ATLANTIC CITY — I had no idea 10 years ago that today I’d be part of an interfaith group, Bridge of Faith, which is at the helm of southern New Jersey’s biggest Sept. 11 commemoration event. This small group of mainly Jews, Muslims and Christians meets six times a year at our respective places of worship to share information, remove misconceptions, exchange ideas and generally fellowship with one another in a spirit of common humanity.
At one of this year’s meetings Kaleem Shabazz, of Masjid Muhammad in Atlantic City, suggested that we join hands to commemorate those lost in the horrific World Trade Center tragedy in 2001. Immediately everyone else was on board. Arlene Groch of Beth El Synagogue became the chairperson for the event that will take place Sunday — which happens to be Sept. 11 — from 3-4:30pm at Beth El in Margate.
Letters or e-mails were sent out asking others to become sponsors. In a few months, almost 60 houses of worship, civic and social organizations joined the ranks of those who will participate inpraying, singing and speaking out together against violence, prejudice, hatred and discrimination.
Many such events will take place on the 10th anniversary of 9-11 as Americans recall where we were and what we were doing on that fateful morning.
I was teaching my first English class of the morning at a Maryland high school right outside of Washington, D.C. A security person knocked on my classroom door and asked me to step outside. He told me that one of the World Trade Centers had been hit, but advised me not to tell my students as he went on to the next classroom.
I tried not to look shocked as I returned to face my students.
Back then hardly any students had cell phones, so it took a little while for word to spread. Soon though, the hallways were filled with hundreds of frantic teens racing through school trying to gather their siblings and leave the building. Many were yelling, “My parents told us to go home now! My mom is coming to get us! You can’t stop us from leaving school!” Others were crying, “My father works at the Pentagon!”
You see, they were quick to surmise that our nation’s capital, and particularly its monuments and other government buildings where many of their parents and family members worked, would be next. When the Pentagon was struck, I didn’t even attempt to keep students inside my classroom as administrators had suggested. I simply moved aside as they poured from my classroom and into the hallways. In less than one hour, they and their parents were embracing each other in the halls and offices of our building.
I had called my husband, who informed me that he was headed to pick up our daughters, and took out a radio that I had in a closet. Sitting down in disbelief, I listened with other teachers to the news of what had happened in New York. Someone brought in a TV set and we gathered around it in stunned silence as we watched fire and smoke billowing from the towers, dust-covered people running through the streets.
“Well, for once you know this ain’t black folks,” a fellow teacher commented. I think she was trying to lighten the moment in some strange way, but I was thinking, “God, don’t let it be Muslims.”
For more than 25 years, my mom had called it the triple whammy — black, female and Muslim. “Are you crazy?” she’d ask. “Why would you bring that on yourself?” Isn’t that part of what America is all about: people not having to give up any part of themselves to lead happy, productive and successful lives?
Though I had had my share of hatred and discrimination for more than 25 years, I had found ways to connect with people from all over the world based on being black, female and Muslim. It had been my introduction into conversations, friendships and worlds that I might not otherwise have entered.
That’s what I’m hoping for at Sunday’s 9-11 commemoration — that people will engage in conversations with others that they might not ordinarily come in contact with; that they will recognize the same emotions in each of us as we pray, sing and speak to one another with compassion; that maybe they will invite one another to visit at another time to begin forging new relationships.
This is really what must keep happening if we are to avoid other 9-11s and this is why I love Bridge of Faith. I look forward to seeing you Sunday. For more information, go to 9-11memorialsouthjersey.org.
Turiya S.A. Raheem was born and raised in Atlantic City. Currently an English teacher at Atlantic Cape Community College, she loves to describe her neighborhood as “the other Atlantic City,” because it was not the casino-resort mecca most people know today. It was a place with a “cozy, down-home feeling” as she describes in her 2010 book, Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City: Wash’s and the Northside.
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