Post 911, we are all connected

Jeff vonKaenel

The events of September 11, 2001, changed many lives. Families who lost a loved one will never be the same. Some people chose to devote their lives to service after that day. And we got involved in a war that has needlessly killed hundreds of thousands of people and bankrupted our country.

But in a small way, September 11 changed my life, too. As an indirect result of 9/11, my teenage daughter and I spent several weeks in India visiting religious festivals hosted by the Brahma Kumaris. We went on a study mission to Turkey hosted by the Pacifica Institute where I attended religious services with thousands of Muslims. I even preached a sermon at the First United Methodist Church in Sacramento. But I am getting ahead of myself.

On the afternoon of September 11, I was driving in my car listening to Capital Public Radio narrate the events of the day. Then the station played “Amazing Grace” by Judy Collins. The music brought tears to my eyes and momentary relief from the horrors of the day.

A few months later, wondering how to bring people together on the anniversary of September 11, I remembered listening to “Amazing Grace.” I imagined gathering our community to listen to interfaith music. So I impulsively rented Memorial Auditorium for the night of September 11, 2002. The next day I realized that I’d better explore the relgious music aspect of my interfaith event. So I started dropping in unannounced at various local religious services to check out the music.

For several years following 9/11, I attended a different one almost every week. In fact, I attended more than 100 different services including Russian, Buddhist, African-American, Catholic, Jewish, Latter Day Saints, Protestant, Pentecostal, in many types of buildings from big megachurches to small neighborhood churches, from synagogues to cathedrals to mosques.

I was warmly received wherever I went. Perfect strangers went out of their way to be nice to me. At the Sacramento Hmong Alliance Church in Elk Grove, a stranger sat down next to me to translate. At the Ethiopian church, they took photos of me and my daughter, clearly thrilled that we were there. At Oak Park’s St. Paul Baptist Church services, my daughter disappeared momentarily under a grandmotherly embrace. I’ve been invited every year since September 11, 2001, to participate in an interfaith Iftar at Salaam, a local mosque.

In the end, the SN&R sponsored a Call to Unity, featuring interfaith music and recognition of key community leaders, for the six years following 9/11.

The events of 9/11 made some people feel more disconnected from others and more isolated. But my experiences taught me the opposite. Even though our experiences and traditions are quite diverse, we are all far more connected than separate.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.