THE SEPTEMBER CONCERT: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE TO THE PAIN OF 9/11
This year, a misty September 11 began with a procession of family members reading the names of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. At day’s end, there was “The September Concert: An Evening of Remembrance and Celebration” at St. Patrick’s Cathedral — one of 110 concerts held that day throughout the city — inspired by Aldous Huxley’s statement, “After the silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
When everyone in the cathedral’s cavernous space — more than 2,300 attendees — rose to join the cathedral’s choir in singing Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin’s gift to this nation, “God Bless America,” I got teary-eyed. Among the notables in the front pews with whom I chatted were Sally Goodgold, who is a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council and was recently appointed chair of the Commission on Jewish Security, and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. The latter was beaming as his wife, Veronica Kelly, vice chairman of the September Concert Foundation, declared, “Our mission is to fill the skies with music every September 11, and today, with over 10,000 performers worldwide, we are well on our way to fulfilling that mission.”
Veronica Kelly and Haruko Smith, founder and chairman of the foundation, were given the honor of ringing the day’s New York Stock Exchange closing bell in tribute to the foundation’s work. The former noted that New York City’s 110 scheduled concerts “were held in libraries, churches, schools, subway stations, hospitals, plazas and lobbies of some of New York’s most prestigious real estate!” She added that in fulfilling the goal to “bring people together [to] reaffirm our hope for peace, celebrate life and embrace our universal humanity, concerts were held today in Italy, China, Malaysia, Great Britain, France, Japan, South Africa, Indonesia and Morocco [as well as] Philadelphia, Galveston, Denver, Houston, and Washington, D.C.” The evening’s all-music program — which included works by Harry Belafonte, G.F. Handel and Gabriel Fauré — concluded with the combined voices of the multigenerational, multiethnic members of the New York Choral Society, the Cathedral of St. Patrick Choir and The Young People’s Chorus of New York City in a stirring “Freedom Trilogy” by Paul Halley. In his brief closing remarks, Edward Cardinal Egan recalled the anguish of “watching the towers collapse,” and praised the “unity” of New York’s police, firefighters and emergency worker “heroes.” He softly declared, “We pray for all who died.”
Rabbi Leon Klenicki received the highest award that can be given to a non-Catholic by the pope — the Knighthood of St. Gregory — conferred upon him by Sean Cardinal O’Malley of Boston at an August 26 ceremony held in New York City at the Holy See to the United Nations. Klenicki, who until 2001 was the Anti-Defamation League ‘s director of interfaith affairs, is the second Jew to receive this honor, the first being Joseph Lichten, his ADL predecessor. Among those witnessing the ceremony were the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, and interfaith policy director, Eric Greenberg; Rabbi and Mrs. Isidoro Aisenberg; Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz; Rabbi and Mrs. James Rudin; Myra Klenicki, and Rabbi Leonard Schoolman (whom Klenicki identified as “the rabbi who heads the Center for Religious Inquiry at St. Bart’s Episcopal Cathedral. Only in America!”). Among the Catholic dignitaries present were Archbishop Celestino Migliore, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, Monsignor Vittorio Guerra, the Rev. John Pawlikowsky and Sister Cecilia Deutsch.
“I am deeply honored by Pope Benedict XVI for my nomination as a papal knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great,” Klenicki said in his acceptance address. “I have met with [then] Cardinal Ratzinger several times and was profoundly impressed with the depth and breadth of his knowledge. My first meeting with him was to inform him about ADL’s educational programs on early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism… a collection of studies on the lectionary Testament texts and the presentation of Jews and Judaism, [which have] sometimes been misunderstood and misused to promote antisemitism. Cardinal Ratzinger’s questions showed that he understood precisely what we planned to do — [that is] not [to] change sacred texts but to offer more information about the theological reality of the first century.” Subsequent meetings dealt with the issue “for Jews and Catholics to examine the theological meaning of the Holocaust — the need to reflect together on God’s call and presence in the midst of total horror and evil.” Klenicki, a founding member of the Catholic-Jewish theological think tank the Interfaith Theological Forum, continued, “Interfaith dialogue is a sharing of ideas and feelings between people willing to respect each other’s faith commitment.” Argentine-born Klenicki had been appointed by the government of Argentina as a member of CEANA, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Commission that investigated Nazi activities in Argentina from 1933 to 1945 He was part of CEANA from 1980 to1985. He thanked “the late Oscar Cohen, who invited me to succeed [the ADL’s] Joseph Lichten, thereby saving my life from the Argentinean terrorism of the ’70s”
Klenicki paid a retrospective tribute to “my high-school teacher, who introduced me to the thinking of Jacques Maaritan, Gabriel Marcel and especially Emmanuel Mounier, [which] exposed me to Catholic thinking that was radically different from the reactionary ideology of l’Action Francais that had influenced Argentinean Catholicism.” In his closing remarks, he noted: “Through our dialogue with each other, people of faith, as equals we can overcome the historical domain to enter into a dominion of sacredness. Let us build on this sacred relationship of Catholic to Jew and Jew to Catholic… that God may… light the world with understanding and blessing.” As the assemblage applauded, Klenicki and O’Malley clinked champagne glasses in an ecumenical l’chaim.