JTS Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky Hosts Interfaith Visit to 9/11 Memorial Site

Press Contact: Eve Glasberg
Office: (212) 678-8089
Email: evglasberg@jtsa.edu

August 16, 2011, New York, NY

On Thursday, August 4, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies at JTS, hosted a diverse group of religious leaders and activists in lower Manhattan at a tour of the National September 11 Memorial. The memorial's architect, Michael Arad, was the group's guide. Dr. Visotzky was invited to gather the group as a direct result of his leadership of "Our Better Angels: New Yorkers Commemorate the 10th Anniversary of 9/11," a series of events cosponsored by JTS and Union Theological Seminary (UTS) that ran from May 30 through June 13 and was dedicated to changing the tenor of public conversation about the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Rabbi Visotzky noted that the group of Americans he had invited to tour the reflecting pools and waterfalls represents the hope of the memorial, which is a tribute of remembrance and honor to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001—at the World Trade Center site; near Shanksville, Pennsylvania; and at the Pentagon—and to the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993. The tour group included Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, president of UTS; Dr. Sarah Sayeed, a leader in the Muslim community; Valarie Kaur, Esq., a Sikh filmmaker; Sharat Raju, a Hindu-American filmmaker; and Fran Snyder, a Jewish scholar and PhD candidate at JTS.

No matter their religious, scholarly, or political perspectives, everyone in the tour group was deeply moved by the memorial. Afterward, Rabbi Visotzky reported that "the 9/11 memorial is exceptional, and captures the immensity and the power of the event it commemorates. Michael Arad was the perfect guide to his own architectural work, and we were all touched by the depth of compassion he and his team showed in their remarkable care over grouping the names of the victims on the memorial. They spent a year consulting with the families and designated next-of-kin to determine how this should be done so that when loved ones visit the site, they will find their departed friends and family listed nearby one another—memorialized in metal much as they lived their lives together when still among us. Our group included Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu Americans, and we are bound together by our love for this country and the diversity it represents."

The simple design of the 9/11 memorial, with its use of flowing water, is stirring, adds Dr. Visotzky: "In fact, the waters disappear into a void. The entire site—eight acres—evokes the absence of the towers, what is not there; not just the buildings felled by demons, but the precious lives cut short by terror. My friend Dr. Sarah Sayeed gently reminded me that the flowing waters are also symbolic of life and healing. As we stood there in a grand array of American diversity, I also felt calmed by the sound of the rushing water, hopeful as the buildings rose around us once more.”

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