As the nation commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday, Temple Emeth hosted an event to emphasize unity among a diverse township and the importance of community service. “Caring for Our Planet: A Day of Remembrance and Service,” featured remarks from religious and public leaders that culminated in a cleanup of nearby Windsor Park.
According to Temple Emeth, the congregation has held an annual cleanup event for the past several years. Temple leaders also have had an ongoing dialogue with members of Dar-ul-Islah Mosque, and “pulpit exchanges” have occurred between Temple Emeth Rabbi Steven Sirbu and Pastor Keni Ashby of Covenant House of Faith International.
“On this national day of remembrance, it seemed only natural to reach out to friends and neighbors,” stated a press release for Sunday’s event. “[Temple] Emeth is particularly sensitive to the fact that many of our peace-loving Muslim neighbors may feel isolated since Sept. 11, 2001. Thus, we transformed a Temple Emeth project into a community project inviting people of all faiths, backgrounds and ethnicities."
Sirbu said his synagogue believes that interfaith activities work to bring a community closer.
“Our diversity is a great strength when we understand what we can accomplish when we work together,” he said. “Only through interfaith action can we achieve the peace and unity we pray for.”
Sultan Ahmed of Dar-ul-Islah said he’s a proud citizen of the United States and a resident of the tri-state area for five decades.
“I’m also a Muslim raised in Pakistan,” he said. “I came to America like so many immigrants from around the world attracted by the opportunities offered and the national value reflected. I am honored to be among the thousands of individuals across the great country paying their respect to the victims and survivors of 9/11 and honoring the heroism and sacrifice of our brave first responders.”
Ahmed expressed sympathies to those who lost their loved ones from the terrorist attack and said he too felt extreme pain on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Not only had my city and fellow citizens been assaulted, but so too my religion,” he said. “Not only had extremists hijacked planes, but they also tried to hijack Islam itself.”
Ahmed said there was no justification for what the terrorists did and nothing in Islam that would condone their actions.
“Muslims in America and around the world condemned it at that time, and we continue to do so vehemently and without any reservations,” he said.
He then told the crowd about Muslim-American first responders who rushed to help those in need after the towers were struck.
“I dream of a day when these are the people that first come to mind when you think of Muslim-Americans,” he said. “I know that day will come soon.”
Ashby said people of all backgrounds and faiths lost their lives in the attack and that people of all different backgrounds and faiths came together afterward as Americans caring for one another.
“It didn’t matter where you were from,” he said. “As human beings, we cared for our fellow human beings. Life was so precious it didn’t matter what you looked like. As the buildings came down smoke and ash turned everybody one color, which was grey, a neutral color. I saw it as symbolic that everyone had something in common. All those differences didn’t matter at that moment. We were all going through this together.”
Lana Baghal of Muslims Against Hunger said 9/11 reminds her to be a positive presence in the world.
“I can’t let the deviants misrepresent Muslims nor the media vilify Islam," she said. "As an American, for me this day is about coming together with my fellow citizens despite ethnic and religious differences to do good in the world.”
Baghal told the crowd that diversity must be celebrated, and that 9/11 can’t be exploited to manipulate and divide people.
“On the news and in my personal experiences, I have witnessed touching instances of genuine camaraderie and sincere compassion,” she said. “Working with various faith groups, such as Temple Emeth, has shown me that this is truly possible. Let us not forget those who died on 9/11 nor those who continue to suffer in our own back yard and around the world through the natural disasters, economic inequity and political injustice.”
CELEBRATING A CALL TO SERVICE
Sen. Loretta Weinberg remarked that this was her third 9/11 observance event she attended since Saturday but the first one that included an act of volunteerism. She took notice of the dozens of young people in the crowd holding gloves and cleanup equipment and wearing the light blue T-shirts given to all participants.
“When I look out at these young people here, it gives me incredible hope for our future," she said.
Teaneck High School freshmen Esoheosa Igbineweka, Anthony Philips and Darren Guzman were just a few of the many area high-school students who came out to the event.
Igbineweka said she only knows about 9/11 from what others have told her because she was a toddler on the day of the attacks.
“It’s important to recognize those who died,” she said.
Phillips said the day was about showing gratitude for the sacrifices others made, as well as taking care of the earth.
“Especially with the 9/11 anniversary, it’s a great opportunity to prove that I’m willing to give back for what was given to me,” he said.
Guzman said he too didn’t know what really happened on Sept. 11 because he was so young, so he wanted to come to the event to learn more about that day.
“I also came out because Teaneck has provided so much for me, so I wanted to give back to my community,” he said.
Hameeduddin told the crowd that he still chokes up when he watches news segments that show first responders who ran into buildings – amid the chaos – and gave up their own lives trying to save others.
“It’s something that 10 years after the fact, words cannot express what I felt that day and how I feel 10 years later,” he said. “I’m just happy to be living in Teaneck right now where we’re taking the events of that day and turning it into positive energy.”