Like nearly everyone, I remember where I was on 9-11 when I first heard about the attacks; I was learning at Machon Chana, a yeshiva for women in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I have to confess, when someone told me that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center, I initially thought it was a hoax. The Twin Towers, which were as much a part of the New York skyline and the view from Brooklyn as the water and the sky itself, seem invulnerable, and the crashing of a plane into the Towers, at first, sounded like a freak accident. I was in the middle of my morning prayers when I heard whispers about a second plane crashing. Questions arose in my mind as I was praying “Is this really happening?” and I shifted my concentration to those lives which might have been lost and to survivors (at that time, we believed that there were going to be some. When appeals for blood donations abruptly ceased, we soon discovered the truth about this.)
Rabbi Shloma Majesky, who was the principal of the school, sat down with us and explained what had happened. His demeanor was so calm that, again, I found it difficult to believe the event. His manner was also quite remarkable, given the fact that his son-in-law narrowly escaped the terrorist’s inferno because he was late for an appointment in the Twin Towers, because his wife insisted that he discuss an important issue with his son rather than rushing off to the meeting. Because he spent this necessary time with his child, his life was saved. There were many people who were saved by prayerr; in the week before Rosh Hashana, Jews say a series of prayers called “Selichos.” Since the length of the morning service made many people late for work, they emerged from the subway station, only to see the first plane hit the building. However, we will never know the content of the prayers offered up by those inside the building. I heard stories of self-sacrifice, of Jewish husbands who faxed their beloved wives bills of divorce which would ensure the spouses’ ability to remarry in case their remains could not be found and their deaths could not be established (the rabbis did rule that anyone who was in the Towers had died, and that their spouses could remarry). I cannot imagine the feelings of those husbands at such a time, nor would I ever want to.
I heard a Rabbi said that anyone who is killed for believing in the One G-d, or for being Jewish, is automatically considered to be a “righteous person” and their souls go to a higher place. Unlike the terrorists, we do not believe in intentionally putting our lives on the line, especially to kill others, but among the many people who died that day, there are a large group of perfectly righteous souls now in Heaven. May they reach higher worlds and plead our case that Hashem will protect us as our existence in becomes more precarious and our world becomes a landmine. May they inspire us to bring light in to the darkness and hope into the chaos.