Tag Archives: New York

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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The Complicated aspect of Bernie Sanders’ Judaism

bernie-sanders

I don’t believe being Jewish is a complication in the mind of Bernie Sanders.  If anything I believe it to be a non-factor.  What it does do however is bring to the forefront the complications facing the Jewish community and very possibly one of the root causes of anti-Semitism.

So you have this 74 year old Jewish man from Brooklyn, a man who may or may not wind up being a serious candidate for President, fresh off the first victory ever by a Jewish American in a presidential primary.  It may not have ultimate significance- I jokingly say how the only think Bernie Sanders won was the presidency of New Hampshire-but whether he goes on to become the Democratic nominee, the President, or just slowly fades into the sunset, the fact that he is Jewish is history, and matters to many.  However, it also seems to not matter to many and that catches my attention.

I recently said that if just once I would hear Bernie Sanders take some pride in being Jewish I might even take a closer look at him.  Then it dawned on me.  Is that attitude of mine indirectly one of the motivators for those who do not like Jews?  There are many communities that want nothing else than to be seen as American only.  Recently before the Super Bowl, Carolina Panther coach Ron Rivera spoke about how he would rather be seen as a successful coach than a successful Latino coach.  If the fact that Barack Obama’s is a man of color had never become a big issue, no one today could ever say that dislike for him is based on race.  Yet here I am, and I assume I am not alone, a Jewish man, turned off by Bernie Sanders not bringing attention to the fact that he is Jewish.  I watch the Republican debates and take notice of the fact that no one mentions Israel more than Ted Cruz.  I get a little excited about the fact that front runner Donald Trump’s daughter converted to Judaism and that Hillary Clinton’s daughter married a Jewish man.  But when it comes to the Jewish thing, I have no overwhelming glee or enthusiasm over the fact that Bernie Sanders is Jewish. Why? Because he doesn’t seem to either.

So going back to the anti-Semitism issue, is it possible that my attitude, an attitude that openly shows pleasure when Jews distinguish themselves, and the desire to, in some way at least, see my Jewishness as a club I am excited to be part of, cultivate a hatred of Jews? Possibly. I know I am not alone.  Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah songs alone are almost enough to prove it.  I am sure many who are not Jewish enjoy them, but let’s face it, it’s extra fun for us Jews when we find out Captain Kirk or Scarlett Johannson are part of the tribe.

I can’t say I don’t respect on some level the approach that says, like me and admire me for my accomplishments as a person first, and vote for me or not as an American regardless of my background, but I also believe there’s nothing wrong in a little pride in where you come from.  Especially when the lack of emphasis may be more politically motivated than philosophically motivated. If going into the primaries in New York or other states with larger Jewish populations Bernie speaks more openly about being Jewish, I dare say we’ll have our answer.  In the meantime I hope that I hear him say he is Jewish at least once. Not because it would make me vote for him, but admittedly  because I prefer fellow Jews who are proud of their heritage, and then I can get at least somewhat excited about the current President of New Hampshire.

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If Jihadi John is dead that’s great, but…..

cockroach-control

If we did indeed take out JIhadi John it is of course good news.  The problem is it means so little. In 1998 I was living in an apartment in Queens, NY and found myself in the midst of a serious roach problem.  The bad thing about roach control is that when you kill one, you’ve really done nothing to eliminate the infestation.  Imagine if I had celebrated killing the biggest roach I had yet encountered. My celebration would have been short-lived once I saw 3 more crawling around the kitchen and a couple in the bedroom.  Roaches are quite disgusting creatures.  It’s kind of a sick irony that God chose to make some of his most disgusting creations the hardest to eradicate. Nevertheless that is how it is when it comes to roaches, and to an even greater extent, ISIS.

Rest assured the roach problem was solved.  I managed to get it somewhat under control on my own by cleaning everything over and over again and using every roach killer I could find.  Even then the occasional roach would pop up, sometimes accompanied by a friend or 2.  It wasn’t till the building identified the location from where the roaches originated and totally cleaned it out and got rid of everything in the vicinity that the roach problem was finally over.

Eliminating Jihadi John is like eliminating one of the biggest most disgusting roaches.  The problem is there are still countless running around and as they do their numbers grow.  It’s more of a victory than anything else, but to celebrate his death as though the problem  has diminished significantly is a foolish mentality.  Destruction of ISIS has got to be at the source and it has to be harsh and ugly.  Anything else and the bad guys will keep popping up.  Just like the roaches in my old apartment were only gone when the powers that be destroyed them completely and powerfully at the source.

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Open Letter to Senator Charles Schumer

ChuckSchumer

Dear Senator Schumer,

I write to you today in the hope that when the time comes for you to make a choice, a choice that will confirm your legacy not only as an American Senator but as a Jew, that you make the choice you know to be right, not the choice you see as politically expedient.  I am of course referring to the vote on President Obama’s deal with Iran.

I have heard the arguments in favor of making a deal with Iran. I also understand the difficult position politicians in the Democratic party, particularly Jewish politicians, find themselves in at this time.  Your president is calling for your support. Your party is calling for your support.  Politics is at play on the grandest scale.  Oppose the deal and you risk alienating yourself from the top people in the party who have chosen to maintain their ranks by supporting their leader.  Oppose the deal and you yourself may fall far down the political ladder, destroying all you personally have done to achieve your current status.

I am not a politician, however I have a layman’s understanding of the basics in politics.  Sometimes you have to go against your better judgment and principles in order to ascend in the ranks.  I also understand that sometimes doing this causes an internal struggle only another politician can truly comprehend.  That being said Senator, as much as I sympathize with the personal challenge you are faced with, this is one of those times when you are required to answer the bell of those who elected you into office and supported you till now.  This is a time when the choice you make may determine the future safety not only of your home state but of the entire planet.

I have heard you say enough over the years to believe in my heart that you know that making this deal with Iran is a mistake.  That leaves me believing that the struggle you have is far more a personal one than an ideological one.  To make my point I will quote a line from the movie The American President, in which President Andrew Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas says the following: “I was so busy trying to save my job that I forgot to do my job.”

Senator Schumer, your job is to protect and serve the citizens of NY State and to represent us nationally in what is right and safe for all Americans.  It is my absolute belief that you know that dealing with Iran is wrong for the country and that the only reason for any hesitation on your part is concern for losing your job and or standing in the Democratic Party.  I urge you, as do so many others to do the right thing and oppose what you know to be wrong not only for New York, but for the rest of the country and the entire civilized world.

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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Muslim Stop and Frisk Video:Hoax to “Create Awareness”

hoaxTwo bloggers in New York posted a video  showing a New York City Police Officer stopping and frisking 2 Muslim men in what appears to be a blatant example of racial profiling.  One problem.  It never happened.  (CLICK HERE TO SEE VIDEO) The 2 men fabricated the whole thing to, as they put it, “create awareness”.   Naturally The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) ran with this and tweeted the video without verification so they too could of course help “create awareness”.  Far too often we see the Muslim community more focused on creating a comfortable environment for everyone, including those who commit acts of violence than on stopping the perpetrators.  This result may not always be the intention, but in attempting to curtail the actions of law enforcement at this point in time, that is exactly what it is doing.

This once again speaks to the major problem existing within elements of the Muslim community.  Within days of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, Ottawa, and New York City, killing a 3 month old baby, a 25-year-old Canadian soldier, and seriously wounding a NY City police officer, these men are focusing on what they call unfair treatment of their fellow Muslims.  Although I personally am very pro-police, live a day without them and then come talk to me, I am also aware they are far from perfect.  I realize that like any other established group there are bad people within their ranks.  However, if these 2 bloggers were really concerned about the common good they would work harder on creating awareness within their own community.  Maybe then they could help create an environment more pleasant for everyone, not only Muslims.

If they want to help their community, they should organize a rally against terrorism.  They should help the police identify radicals and terrorists.  They should speak out against anti-Americanism anti-Semitism.  For them to make their focus today be on how police treat Muslims is not only missing the point, it’s making a negative statement.  It’s a statement that the comfort of their community take precedence over the safety and well-being of the overall community.

 

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9/11 Chronicles- Volume 2

david-weiss-nyfd-911Those of you who were in NY after 9/11 certainly remember how Mayor Giuliani encourage New Yorkers to attend the funerals of fallen police and firemen.  The following is the story of my experience at one of these funerals.

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 heard 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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