Students too young to remember are new focus of 9/11 programs
Area day schools take range of approaches on attacks’ anniversary
Third-graders at the Jewish Educational Center’s Yeshiva of Elizabeth observe the anniversary of 9/11 with a moment of silence, together with their teacher, Zeldie Henner.
Photo courtesy Jewish Educational Center
September 18, 2013
Together in the school sanctuary, weaving together song, stories, facts, and rituals, students in fourth through seventh grades at the Bohrer-Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph commemorated the 12th anniversary of 9/11.
Like many administrators at day schools and yeshivot in the area, head of school Moshe Vaknin and dean of general studies Dr. Cheryl Bahar were careful to teach what happened but to avoid being overly graphic. They kept things vague, and age-appropriate.
“We know it’s a sad day, but we want the assembly to be uplifting, not just terrifying,” said Bahar. “We want to educate kids without scaring anyone. We want to make it a memorable experience, so kids will go home and start a dialogue when they say they had this ceremony.”
At the program, seventh-graders, some not even 12, presented an account of what happened on the day, and then sang, “We Are the World.” Vaknin made sure to refer to the many acts of humanity performed during the tragedy, and to those who risked their lives to save others.
“It was a bad day done by very bad people,” he said. “But there are many more good people in the world than bad, and there are always good people looking for ways to help that give us hope.”
Although the events of 9/11 may have happened before most of these children were born, they did not treat it as ancient history; instead, they each articulated their own resonant connection with the day. Four students said they personally knew someone affected by the events on 9/11. Nine said they have visited the memorial in New York City, and many others said they feel connected to the events of the day through conversations with their parents about what happened. Few, however, were as poignant as Kayla Honea, 11, of Mine Hill. “My parents sometimes talk about where they were” when they heard the news about the planes hitting the towers, she said. “They were listening to my heartbeat at the doctor’s office.”
Hunter Caplan, 12, of Florham Park said his father often talks about 9/11. “He was supposed to be there. He had a meeting there but he had a headache that day and cancelled it. I feel lucky but I feel bad for other people.”
Roy Vaknin, 10, Moshe’s son, said that a slightly older boy he knew lost his father in the World Trade Center. Although that boy’s family has since moved, and many of the students only learned of his tragedy within the last year or so, Roy said, “I felt very sad for his family and I think it’s sad that he did not know his father well.”
Even those without such immediate connections showed visceral reactions to the terror attacks. Eleven-year-old Jason Kalver of Morristown said that whenever he thinks about 9/11, “I imagine what it would be like to be in the building and have the planes fly into it.”
Max Warech of Morristown, 11, said he visited the memorial in Lower Manhattan. “I was very sad to see how many people died just because they were going to work,” he said.
Different schools, varied approaches
Area Jewish day schools took varied approaches with their students on the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
• At the Jewish Educational Center, the network of Orthodox schools in Elizabeth, elementary school students participated in age-appropriate classroom discussions and activities, ranging in focus from the 9/11 Memorial to the symbolism of the World Trade Center towers.
All JEC students, including upper school students at Bruriah High School and Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy, observed a moment of silence.
After the upper school student presentation on the heroes of 9/11, sixth-grader Shira Friedman of Hillside said, “On 9/11 there were many brave people. They didn’t even have super powers like Superman or Batman. They had a heart.”
• At Golda Och Academy, the Conservative day school in West Orange, upper school students observed a moment of silence and watched a video about how relatives of victims mourned and healed. They also worked through several texts, including an alternative reading of the U’netaneh Tokef (“Who shall live; who shall die”) prayer for those struggling with disease or loss, focusing on how to live more fully in the upcoming year. GOA elementary students participated in their own age-appropriate activities.
• Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston took a different approach. The high-schoolers heard Katy McKeown Soulas’s account of losing her husband during 9/11, while pregnant with their sixth child. The lower school avoided discussion of the events of 9/11 altogether and only discussed the ideas of heroism and patriotism, and students were asked to dress that day in red, white, and blue.