I recently came across this old temple newsletter my Dad had pinned to a bulletin board and I was kind of waiting for September to share it with you. But…tonight seems as good a time as any, right?
I’ve never written about my experience on September 11th 2001; at the time I was a 20-year-old NYU student living about a mile uptown from the Twin Towers.
That evening, my mind still reeling from the ash covered zombies we’d been trying to help as they listlessly roamed the streets, I wrote an email to my Rabbi (who in turn read it aloud to the congregation and then printed it in the temple newsletter much to my 20-year-old horror, which made it made it super easy to google nearly a decade later).
I’m not an incredibly religious person, but truly believing that you are going to die ~ as I did, hyperventilating in the bathroom of my East Village apartment, not wanting my room mates to see me panic, thinking over and over and over “so this is it? this is how I’m going to die?” I burst into tears trying to dial Scott for the 9000th time to no avail, certain I’d never speak to him again, never tell him how much I loved him ~ how much I didn’t want to die at twenty ~ how I wasn’t done yet…and, well ~ those types of thoughts do funny things to people.
Hi Rabbi Brown:
It’s good to hear that the Temple will be together tonight. I remember going to services after the earthquake and how comforting that was. I wish I was anywhere but New York City tonight. But I just want everyone on that side of the country to know that there are amazing things happening following this horrendous tragedy here on the East Coast.
Today, after watching thousands of people die in burning monuments from the roof of my Third Avenue East Village apartment, I walked out onto the street. It was an incredible scene. There were people flooding down the street. No one was running, the overall traffic flow was slower than usual. There were virtually no cars on the street, only ambulances and emergency vehicles, and everyone not covered in dust and debris was heading to the hospital to give blood. People were weeping and hugging, and people were covered in soot wearing triage tags. It was like nothing I thought I would ever see in this lifetime. And yet, at the same time, people were inviting victims into their homes, restaurants were handing out food and water, and no one pushed or cursed. New York City for the first time since I moved here, was full of love. Everyone had found a common bond, the determination to survive this. Race and class didn’t matter, everyone comforted everyone.
And as I walked uptown to Penn Station with friends, passing boys my age holding M-16s with bayonets attached directing traffic in the streets, people were just looking to help. No one argued, everyone stopped to give money to the col- lectors on the street, and everyone stopped to share their story. And just an hour after being more terrified than I have ever been in my life, I realized that we are going to be okay. Lives were lost, but perhaps faith was born. I just wanted to pass along to the West Coast, before you spoke to the congregation tonight, that New York City is not beaten, that for the first time ever people seem to be rising to the occasion. I wish more than anything that I could be within the comfort of our congregation tonight, but know that I, and I am sure other TAS alumni now in N.Y., are with you in spirit. G-d bless.
Tonight, as I began to watch my online and analog communities respond to the news of Bin Laden’s death, I saw/heard both elation and fear. Will there be retaliation? What will come next? Of course, with less xanax, I’d undoubtedly be obsessing over those things as well, but tonight ~ tonight I’m celebrating a death. Tonight I learned something unpleasant about myself. I am happy Osama Bin Laden is dead. It was a human life, and yet I’m glad it’s over. I consider myself a pacifist and yet I felt patriotic and proud listening to my President outline how he gave the order to hunt Bin Laden down like a dog and kill him.
I’m going to have to find a way to reconcile that ~ but I have a feeling that being able to literally smell the damage he did to my city and my neighbors, to have heard the city of New York scream in unison as one of it’s greatest symbols, and nearly 3000 lives simultaneously fell, and after seeking refuge with my family in Valley Stream ~ watching the parking lots of the LIRR remain full…only to realize that no one was coming back for those cars. And here was this person, this pathetic excuse for a man, A LEADER, EVEN, claiming “victory” on television…and I think…that grinning cry of VICTORY has maybe just a tiny little something to do with it.
It doesn’t feel American to celebrate death. It doesn’t feel like what this country is about at it’s very core, which is truly built on principles that are good. The NYT City Room blog quoted one 9/11 survivor as saying “I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama bin Laden.” There’s a big part of everything I thought I knew about myself that wished I felt the same way. But I simply don’t. Not tonight.