Ground Zero – stream of consciousness

I am sitting on the steps of Brooks Brothers, looking out over the construction site that Ground Zero has become. Surrounded by tourists and locals alike, cameras flashing, people posing and smiling. For many it has become a tourist site, one of many to visit here in Manhattan.


My parents’ generation talked about where they were when Kennedy was shot. Today’s counterparts talk about where we were on 9-11.


I was at the Y, swimming with a friend while the kids were in school and daycare. We got out of the pool and as we dressed I noticed a message on my cell phone from my sister in law in Israel. She had called to find out if we were ok, which at the time I found very strange.


We got into my friend’s car and turned on the radio. It was around 1030 am and the radio journalists were scrambling to understand what was going on. I called my (then) husband to see if he knew anything about what was going on. I remember him saying that he thought a plane had accidentally hit the twin towers.


As soon as I got home on went CNN. My brain understood that the pictures it was seeing and the words it was hearing were all real, but processing the reality was a different story. As the day unfolded and more details emerged, the shock and the horror began to set in.


Like so many other parents around the world I had a need to find my children, to hold them, and to know they were safe. As I buried my face in their sweet smelling necks I cried for the mothers who would no longer hold their babies, for the children, young and old, who could no longer feel the warmth and love in physical form from their parent. I cried out of relief that my children were safe. I cried out of guilt that my family was still complete. That day I cried at the knowledge that flesh and blood people had so much hate in their hearts that they could commit such barbaric acts of murder and terrorism.


My children were very young at the time, too young to absorb the true impact of the day’s events. The school social workers encouraged us to talk with them, to explain why mommy and daddy were sad, why the world was mourning and in deep pain.


So many times we see that out of tragedy and heartache comes light and eventually celebration. That week, my fourth son was conceived, a bracha in all that sadness. My baby was blessed beyond words to be born into a two parent family. Whilst pregnant I heard many a tale of babies conceived before 9-11 whose fathers died that day, some of them not even knowing of their future child’s existence.


That week I remember wondering how the world would or even could continue to function. How could we ever smile again? Love and laugh again? How would the sun ever be brave enough to come out again?


As time goes on, and we all know that with time comes eventual acceptance, I cannot help but wonder why it happened? What was G-d’s point? Obviously it was a lesson for us to learn something from. Maybe we each needed to learn something different from the same event?


Personally I have a hard time understanding G-d’s purpose in this and other tragedies. Are there not other ways for Him to make His point, without decimating families? Wasn’t the Holocaust enough? How do we answer our children when they ask us Why? The truth is we don’t know, we just have to have faith that it is all for the best, Gam Zu LeTovah.


As I sit here on the steps a plane flies overhead. I try to imagine what it must have been like on that day, sitting here, perhaps seeing those planes hit. How does one ever recover from that? How does that image ever leave our eyes? How can we ever trust anything again?


So many lives lost in this construction site across the street from where I sit. I want to pray. I want to tell G-d what is in my head and what is in my heart. I want to learn from this experience and improve upon who I am. Being here is so humbling, so life affirming.


I had no idea how moved I would be. I had no idea the effect that just gazing over what is now in effect a construction site, would shake me to my very foundation. There were people whose bodies were never found, this site is their final everlasting resting place.


After the Holocaust there was a phrase that became well used – Never Again. I want to understand what the original intention of that phrase was. Never again will we allow human beings to treat each other with such disrespect and blatant hatred? Never again will there be discord and disharmony in the world? Never again will the world stand by and allow criminals to continue to perpetrate and perpetuate injustice?


If we vowed Never Again, what were we promising? Did we even keep our promise to the 6 million of our people who died in the Shoah? Did we become too complacent? Did we allow ourselves to become so comfortable in our world that we believed ourselves invincible, safe from further harm? Did we let ourselves down, or was it our governments? Should they have done more, could they have done more? Could 9-11 have been prevented at all? I am sure there are those that say it could have been and those that say it had to happen, and that it would have happened no matter the governmental interference.


We just went through Tisha B’av, a day of mourning the destruction of our two Batei Mikdash. An event of which our generation really has no true understanding. We were never there at the Beit Hamikdash. We personally never brought sacrifices, or first fruits or any of that. Yet almost 2000 years later we still sit on the floor and mourn the destruction as if it happened to us. We all need to remember, that history has a way of repeating itself, and that we need to learn from it, and grow from all the negative things and the positive. We cannot ever allow ourselves to become complacent. We must always strive to be better people, better Jews, better parents and children. We need to live each day to the fullest that we can, in order to know that we did all we could to make our world a better place.


6 responses to “Ground Zero – stream of consciousness

  1. I was at the dentist on 9/11. I still have the card from that day. The radio was on. When it said one building was hit, I thought, a fluke accident. When the 2nd was hit….I knew terrorism had hit NY. It was right after the horrible Sbarro bombing in Jerusalem.

    I hid with a friend at her house. I asked her to turn off the TV. Since the Gulf War I, when Israelis hid in their houses in fear of Saddam, I have not watched TV news.

    My kids were safe with their teachers…the teachers being more scared than the kids. Some parents who worked at the Trade Center had miraculous stories. Others, including a Teaneck woman and an East Brunswick man, lost their lives.

    Your post says a lot.

  2. I believe we all remember what we were doing when it happened. I was at school with my students who had heard all sorts of conflicting and confused news.

  3. Citizenship Issues class, senior year of high school. Our entire school shut down academic operations and turned on emotional operations — every classroom filled with the sounds of radios and televisions of the news broadcasts.

  4. at work, wondering where my father was, since he was working a few floors up from brooks brothers at the time. imagine my relief when he showed up at my office an hour and a half later, in time to see the first tower fall. those were the longest 90 minutes of my life.

  5. I was late for work (Thank G-d for selichos) when I headed to NYU where I was teaching. The traffic on Flatbush Ave heading to the bridge was so slow, I called to tell my wife what I saw. The first tower was hit and smoke was billowing into the air. I told her the Twin Towers was on fire, and she said I shouldn’t kid about stuff like that. I told her I wasn’t. (It hadn’t yet made it to the radio for her to believe me)

    Oddly, it was only the top floors, and I prayed that all those above the smoke line, would find an escape route, but it never occurred to me that those below the level of the fire could be in danger.

    I proceeded to plod on, in the traffic, hoping to get to school in reasonable time. When I made the left on Tillary street to get to the Brooklyn Bridge, just 3 cars in front of me they closed the bridge. I was furious. How would I get to work? As I was directed to the service road beside the bridge, I asked the cop how I could get across into Manhattan, and he said “I don’t know, I think they closed all of the bridges”. On the radio and they had first announced an accidental plane hit. As I turned on to the service road, I noticed neighbors of mine parked along the road, trying to find cellphone connections as they watched the tower burn, and I too, in the car could no longer reach my wife to tell her I was coming home.

    Then, the second tower exploded into a burst of fire before my eyes. I made a choice NOT to park and watch, but to get home instead, as the sight was too horrific. As I drove back home to Crown Heights, A cloud of smoke followed my path, with ashes falling all around me. Little did I know that this ash contained the remains of countless lives. It was not an easy path home, as this image left an indelible scar in my mind. The police precinct near my home, had basically cordoned off a surrounding area in the event of attack, as the radio was now talking about the possibilities of terrorism, as a similar incident occurred at the Pentagon.

    Thank G-d, I never made it across the bridge, as I would have been stuck in Manhattan until late that night. I cannot cross the Brooklyn Bridge to this day, without seeing the towers burning. The images of the towers burning will never be erased from my mind.

  6. I was in my townhouse where we lived at the time, and Nancy had Good Morning America on the TV. I remember seeing what looked like a small plane (of course perspective made it look like that) crashing into one of the towers and a fiery explosion behind it. Later, of course, I would know that it was an airliner that had crashed into the building.

    Later that morning, I was on the University of Memphis campus before the math class I was teaching and I remember the crowd of students trading rumors on what had happened. I learned later about the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania. Needless to say, that day was a blur.

    It is jarring not to see the Twin Towers in the skyline. (The tradition of the twin beams of light is wonderful; that should continue on every September 11). I am encouraged by the fact that 10 years after the attack the site is being built up again. It was wise to let the footprints be a focus of the memorial and to have the buildings surround it. I am looking forward to seeing the new buildings take their place in the area.

    Incidentally, I don’t know if anyone commented on this, but the Hebrew anniversary of 9/11–23 Elul–was exactly one week before Rosh Hashanah that year. I don’t think that was coincidental–there must be a message there…

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