SHORT HILLS, NJ – Community Congregational Church in Short Hills hosted an interfaith prayer service and brunch on Sunday at 10:30 am along with members of Congregation B’nai Israel bringing together community and religious leaders to mark the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. 

A heavy air hung inside the church as the pews filled with somber faces from all faiths reflecting the emotional tenor of the day. Representatives from the Millburn Police, Fire Department, and First Aid Squad joined two Navy officers as flag bearers to open the service by rendering honors as the sounding of six chimes denoted the times of the crashes and tower collapses.

The theme of the service focused less on the attacks and more on the people; those lost, those who rendered aid and how people treated one another in a time of tragedy. Reverend Dr. Johann Bosman of Community Congregational noted, “It was the worst of times that brought out the best in people.” Reflecting on his experiences that day, he was struck by how people were treating each other, not focusing on themselves or their needs.

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“People were not only noticing other people; they were engaging them. They were talking to them and when they broke down and cried they hugged and held each other,” said Bosman.

Rabbi Steven Bayar of Congregation B’nai Israel echoed the message of taking the lessons of September 11th forward in how people treat each other daily.

“May what we have started today create light throughout the world for we now know that we can create light for others without diminishing our own light,” Bayar said.

The moments of silence and those cut with the mournful strains of the Theme from Schindler’s List during the candle lighting ceremony incited the greatest shows of emotion, as restraint failed and tears fell unabated amongst those gathered. The candles meant to represent the shared memories, a light of comfort and strength and as a symbol of hope were lit one by one from a single flame by the gathered community representatives, a shared source of light for all.

Representatives from the Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, and Buddhist communities also offered prayers as well as responsive litanies led by Mayor W. Theodore Bourke, Superintendent Dr. Christine Burton, and youngster Lilliana Pereira.

The children’s choir, holding colorful signs, closed the service on an upbeat note. Many of the participants born years after the attacks singing for peace punctuated the day's message of community and hope for the future.

Red-rimmed eyes and dampened cheeks gave way to a more upbeat tone of togetherness as laughter, and cheerful greetings echoed through the hall during brunch as the community reveled in fellowship with friends new and old.

The Millburn/Short Hills community lost Mark Charette, Tommy Clark, Steven Lillianthal, Richard Madden, Patrick Murphy, Don Peterson, Ian Schneider and Frank Spinelli on September 11, 2001. The prayer service drew its inspiration from “A Witness to Peace: A Multi-Religious Gathering with Pope Francis,” that was held on September 25, 2015.