Taking stock, healing to be common themes of 9/11 sermons

A singular subject will likely crop up in the weekend sermons of many Philadelphia rabbis, reverends and imams: the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

In the Northwest section of the city, leaders from the area’s diverse faith community will adopt similar themes in ddressing the now decade-old terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia, and airliner over Pennsylvania.

Many say they’re asking congregants to take the anniversary as a time for personal reflection.

Rabbi Linda Holtzman, who heads Mishkon Shalom Synagogue in Roxborough, said she  encouraged people to think beyond their feelings of sorrow, mourning and remembering.

“It’s about changing some of our behaviors so that we can really honor the memory of those that were killed,” she said.

Holtzman said she spoke Friday about the nation’s need to let go of the anti-Muslim sentiments that festered after the fall of the Twin Towers. That message should ring clear in the Jewish community, she said, which knows all too well about demonization and stereotyping.

“It’s about time for us to turn around and stop that behavior and stand up whenever it happens,” said Holtzman.

The Roxborough-based rabbi said the “informal dialogue” during Friday’s Shabbat service also sought to highlight the positives of the Muslim community.

Personal reflection will also be a big part of Rev. Jarrett Kerbel’s Sunday sermon. Kerbel is the new rector at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, an Episcopal parish in Chestnut Hill.

He said he has two goals for his speech: comfort and challenge. Kerbel explained that he needs to respect and honor personal feelings of loss, but also, and perhaps more importantly, push “real reflection”.

“This might be a living trauma for some people and that’s not the easiest place to reflect from, but I think the church has more to say than just comfort,” said Kerbel.

Kerbel wants to encourage congregants to explore their feelings of pain and think about how they may have changed over the past 10 years as a result of those sentiments.

“Who have we become or let ourselves become because of the pain? Are we proud of what we’ve become? Is the pain causing us to act in ways that are inconsistent with what we say we believe?” said Kerbel.

A similar thread will be found in the words Imam Suetwidien Muhammad imparted to his congregants Friday during afternoon prayer at Masjid Muhammad in Germantown.

Muhammad, who lost a family member in the 9/11 attacks, said the anniversary is a time to take personal stock of the day’s destruction, but also all of the destruction that’s happened since.

“Let us take heed of all of these things,” said Muhammad. “If 9/11 took place 10 years ago, God gave us 10 years to get ourselves together.”

But Muhammad’s words were also about remembering, or really, about not forgetting how lucky many were to have escaped the attacks unscathed.

“We were spared because we weren’t there that day at 9/11. We weren’t at the Trade Center. We weren’t at the Pentagon, but God called us to witness that for a reason.”

Muhammad said recalling 9/11 helps remind people that no one is exempt from destruction and the “evils of the world.”

Rev. Kevin Porter with First Presbyterian Church in Germantown said Sunday’s service will look to moving past the destruction of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Porter said there will be a series of special participatory prayers and litanies to mark the occasion.

“They’re all around the themes of remembrance, forgiveness and peacemaking,” said Porter.

Underscoring that trio, he said, is an effort to make the day “redemptive” and “life-giving” and about looking into the future. They’re themes that the church preaches about throughout the year, but will have added significance on Sunday, he said.

“Working through these issues of love and community building in the midst of diversity are things that are very much at the core of our mission and who we are, so Sept. 11 is just an extension of that.”

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