I still had some packing to do for my flight to Israel on Monday morning. To the dismay of my parents, I had decided to go to yeshiva. Two days prior was my good friend’s wedding. The wedding could not have been planned in a more majestic, nostalgic, picturesque summer escape. We celebrated at Camp Gorham in the Adirondacks where I spent seven radiant years.

The groom and I spent summers there together perfecting the silent sneak out, strengthening our modest muscles on the climbing wall, belting out our pre-pubescent cracking voices in the talent show, and staring at the stars on nights so clear we could compete on how many we spotted shooting across the sky. They we’re the most free and formative years of my life.

The wedding ceremony took place at the sacred spot where campers and staff members would gather around the “Final Campfire” overlooking the lake. We’d share our most cherished summer moments and dedications for all to hear. There were tears and songs and a lot of laughter echoing over the lake. The only man-made structure in sight was an enormous wooden cross. This was a YMCA camp after all.

A view of the camp.

That year, back in 2011, a mixed marriage under a cross didn’t mean that much to me. I grew up reform celebrating only the most famous of holidays. Kosher was something we used as a synonym for “cool,” not something we ate. I didn’t really notice the cross or the lack of kippahs or even the missing Rabbi…all I saw were two giddy friends sealing their commitment in the most wonderful place on earth under the most starry of nights.

From a distance the reception hall glowed and as we all approached, the music matched our ecstatic and bouncy moods. The dining hall where we used to scream I’ve Been Working On The Railroad at the top of my lungs was transformed into a glamorous affair where we screamed Twist and Shout instead. The cocktails flowed, the men loosened their ties and wiped their brows, their wives kicked off their shoes, and the bride and groom twirled. It was…happy.

At some point I took a cigar break with the groomsmen on the grand porch outside. My mom, who was at the wedding with my father, followed me out to catch her breath herself. But she found a look in my eye that only she could spot and pulled me to the railing overlooking my vast childhood playground. We stood silent taking in the expanse – the basketball courts and tennis courts, the kayaks and fields and the quiet lake in front us. Then she said what was already in the air between us.

If you come back keeping Shabbat you won’t be able to have such a good time like I know you’re having.

“Y’know, today is Saturday… if you leave for yeshiva you will come back keeping Shabbat… you wouldn't be able to be here with us having such a good time like I know you’re having.”

I would normally have become defensive at a comment like that, defending my choice to leave for yeshiva and learn Torah like my life depended on it. My face would have become blushed and my voice raised and I would have handed her a verbal grocery list of why going to yeshiva is the right move for an under-informed reform Jew like me. But that night I finally allowed myself a bit of vulnerability.

“I know Mom. You’re right. And I don't know if I’m making the right decision. If there’s a lifestyle that wouldn't let me be at celebrations like this….I don't know if I want anything to do with it…”

She sensed that lightning doesn’t strike the same spot twice and if she would have said another word I may not take it as calmly. We went back inside and had a blast dancing the night away.

The rest of the night was a blur of live music, dancing, stretch bus limos, after parties, and slurred toasts. I fell asleep with a guitar and Doritos by my side, and a big goofy grin on my face.

The next morning my parents checked on me and took off early for home. It was an hour and a half drive and I was in no shape to go with them at 7AM. I hit the morning-after brunch and we all felt the weight of the hangover in our heads and the pit of regret in our stomachs.

We said our goodbyes, hugged again and looked forward to the next one. I got in my car and decided between the two radio stations that you can get in the dirt roads of the Adirondacks: Talk Radio or Country. I chose Talk. It was white noise as the clarity set in that I would cancel my ticket to Israel tomorrow. I wouldn’t go to yeshiva. I wouldn't throw my life away, my childhood friends, my memories of camp, catered food and parties and weddings and toasts and even morning-after regret. I wouldn’t fly to a region of conflict to go learn about Judaism for 16 hours a day. I wouldn’t give up my weekends forever so I could sit and talk about the heaviest of topics for 24 hours every week for the rest of my life.

The author with his fatherThe author with his father

I wouldn’t go to yeshiva and throw away my childhood friends, my memories of camp, parties and weddings and toasts and even morning-after regret.

And I wouldn't forget how my mom and dad watched me tearing up the dance floor and working that wedding like a cruise ship director and their beaming expression that said, “That’s our boy.”

In the midst of this part daydream part rude awakening I noticed a bad feeling. I couldn't tell where it was coming from but it was making me very uneasy. I searched for it and found it in the white noise. I turned up the radio and realized it wasn’t white noise at all. It was the sound of reporting of fire, a plane crash, panic, and death. A man’s voice came through that he saw something…he’s not sure….he can’t be sure if it was terrorism. Then a woman reporting that papers were falling from the sky and her voice drowned out by screaming. It sounded just like 9/11. Wait. It was 9/11. It was September 11th, 2011. It was the 10th anniversary of September 11th.

The only radio channel that came through clearly was the recounting, minute by minute, of NPR’s 2001 live broadcast of September 11th. This was their way to honor the anniversary. Listening to the confusion of the broadcaster as the first tower was hit and billowing smoke seemed unfair. I felt like shouting into the radio, “It wasn't a prop plane! It wasn’t an accident! It was terrorism! It was evil!” Ten years later, knowing the cause and culprit, hindsight seemed like cruel punishment to these stunned news analysts. I drove slowly and listened.

My hands kept twitching to change the station but I never could complete the task. I finally accepted that I was going to listen to the sounds of 9/11 for the entire drive home.

I listened to final voicemails to wives from airplanes on their way down, heard about messages of desperate love to children as floors became engulfed in flames.

I didn’t need to be reminded how that clear fall day turned into a living nightmare for so many innocent, hardworking Americans. What I needed to be reminded of was family. During the 10th anniversary special, I listened to final voicemails to wives from airplanes on their way down, heard about calls from the 90th floor of the North Tower to brothers and sisters and messages of desperate love sent home to children as floors became engulfed in flames. Nearly every survivor or victim died or lived for their family. I was 14 when it happened. Now I was 24 experiencing a much more powerful thought. Family is everything.

The radio show had another, darker theme, a theme that resonated with me even more on that drive: Death. There is life and then there is death. So painfully simple. So very cliché. Everybody dies. I don’t want to die. I remember thinking that. I thought about it in the forefront of my mind. I thought about it so much the words began to fade and even disappear and it just became a….force. I don't want to die. Eventually, on the last turns of the trip I didn’t need to think it or say it aloud. It just became a part of who I was. I don’t want to die.

Noah in Israel

I pulled into my driveway. My parents were inside, most likely reading the mail they missed from the long weekend or taking an early afternoon nap. I turned off the engine and the radio went silent. I didn’t need – I didn’t want – to hear anymore. The sun was out but it wasn’t too hot. I rolled my window down and felt the fresh air.

My mantra was still with me but transforming slightly as I enjoyed my brief moment to myself before joining my parents. Everybody dies but not everybody lives. My weekend was fun. It was full of pleasure. It was full of sound and music and laughter. It was a party and a great one at that. It was fun – a lot of fun – and I needed a lot more. A new clarity set in. I walked inside and finished packing.