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I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a bright, sunny Tuesday morning in Brooklyn on September 11, 2001. I was living in Flatbush at the time, had already gone to Synagogue for morning services, had scarfed down breakfast, and was ready to leave the house. I was a freshman in Brooklyn College at the time, taking afternoon classes and wanted to get a head start on school work. As I was headed out the door at around 9-ish I was told not to move anywhere as the craziest thing had happened with the Twin Towers not long beforehand. An airplane had hit the north tower and it was feared that it was an attack. Shortly afterward, the south tower was hit and everyone was in a frenzy. Shortly afterwards each tower collapsed on TV. We were then advised that the country was in a lockdown and nobody was leaving. It was the craziest thing I heard at the time.
When I said that I was still going to school, I was looked at like I was crazy and told not to go. I then called Campus Security, which the person on the other line asked, “are you still at home?” After I responded in the affirmative, I was told, “Good. Stay home as we are closing up the school at 12 PM. Nobody is taking more classes.”
With nothing to do but watch TV, look out the window and surf the ‘net (in those days it was AOL with a dial-up connection), I noticed the following:
1. The sky had eerie black smoke coming in from Manhattan in the afternoon.
2. Office papers hit neighbors’ houses a short block away.
3. On eBay at the time (yes, it existed back then), people wasted no time and were selling the office paper remains they found as collectibles for bids starting at a million dollars. Fortunately, eBay had the consideration to take those bids down on grounds of abuse.
4. I learned what the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, burqas and anthrax were, as who Osama bin Laden was.
5. Towers/Buildings 1, 2 and 7 were hit, as was the Pentagon. There was another airplane what crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania since the passengers knew what was happening and decided to risk their lives for the greater good.
6. There were 19 terrorists on board the planes.
It was a crazy time. President George Dubya Bush was going all cowboy, launching his vague “war on terror.” I still remember seeing firefighters on TV, going into the toxic atmosphere to save whatever lives they could, risking their own lives in return (Shortly afterwards, I met a firefighter that told me that while his birthday was on September 11, his family since then celebrated it the day before in honor of that day). Back at school, newfound patriotism was seen, with USA flag pins being sold for $1.00, all in the name of charitable donations. One person involved with the selling was wearing a Yarmulke, and having seen mine on campus, muttered “Tzedaka Tatzil Mimaves” (charity saves you from death). When I asked what he said since he said it low and fast, he said “nothing!” I only registered what was said a few seconds after the fact, when he went to the next person.
In the classroom emotions were actually mixed. I remember one professor, a kindhearted Catholic, sympathetically telling us how terrible it is that at our age we should be experiencing something this traumatic. Two others decided to keep silent and focus on the classwork, “business as usual.” The most memorable though was one professor that taught the handful of us the day after (on a Wednesday), who were able to brave it with the rest of the country in “lockdown mode.” She asked us what we thought terrorism was. Others answered indirectly, stating that it had was death, killing, hate, etc. I answered correctly that terrorism is just that – to evoke terror to achieve a gain. Since people are terrified of death, that’s the method used. She then asked us what we thought this was was about. I responded that it had to do with “good versus evil.” Given I was fresh out of Yeshiva it was so clear to me. Her response – ready for this? – was that it’s hard to say that since to Al Quaeda/Taliban what they were doing was good and we are evil. In this manner the acts of terror were justified.
I don’t think that anyone that lived through this act of terror will forget it so fast. Question is, will our children? (Probably.)