to be visiting Washington this weekend and attended the service with her tour group.

Tice was in her fifth-grade classroom on Sept. 11, 2001; now, with fifth-graders who don’t know a time before the attacks, she feels an overwhelming mandate to remember. “These kids weren’t born yet,” she said. “For them, the world has always been this way, and we have to keep the remembrances alive. A service like this, with all the faiths, is wonderful.”

Even the setbacks that the Washington National Cathedral faced as it sought to host the capital’s remembrance this weekend became an opportunity to celebrate the theme of the day. Damaged by the earthquake that struck the East Coast last month, the cathedral had been rushing to complete repairs in time for the ceremony, only to be thwarted by the collapse of a construction crane amid the violent weather last week.

The relocation of Sunday’s service — and many other cathedral programs — to the Washington Hebrew Congregation allowed leaders of different faiths to share even more completely in the remembrance, the organizers said.

In the afternoon, the seventh annual 9/11 Unity Walk along Embassy Row in Northwest Washington continued the message of tolerance and understanding.

Hundreds of participants walked from synagogue to church to mosque and beyond to listen to talks given by a wide array of spiritual leaders, including Rabbi Jack Moline and Arun Gandhi, founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.

Under a nearly cloudless blue sky, families with strollers joined young friends and elderly couples. Tow-headed boys in bathing trunks walked alongside a family of Muslims, the mother wearing a hijab. Sprinkled through the crowd were T-shirts with slogans that matched the day’s theme, such as “Better Together” and “I Love Allah Muhammad Jesus.”

“Coming together and remembering what happened — but celebrating how far we’ve come — is so important,” said Courtney Klamar, 21, who was in class at middle school in Columbus, Ohio, when the airplanes struck 10 years ago. “It’s a call. We’re all Americans. We’re all remembering a day that was very hard. But there’s a lot of growth that’s possible. We all can come together in this.” 

The procession began at the Washington Hebrew Congregation near Washington National Cathedral and featured stops at every house of worship along Massachusetts Avenue’s Embassy Row. The walk ended at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial  at the Indian Embassy. 

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