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Friday, September 01, 2006

Countdown to 9/11: 10 Days to Go

This is a reprint of an article that I wrote last year to commemorate 9/11. During the 2001 Fall Semester, I was in a Broadcast Journalism class, which was taught by Jane Hanson. At the time, she was the co-anchor of Today New York. She was the first journalist to break the news that a plane had hit the first tower. She was on the air for over 24 hours straight after the tragedy began. We missed a lot of her class after 9/11. When she returned, she showed us the awe inspiring tape of how America and her went from knowing nothing and totally relying on eye wittness reports to building the whole picture and magnitude of what was being done to the great nation that is the United States of America. On that day, we were told to write our where abouts, thoughts, and feelings of that day. I would like to share that with you now. As some-one who experienced 9/11 first hand, I feel that it is vital to share my experience with all of you. As some-one who was extremely lucky and blessed by Hashem that all my family members that worked in the Towers were able to get out of them in time. Like, my cousin, Ben, who just got engaged last weak. He worked on the 75th floor of the South Tower. Immediately after the first plane hit, he left his office, ran down the stairs and left the building. He then proceeded to walk more than 100 city blocks to get to safety. When we called him to see if he was OK, the only thing he could tell us was that his knees hurt. The terrible and scary truth is that if he hadn't had the foresight to get up and leave the building, he most certainly would have been killed. When the second plane hit the South Tower, it hit between the 64th to 73rd or 75th floor. Most likely, he would have been killed on impact.
Here is my story: READ THE REST...
It didn’t even occur to me to look up. Looking back on it now, I wish I had. Maybe I would have caught a glimpse of the tragedy unfolding, maybe not. I’ll never know. Maybe it’s better this way. I walked south from the main Stern building to the Lex. building at about a quarter to nine for my MIS class. At the end of class, around 10:15, we were told to go on the computers. The girls in the row behind me all went online instead. I decided that I was going to be good that day and really pay attention to what was going on in class. All of a sudden, one of the girls starts talking about bombs exploding and planes crashing into buildings. My first instinct was to ask, “what happened in Israel?” She says, “No, it happened here”. I say, “where here?” she replies, “here here!” Another walks into the room telling all of us that two planes crashed into the world trade centers and another one crashed into the pentagon. I look at my friend, Esther, and we just started laughing. In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the best response, but we didn’t know how else to react. We simply couldn’t believe our ears, and, honestly, we kind of thought it was cool that something so dramatic was happening in the city not so far away from us and we, a part of it. This was before we knew the extent of the damage. Our adrenaline was racing, and we couldn’t wait to get outside and see what was going on for ourselves. Then, this other girl came in the room and said that the world trade center was gone. I said, “No way. They couldn’t have fallen down. They have reinforcements against that kind of thing. There was a bomb back in ’93, and the towers didn’t fall down then. They plan for these things.” She just said that that’s what she heard, and Esther and I just walked by.

When, we got outside and saw all the smoke and all the hoards of people walking in the street, we got even more excited because we knew it was something big. We went to go get breakfast and then came back to the dorms. It was then that I found out what really happened. I turned on my roommate’s radio to listen to some news or music, whichever one was on first. None of the stations were playing music. They wouldn’t be playing music for days. The first thing I hear is the time that each tower collapsed, and the words, "The Empire State Building is now the tallest building in New York". I dropped my cereal and felt my stomach drop to my feet. I was numb. I couldn’t believe my ears. My next instinct was to call my mom, but the phones weren’t working. I tried for about fifteen minutes and then went downstairs with Esther. The weird thing about my friend is that when she gets nervous, she wants ice cream, so she convinced me to go with her to the Manhattan Mall to get ice cream with her. Of course, being the good friend that I am, I went even though I wouldn’t be able to enjoy such chilled delight with her.

We walked west down 30th to get to the mall. Man, just walking those 3 avenues was a twisted adventure. Every person or group of people we passed were talking about the same exact thing. We passed two seconds of one conversation and ran right into the same thing five seconds later. It was so weird. People talking about the details of what happened or people they knew that worked in or around the towers. I was trying not to let prejudice thinking get in the way of my open minded personality, but I couldn’t help but look at every Arab we passed and wonder what was going on their heads. Were they happy about what happened? Are they upset? Are they scared that they’ll be stereotyped and hated? Do they want more acts of violence to occur? I hated myself for thinking like that, but the shock was allowing me to ponder these issues in the most rational manners. All the while, as we were walking, I was on my cell phone trying to get a hold of any member of my family to tell them I was ok. It was the most eerie feeling to know that all of us were basically cut off from the rest of the world. There were these long lines of people waiting at every pay phone to connect to their loved ones and tell them that they were ok. It would be over two hours before I actually got in connect with my mom who was freaking out by the time I got a hold of her. I think that was what frightened me the most; feeling trapped. We experienced another interesting event right before we got to Fifth Avenue. All of a sudden, we hear some one on a blow horn or something. I started getting nausciated. I told Esther that if it were some Arab talking about the justice of what happened, I would just throw up. It ended up that it was some guy pretending to be Jewish or something because he was wearing a conservative tallit. He was saying how we had to embrace our enemy and love those who hate us in order to have peace. He also said that god didn’t care what religion we were because He loves us all. As long as we accept jesus into our hearts, he’ll take care of the rest. He was soon, there after, escorted from his perch by hotel security. He would reappear two hours later to give the same exact speech. The most amazing thing we saw on our little journey was when we crossed Fifth Avenue. We were just following all the people crossing the street, but we stopped in the middle of the street and wondered where all the cars were. It was then that we looked in both directions and saw all the thousands of people that were walking in the middle of the street. There was not one car in sight. You know, I always thought that when I walked down the streets and looked ahead and saw all the people that I would marvel at how many people could be in the city at one time. When Esther and I looked up and down the street and saw all the people, we rethought the validity of that thought. Nobody could get in and out of the city. Where were cars going to go? Every body had been dismissed from work. All any of us could do was walk around the streets. It was at that moment that we felt as if we were seeing everyone walking amongst the avenues of Manhattan. And, we all had our sights aimed in the same direction, south. Of course, the Manhattan Mall was closed, so there was no ice cream to be had. Sorry Esther.

It when we returned to Brookdale Hall that we saw exactly what had transpired an hour prior to our trip. We went back into the TV room where Esther’s sister was waiting for her. I sat down and watched the Twin Towers collapse like a house of cards. Then, I saw the plane crashing into the second tower and broke down. I could only watch those two sights twice before I had to get up and leave. I couldn’t handle it. I went back to my room and kept pressing the talk button on my cell phone in hopes of reaching out to my loved ones and sharing one of the most horrific days in all our lives. Of course, later on, my roommate and I walked down Fifth Avenue to about 20th street to take pictures. I kept telling myself that I was gonna burn in hell for it, but I had to do it. Not because I’m a tourist who got to take photographic advantage of a horrible situation, but because I felt I needed a reminder for myself, my children, and grandchildren. That night was definitely freaky. While my room-mates and I were all discussing the fact that the events that took place and will take place that day and in the weeks to come will be studied by our children in school and that this time will be on of those “where you were” events like the JFK assassination, I looked out the window and saw not one soul on the street for blocks in each direction. That night, "the city that never sleeps" had been silenced. I got afraid that, as Bush calls the perpetrators, “evil doers”, might succeed in silencing me to and forcing me to hide. But, I keep thinking about how New York has become my home, and no one comes into my house and pushes me around.

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