Tag Archives: 9/11

The Danger of the Diluted Memory

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The view from my window on September 11, 2001

At about 1 AM this morning I was in my car and I began to realize how many memories I had filed away from 18 years ago.  There were literally tens of thousands of people whose experience that day was worse than mine, but like so many other New Yorkers who saw parts of it live and spent part of that day in Manhattan, the horrors of that day were very real to me.  Even so it took a mental jolt, one caused by a friend changing a picture on Facebook to bring me back to what I remember from that day, and to remind me of how important it sometimes is to remember the things we want to forget the most.

Everyone who was in New York on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, a day that was originally an election day, will remember that the weather was so perfect, that in retrospect it was eerie.  When I saw Dick OIiver of FOX 5 NY first reporting an incident, I recall him saying that it had appeared that a twin engine jet had hit one of the Twin Towers.  Since at the time I was living on the 10th floor of an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, I was able to see the towers from my window.  Seeing the smoke coming the first tower from the window made this all very real very quickly, but what it did not immediately do was make it clear to me that it was an attack.  There were many, including myself who initially thought it was a terrible accident.  Regardless, there was nothing that my staying at home was going to do for anyone so I made my way to the train which going through Manhattan would eventually get me to Brooklyn where I worked at the time.

Some of the images that stuck with me most on that day were the images of people whose expressions of panic and devastation implied they had people in the towers.  At least back then, whenever a major news or sports story hit, there were enough people talking about it on the subway for someone to get wind of what was happening.  So by the time the train was just a few stops in I knew a second plane had hit.  Within a few stops I saw 2 young women crying uncontrollably, looking as though they had a person or people they loved in peril.   When the train arrived at the 34th street and 6th Avenue station it was evacuated, the first car being the car with open doors while all the remaining cars, of which one was the one I was in moving towards the front.  When I got out into the street there were 3 memories that will remain with me forever.  The first one was the fact that the streets were filled with people, and that almost all of these people had one thing in common.  They were walking uptown.  The general feeling seemed to be more of a focused numbness than anything else.  There were no smiles, not a lot of talking and throngs of people doing the only thing that made sense at that moment.  To get as far away from downtown as quickly as possible.

The second thing I remember was standing in front of a store front and seeing the TV on what I remember was WABC NY, with the image of what would later be known as Ground Zero and the words, “Twin Towers, attacked and destroyed”.  Once again it felt very real.

The third thing I remember is something I rarely speak of, likely due to the incredibly sad futility of it and the fact that I will either never know what it was or worse, the fact that what it was would only be described as one of the saddest things I will ever see in my life.  On a side street there was a white car, with the windows down and the news blasting from its speakers, and outside there was what I am guessing was a Japanese couple most likely in their late 40s or 50s, the man pacing back and forth and together with his female companion sobbing almost to the point of screams.  All I could imagine was that their child was in one of the towers, and somehow they knew that he or she had been killed in the attacks.

I remember the fear I felt by the rumor that there were more planes unaccounted for, and knowing that being around the corner from the Empire State Building made us all vulnerable.  I remember walking to and over the 59th Street Bridge, looking downtown and seeing the trail of smoke, while walking next to people covered in the grey dust that covered anyone who was close enough to feel the effects of the attack.  And I remember the smell.  Everyone who was in Manhattan either on that day or days following remembers the smell.  The smell of burning, the smell of devastation, the smell of death.

The worst thing about everything I have just recounted is what I said way back in the beginning of this piece, and that is that compared to many on that day, I saw and experienced nothing.

So 18 years later, as impactful of a day as that was, it was not till today at about 2 AM that I started to remember these things.  And it dawned on me once again how important it is to keep memories like this alive.  It dawned on me that I am very likely far from alone in allowing the memory of that day to become diluted.  And it brought me back again to the importance of reminding people of the things they sometimes want to forget the most.  If 18 years and 3,000 people later the memory of September 11th is weakened to me, someone who does care, it’s even more clear to me how important it is to keep talking about 75 years ago and 6 million.

May the souls of all of those lost on or as a result of September 11, 2001 always be blessed and may we honor them by never forgetting what happened on that awful day.

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15 years after 9/11: An evolution from Horror to Pride

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Everyone has their own 9/11 story.  Regardless of whether one lived in New York that day or not,  it is hard to find someone who does not remember where they were when they first heard of the attacks and how that day unfolded for them.  The closer one was to what happened, be it geographically or by emotional connection to someone there, the more horrific it was.  There were initially no positive feelings to speak of on that day.  All we saw and felt that day was fire, smoke, fear, horror, sadness and death.  But as is always the case with humanity, the world moves on.  It does not forget, often not forgiving, but it does move on, and often evolve.  Today, 15 years later on September 11, 2016, that evolution is more evident to me than ever before.

A valid argument can be made that the world is not a better place than it was 15 years ago today.  That being said, in between today’s moments of sadness and tears, a few things struck me.  The beautiful rebuilding of what became known that day as Ground Zero is a credit to the strength and resolve of not just New York City, but the entire United States. The Freedom Tower, now 1 World Trade Center overlooks Manhattan with dignity and character.  It sends the message to the entire world, specifically those who want to take our freedom, that on 9/11 as down as we were, we were not out and never will be.  The respect shown to our Police, Firemen, first responders, and Armed Forces all over the world on this day is a reflection of a love and belief in all that is good.  Even as America has its problems and conflicts, both internally and abroad, there is no denying the fact that evil is not what motivates its people.  If anything it is hope, and even more so, pride.

I do not remember the last time I heard the national anthem performed more often than I did today.  Nor do I remember the last time I heard more cheers for those who try their best, often thankfully with great success to protect the people. Today America felt to me more like a family than it has in quite some time. In the midst of a contentious political cycle, differences were set aside and the good people of the United States of America stood as one in remembering those who died as a result of an attack on our freedom.

Knowing what the perpetrators of evil are capable of, it’s not a stretch to say that the world is a more scary place than it was on September 10, 2001, one day before the attacks. But whether that is true or not, the one thing I know as I sit and write this is that defeating all that is good in this world is not nearly as easy as those who commit acts of evil would like it to be.  Today, on September 11, 2016 Americans once again made that clear to the world by remembering that day as a day of of horror while standing tall with pride in all that is good and that which was not lost, our freedom.

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Remembering September 11, 2001

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The following are 2 articles I wrote after the 9/11 attacks.  The first article shares my feelings on living in New York on that devastating day.  The second article speaks of my experience attending the funeral of a heroic fireman.  Both are days I will remember for the rest of my life.  Later I will reflect, without any political spin, on where we are 15 years later.

*Living in NY on 9/11/01

On Tuesday morning Sept.11, 2001, we witnessed an event that will change the world forever. This act committed by the forces of evil against the civilized world is one that changes the shape of our future. As a resident of New York, I have seen a city traumatized, saddened, and angered. We were all abruptly forced to change the way we look at everything that we do and to alter our perspective on a daily basis. The average New Yorker will take serious umbrage to anyone touching something that belongs to them, especially when it belongs to them collectively.
At around 10AM on Tuesday morning I found myself around the corner from the original symbol of New York City, the Empire State Building. I am not ashamed to say that I was afraid to be there, yet like so many others there, felt a comfort in being with my fellow New Yorkers. After managing to get one call out, a call that created a chain to let my family know that I was OK, I started to walk uptown and to the East, and like many of the people who live in Queens, I walked over the 59th Street Bridge. When I looked to my right, where I used to see the symbol of the New York skyline, now all I saw was a trail of black smoke. I got home safely after a day of much walking and fear yet never lost sight of the fact that I was one of the lucky ones.
As someone who considers himself to be a New Yorker I have been deeply moved and grateful for the attitude and support of our fellow Americans. Today when I bought my first American flag, I did it for 2 reasons. Out of a tremendous pride for living in the greatest city in the world, and out of a gratitude and pride for living in the greatest country in the world. This week while we are all Americans, to us in New York it felt like the entire country was a country of New Yorkers.
The war that was declared on us a few days ago was an act of evil against our basic good. But true good will always conquer evil, and the victims of the attack on Tuesday will not die for nothing if the proper actions are taken to make this the beginning of a series of events that will insure the safety and freedom for us and our future generations.

*The friend I never knew

I recently had the moving experience of attending a memorial service for one of the fallen firemen from September 11th. Mayor Giuliani made a request for New Yorkers to go out and attend these services to insure that a proper number of people would be showing their respects to each individual victim. It wasn’t till after the service that I began to wonder whether his suggestion was meant to be for the victims and their families, or for the many common citizens who were able to show up.On this day I learned many things that I did not know about the New York City Fire Department. I hear the stories of how their performance on September 11th played and enormous part in saving tens of thousands of lives. I heard how they were running up the stairs trying to save people while the people were running down the stairs trying to escape. I saw the respect and love they all have for each other and the matter of fact way in which they approach their job. They love what they do and feel little to no fear for dangers that would certainly frighten most people.On this day I just missed being able to greet the Mayor but I did have the honor of shaking Fire Commissioner, Thomas Von Essen’s hand. I had a few conversations with a few people here and there, but most of all, I made a new friend. Fireman David Weiss.David Weiss was originally from Pennsylvania and always knew that he wanted to be a fireman. He became a member of the elite branch of the department, Rescue 1, a few years ago, following an extraordinary situation. When traveling on the FDR Drive in Manhattan one day while off duty, he spotted a car sinking in the East River. He pulled his car over and jumped into the river, pulling the man out of the car, and brought him safely to shore. News of David’s heroics reached he department’s brass and David was promoted to Rescue 1. It was a dream come true for him to be in the top unit of what he knew was the greatest fire department in the world and to be able to do on the highest level that which he loved most. One time while Rescue 1 was working on a very dangerous situation David approached a fireman who was new to the unit. He told the fireman that he must be finding this rough as one of the new guys and that he would have no trouble taking over one of his shifts in order to help him out. The fireman agreed and David ended up working a double shift. Later on the fireman found out that David too was one of the new guys. This was typical of his personality. Loved by his family, friends, and coworkers, a person of David’s quality is very hard to find. Even with all this, the friendship I feel for him is different from any other that I know. Since I never met David Weiss.On September 11th, David’s unit was one of the first to arrive at the scene of the attack. He and his fellow firemen helped evacuate the buildings and guide many people to safety. Sadly, David was one of the more than 300 firemen that died that day heroically doing their job. The memorial service I attended this past Sunday was for David Weiss. The words spoken by those closest to him paint a very vivid picture of a man who although sadly died at a much too early age, died in the exact way he would have wanted. Not only saving lives, but saving thousands of lives. The words of these people made me feel as if I had gotten to know this man, and at the end of the day I felt as if I had lost a friend. Maybe the Mayor knew this would happen for some when he encouraged people to turn out. This was a display of unity and respect and even beauty in the midst of greatest sorrow. On a day when I was one of many to pay last respects to a dear friend. A friend I never knew.

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When Emotion overpowers Self- preservation

 

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I have a confession to make.   Last night I needed a drink. Not because of anything to do with my job or family or personal relationships, but for an entirely different reason.  Last night I needed a drink because I found it impossible to come to terms with the atrocities other human beings have become capable of performing.

I ride a bike.  Much of it on sidewalks.  I get extra cautious near driveways, partially for my own safety but even  more out of concern that someone will walk out and I might hit them and injure them.  I am as careful as I can possibly be because the thought of even bumping someone with my bike is unacceptable to me.  So when I hear on the news that a deranged Islamic terrorists mows down over 80 men, women and children out of what he has somehow concluded is a righteous cause, I can’t wrap my head around it.  I know that most if not all of the people reading this feel the same way as I do, but last night for me, at least personally it reached a bit of a boiling point.

I try desperately to get some sense of what can make someone do something so unspeakable, and all I can come up with is the following conclusion.  They fear nothing. They do not fear consequences, they do not fear death, and they certainly do not fear God. They may justify it by claiming they are performing an act that is needed to restore God’s honor, but in every scripture in every religion, God is patient, merciful and loving. Yes the innocent suffer, but the theological and philosophical question of why does not translate into some sort of perverse divine endorsement of murder.

To be opposed to the taking of any life under any circumstances, even punishment, is a more rational philosophy than to believe one is doing God’s will in murdering the innocent.  These terrorists, brainwashed by their ideology and empowered by the desperation of their lives, are doing nothing short of playing God.  This is Ayatollah Khomeini’s great Muslim revolution.  This is not all Muslims by any means, but this is a result of millions of people allowing the idea of a religious revolution to propagate. Thank Iran for this, thank the PLO and Yasser Arafat, for these are the people and places where modern day terrorism was born.  If these people that are committing these horrific acts saw different consequences it would eventually stop. But as of now they are taught that they are helping the growth of Islam and that not only will they not be punished, they will be rewarded in the afterlife.  Rather than thinking they will burn in hell and destroy the world, they believe they will save the world and be heroes in the afterlife.

Desensitization is often what makes us get through the day.  How many people still think of Istanbul, Brussels or Orlando or San Bernadino, not to mention the constant onslaught on the population of Israel over the years.  We all think of these things and of course we think of 9/11 as the mother of all terrorist attacks, until the one that takes more lives than the 3,000 taken back in 2001.  But even when we think about it we move on with our lives, enjoy our days whenever possible, eat, drink, laugh and love and smile.  No one is wrong for doing so.  It’s self-preservation.  But last night I reached the point when I could not smile, when m emotion overpowered my self-preservation, because I could not understand how a human being could reach such depth of anger and hatred that they could kill with no conscience.  In some ways maybe I am lucky to still feel enough to reach that point, but there is no celebrating that fact.  I would prefer to never test it at all.

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Why are America’s Major Political Parties so Surprised? They are Reaping what they Sowed

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With Donald Trump all over the media and the crisis facing the Republican Party taking center stage, it’s easy for people to overlook the issues the Democrats are dealing with almost simultaneously.  On the surface the two  most significant differences are the number of candidates remaining, and more importantly, the fact that the front runner for the Republicans is the candidate making the most noise and getting the most attention.  This does not necessarily mean he is the most controversial.  Objectively speaking, that distinction could at least as easily be given to the Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.  What both parties do have in common is that neither have any right to be surprised about where they are today.  In essence, both parties are reaping what they sowed.

It’s far easier to see this when looking at the Republican primaries.  Ultra conservatives and the Republican establishment have been attacking everything Democrat at least since the days of Bill Clinton.  Even before he got started Barack Obama’s opponents were attacking him from day one.  Whether you believe he’s been a great president or a failing president, his opponents assumed, almost immediately that he would be wrong on every policy move he ever made.  However, in reality it’s always been at least as much about his party as it was about his policies.

In fairness, the Republicans had just finished facing the same thing with George W. Bush.  After 9/11, and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, there was a short period of time, maybe the only time in decades  that the nation actually stood together as one. But as soon as things got a little better, the unity fell apart.  Nothing represented it more than the war in Iraq.   Very few people reading this will likely take an objective stance on that issue.  There are stances that Republicans and Democrats have taken that are clearly the party line.  Democrats generally say they opposed the war in Iraq. Ironically, even many of the ones that voted in favor of it now prefer to say they made a mistake than breaking away from the party rhetoric.  Republicans say the war was the correct move but it turned into a disaster once the Obama administration came into power.  I challenge people reading this to come up with an original thought on this issue possibly even in breaking with their party affiliation.  Why?  Because when you don’t look at things objectively and avoid telling people the truth, guess what you get? Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

America is facing something far more complicated than a country divided.  This is actually a country with its two main parties divided before we even get to the growing division between Conservatives and Liberals, Democrats and Republicans.  The big question is, why is anyone surprised?  After years of vitriolic criticism from both sides, the 2 men that represent the subsequent backlash on both sides are a Socialist touting a political revolution and a Reality TV star and businessman with such extreme views he is garnishing support of the country’s worst racists and bigots. But what did people expect?  If you spend enough time telling people how evil everyone on the other side of the political aisle is, do you expect a happy populous?  Do you expect tranquil political discussion?  Or do you stop and realize that what’s been created is  an environment fertile to the growth of far left or far right extremism.

Sadly it never ends.  Even with the issue of Donald Trump’s rallies, supporters of Trump say one thing, detractors say the other.  People don’t seem to realize that this is part of what people are fed up with.  Not every “expert” on TV has to always sound like a paid representative of one side or the other.  Most people do some things wrong and some things right.  But when you listen to the pundits, their side does everything right, and the other side does everything wrong.  For once I would like to hear someone say something that both sides would disagree with.  At least then we would know they were being honest.

In an era when politics looks like wrestling, and I mean the fake kind, not the Olympic kind, and political nastiness and controversy is blown out of proportion for TV ratings-case in point the constant replay of the same punches from this past Friday night-we can hardly be surprised by what we are seeing in both parties.  After all, when true leadership is lacking, people are often left with strong expressions of anger and frustration.  What would really be surprising would be if it wasn’t happening.

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Open Letter to Michael Moore

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Dear Michael,

I must honestly say that I have never found you to be much use to anyone.  I consider you divisive, self-serving, hypocritical and actually quite boring.  Your latest attack on the wrong people exemplifies your narcissistic need to appear different and pious, when in fact what you have really continued to be is predictable and damaging.

I have not seen the movie American Sniper.  I do intend to see it because it appears to be an excellent movie, but for the purposes of this discussion the contents of the movie are irrelevant.  For you to even intimate on any level that a person who puts his life in danger, suffers emotional distress, and subsequently has to live with horrors for the rest of his life in order to preserve the freedoms that have provided you with a tremendous lifestyle, is nothing short of disgusting.  We all would rather you just say thank you.

I voted for Al Gore.  I was distraught when George W. Bush ended up as the President and through those years I was unquestionably a Democrat.  So this attack on you is not coming from a long time right-wing Conservative.  This attack is coming from someone who has never liked you.  I did not like you for attacking President George W. Bush at a time when supporting him was crucial.  The difference between you and me, is that you had the gall to attack him after the 9/11 attacks, while I voted to reelect him based on his performance after the 9/11 attacks.  Then again, I wasn’t trying to sell some crappy movie, you were.

So here you are once again spitting in the face of those who sacrifice so that you can live your luxurious life of hypocrisy and self-perceived glory.  I believe you are dangerous for the mere fact that you do so much damage to the more moderate side of the political spectrum that you increase the chances of one day seeing an extremist from the far right rising to power.

I am sure if that would happen, rather than feeling remorse or concern, you’ll just find another way to exploit it and attempt to add to that fortune you claim to be so irrelevant in the scheme of things. That would surprise very few people because after all, more and more of us are learning this is just how you roll.

Sincerely,
David Groen

 

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Open Letter to Amos Shocken:Publisher of Haaretz

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Dear Mr. Shocken,

It was my hope that this letter would not be necessary.  As a Jew and as a Zionist, I wanted to hide my head in the sand when I originally saw this cartoon published by your paper. My plan was to ignore it and hope it would go away before it attracted too much attention.  Unfortunately that ended up not being possible.   Although one could say that since I was far removed from this cartoon I should not feel such a tremendous level of embarrassment, I am someone who believes and hopes for the unity of the Jewish people, so when an Israeli publication does something, be it good or bad, I feel at least somewhat connected.

Although I know many people who feel Haaretz is a publication too far to the left in the political arena, and some even feel too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, I’ve never felt compelled to address anything I’ve seen from the paper until now.  To me, whether I agree with it or not, the ability to have a newspaper that has a more moderate viewpoint is merely an expression of the freedom and democracy that makes the modern State of Israel a shining light in the darkness that is the Middle East.  However, despite the fact that freedom and democracy allows for irresponsible and insensitive behavior, that doesn’t make it good.

I don’t feel I need to rehash the events and consequences of the attacks that took place on 9/11.  I live in New York and as a New Yorker experienced one very bad day.  People who live in Israel may not have experienced days as tragic and intense as 9/11, but cumulatively one could make the case that they have experienced conditions just as bad if not worse.

I could have handled an editorial criticizing Netanyahu.  I would have even said nothing to an article giving the entire blame for the strained relations with the United States on Netanyahu.  What I can not accept and be OK with is this irresponsible, unfair and detrimental depiction of what Netanyahu is guilty of doing.  Although I personally support the Prime Minister 100%, I accept that there are those who are not fond of his actions and methods. Again I say that I can appreciate the right of a democracy to criticize and if enough people wish, replace their leaders.  What I can not appreciate is depicting an Israeli Prime Minister as being of the same makeup as terrorists that hijacked planes and murdered 3,000 innocent souls.  What I can not appreciate is the insensitivity this cartoon shows for the relatives of those who were murdered on 9/11, and what I can not appreciate is irresponsible nature of this cartoon. It adds fuel to a fire already being fueled regularly by supporters of terrorists. Terrorists that would murder the creator of this cartoon as quickly as they would murder me.

Like anything in life, whether you agree or disagree with someone, there is a way of doing things with class.  This was not only done with no class, it was done with a brazen lack of respect for the very people Haaretz claims to care so much about.  The innocent.

I’m not sure I even know what I want to see happen.  It is already out there and unfortunately in some ways it is already too late to take anything back, but I hope that the editorial staff at Haaretz will reexamine what it does in the future and realize that it has a responsibility to do more than make a point.  It has an obligation to show understanding and compassion.

I leave you with one question.  Since I believe this cartoon was put there to bring attention to the publication at all costs, when you assess the consequences of your actions the question I have for you is this.  Was it worth it?  I hope you answer it honestly.

Sincerely,

David Groen

 

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