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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Countdown To 9/11: My Days With The Dead

On the day of 9/11, my room-mate didn't know what to do with ourselves. We knew our school was gathering a group together to go down to NYU Hospital to donate blood. My room-mate and I weren't allowed to donate blood for various reasons. Instead, we decided to go over to the high-school down the street from our dorm and sign up with the Red Croos and donate our services with whatever they needed. It was so awesome to see that when we got to the school, there was a line all down the street of volunteers waiting to help. I received a citation from the Red Cross for the work that I did, but the most inspirational and awe inspiring work that I did was Shmira.

Wait, let me back up a step here. One of the most popular 9/11 conspiracies that continues to circulate throughout the Arab/Muslim world is two pronged. 1) No Jews were killed by the WTC collapsing. There weren't even any Jews present in the buildings at the times of the attacks. Why? Because the Jews knew ahead of time what was going to happen, and 4,000 Jews were called that morning and told not to come into work that day. 2) The Mossad were the ones responsible for crashing the planes into the buildings. They controlled the planes by remote control and crashed them. Of course, this technology only exists in Israel, controlled by the Mossad, and that is why nobody has every heard of it.

OK, first of all, there are many holes in this particular theory. Of course, it's a ridiculously anti-semitic theory, but if you're going to make up a conspiracy theory, you ought to do it right. Let's forget about the fact that in my previous article, I spoke about my very JEWISH cousin that barely made it out of the South Tower alive, and I had at least one other family member who worked there and was able to make it out alive. Let's forget about the fact that many Jewish people died in the WTC attacks. For once second, let's play along with this theory. Anti-semites believe that the Jews control the world; if not the majority of the world's finances. On any given day, there are 30,000 employees working in the World Trade Center. If you believe that the Jews controls the world's money, and the World Trade Center represents the center of the financial world, WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD YOU SAY THAT ONLY 4,000 JEWS WORKED IN THE TOWERS??? Then, as my cousins would attest to, I guess some Jews didn't get the call. I guess they weren't powerful enough. READ THE REST...

In any case, Shmira is the Jewish law that states that a Jewish body cannot be left unattended. Shmira is considered the truest act of kindness one can do because the person you are doing the act for can never pay you back. The body is watched and attended, and "kept company" until the person is buried. Obviously, after 9/11, it was going to be a long and arduous process in identifying people. In most cases, people were identified by the most minimal of body parts; some tissue was found, a foot, part of finger, etc. To this day, almost 5 years later, NYU Medical Examiner's Office has storage coolers filled with catalogued body parts belonging to people they can't yet identify. In one case, part of a foot of a Jewish man that worked at the WTC was found on the roof of a nearby apartment complex over a year after 9/11. Not knowing Jew from non-Jew as body parts were being brought in, 24/7, a Jewish person had to be present at the NYU Medical Examiners' building, where all the bodies were being brought, because one never knew when a Jewish person was being brought in.

A group of Stern girls, including 3 friends of mine, spoke with the head Rabbi that was in charge of the Shmira project, and volunteered to get a group of girls together in order to share the Shmira duties, so the Rabbi could get some much needed rest. I immediately volunteered to take part in this project. My friends were actually featured in the New York Times for their efforts. The project lasted from September through the end of May. The project stopped in May of 2002, because the coroners told the Rabbi that they did not expect to have any more body parts brought in, and that the workers at Ground Zero were given order to officially stop looking for remains. I was given Shabbat duty. They were all 8 hour or 4 hour shifts. I would alternate between the two. I would also alternate between doing the Friday 8 hour shift. It would be from 12:00 AM-8:00 AM, or the Saturday shift, which was from 8:00 AM-12:00 PM.

There was a trailer set up specifically for us, and it was also used as a chapel. Don't worry, there weren't any crosses in there. The key thing is your presence. So, for a few hours, I would say Tehillim (psalms) for the dead. The rest of the time, I spent hanging out with the fire-fighters and police officers and other Red Cross volunteers that were there also around the clock. Some of the fire-fighters and police officers were there in their off hours because they said they wanted to be close to the friends they lost, and they also wanted to be there when bodies of fire-fighters and police officers were brought it. There was always a special ceremony when that happened. It happened once when I was there. It was extremely moving, and I cried a lot while they performed the ceremony and mini-eulogy. Some of the other fire-fighters and police officers were there on their shift, because they were assigned to be there in the case that their fellow brothers were brought in.

I can't even begin to describe how nice these guys were. It didn't matter that I was some pisher there, they took me in as one of their own. They were very interested in what I did, and they were very moved by it. They talked about how respectful it was, and how it was the ultimate act of sanctification and honor for the dead. Some of them actually would ask me to say a prayer for their friends, keep them in mind, so it would be as if I was keeping their friends company also, even-though they weren't Jewish. I was honored and more than happy to oblige their requests. Most of the time, we weren't serious. They were so serious because of the situation, they desperately needed their down-time. So, there were a lot of times when we would just talk about nothing, or watch a ball game, and argue about team and stats. They were impressed that a girl knew so much about sports. Again, they were interested in Judaism, so we actually spent a lot of time talking about religion, and I told them all about Judaism. They were really impressed and really liked a lot of the traditions.

All-in-all, those 8 months of performing Shmira changed my life. I can honestly say that it is an experience that I will never forget. I met some of the most amazing and inspirational human beings. It was also a hard experience. I saw things that I never thought I would ever see in my life. I did see a few body parts, and they will haunt my memory until the day I die. It was absolutely incredible, and it changed me for the better. No matter how hard it was, I would do it over again. However, I pray to G-d with all that I am, that we should never have another tragedy like this, so no-one will ever have to go through that ever again.

*This post is dedicated to the hundreds of fire-fighters and police officers that I met over the course of the 8 months at NYU Medical Examiners Office. I have not seen any of you since that time, but we formed a bond that can never be broken. May G-d protect and watch over you. You are the true heros. G-d bless every one of you.*

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At 6:55 PM, Blogger Jack Steiner said...

That is a heck of a story.

At 11:46 PM, Blogger Olah Chadasha said...


At 10:01 PM, Blogger Dexter said...

I would be curious to know how you think that foot got separated from the body, and ended up on a "nearby apartment building"( exactly how far away was that building?) Did it fly there? When the buildings "collapsed" did it bounce there? Or was it just part of the debris field from a massive controlled demolition? Looking forward to your thoughts.


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