Published August 26, 2011
Throughout his three terms as mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg has consistently fought for the greatest possible inclusion of the greatest number of New Yorkers in virtually every area of city life. That is what makes his decision to ban religious leaders from participating in this year's ceremonies marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11 particularly disturbing.
Whether a victim of bad advice or following a poor personal intuition, the mayor is the man in charge and he must bear the blame for this decision.
All public ceremonies are about making choices – who should be invited and who should be left out.
Now I suppose a case, albeit a weak one, could be made for not including clergy in the ceremony -- clergy can be difficult to deal with, and the tiring game of “if you include one, you must include all” makes having any religious leaders present difficult. But the fact that it may be difficult does mean that taking the easy way out is acceptable.
Mayor Bloomberg has rightly defended the inclusion of the so-called Ground Zero Cross in the 9/11 Memorial and also defended those who want to build a mosque and Muslim community center nearby.
So why now, at a critical moment when faith is so central for so many New Yorkers is the city officially unable to find a way to honor that reality and recall the important role faith has played in the lives of so many people both in New York City and around the world -- both in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and in the days and years since?
Why not announce how a narrative of faith – faith which brought consolation and hope to so many -- will be included by at least one of the speakers at the ceremony. That person or those people don't even have to be official religious leaders, they simply need to be people of faith. Their titles don't matter but their faith does.
What matters, too, is that along with the somber speeches and patriotic preaching -- which will surely comprise most of the ceremony -- is that there ought to be space to acknowledge the role of religious faith and practice in healing the hearts and strengthening the resolve of victims and their families, not to mention millions who, however physically far away they were ten years ago, felt the force of those planes as they struck the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan.
On 9/11, we were attacked by people who could not have cared less about whom they were murdering – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, you name it. Ten years later, we need to find a way to be as inclusive in honoring their memory as their murderers were in taking their lives.
I hope that Mayor Bloomberg will reconsider his decision, will return to his senses, and follow his tradition of making room for more people and the traditions which bring purpose and meaning to their lives. There are many ways in which this might be accomplished and time is running out.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism," and president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.