By Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Michelle November
Back at the hotel after a moving video celebrating 50 years of the Religious Action Center and an inspiring speech by Vice President Al Gore, news broke that U.S. Forces had killed Osama bin Laden. We paused briefly to digest the information and to watch CNN. Suddenly our congregants grabbed us to go to the White House, where people were gathering to celebrate.
The mood outside the White House was exuberant. As we watched the crowd swell from a few hundred to thousands, people belted out “God Bless America,” waved American flags from perches up in trees, and chanted “USA, USA” with passion usually reserved for sports games. Some wrapped themselves in red, white, and blue; one character dressed like Spiderman climbed a lamppost. Unlike the organized rallies we have attended on the Mall, this gathering was spontaneous in nature, organic in its explosive expansion, and compelling in the outbursts of youthful patriotism. Cars honked, people cheered loudly, and the streets filled with a sense of unity. Kindness permeated the packed crowds; people said, “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry,” as they squeezed past one another.
In the midst of the celebration, we were struck by many emotions. Grateful to be American. Pride in our Armed Forces. Relief that Osama bin Laden, the purveyor of murder and his cynically murderous twisting of religion, will no longer be able to spread his deadly ideology. But we wondered, should we have been standing in silence, holding candles, reflecting upon the terrible loss of life – at 9/11, in the wars in Afganistan and Iraq, and in other battles to defend American lives?
We wondered how our friends in New York City were reacting. More specifically, our hearts turned to our friend, whose husband died in the Twin Towers, leaving her with young children. Would this give her solace? A sense of justice? Some closure? Or would this renew her emptiness and bitterness?
All told, this was a unique, inspiring outpouring of patriotism and unity. We felt fortunate to be in our nation’s capitol witnessing this historic gathering. As we turned to leave, we noticed a man standing near the White House fence, waving a framed picture and a U.S. flag folded into a triangle. From the distance, the picture appeared to be of his loved one killed on 9/11; the flag, a cherished reminder of his service to our country. And cheers went up everywhere.