By Harriet P. Gross
September 11, 2001 — A day that lives in infamy, more so even than Pearl Harbor, as proclaimed on Dec. 7, 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt.
It is one of those dates, like the day of President Kennedy’s assassination, which brought every American to a complete stop. None of us will ever forget where we were, what we were doing, when we heard the news of planes flying into New York City’s World Trade Center.
Dallas will forever be remembered as the site of John F. Kennedy’s death. Now, with the opening of the President George W. Bush Library/Museum on the SMU campus, we’ll be forever reminded that there was a Dallasite in the White House on that fateful, fatal day 13 years ago. If you haven’t yet been to the nation’s newest presidential “monument,” I suggest you get there as quickly as possible.
Every president wants his library/museum to reflect the best of his tenure, the most important things that happened while he was in office. Was George W. “lucky” to have been president on that fateful, fatal day? That was his chance to shine as America’s supreme commander, and by all accounts, he did just that.
While much that occurred during his administration still raises controversial questions, 9-11 is not one that does so. Bush quickly calmed the country and sparked a patriotic upswing unmatched since World War II.
And what I think is the best representation anywhere of what happened in the crucial moments of that fateful, fatal day is on display in his Presidential Library/Museum: an arresting series of stop-action photographs of the actual events, the striking of the Twin Towers in awesome, horrific detail.
I haven’t yet visited the memorial museum now open on the actual New York site. I did visit when the area was surrounded by raw fencing on which so many had written so much; fencing turned into a living memorial that by its very nature was destined to be only temporary. I have seen a chunk of twisted Twin Towers girder on display along with blowups of media coverage of the event at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum. But for my money — and of course it costs money to enter — the Bush’s take on 9-11 is by far the best anywhere.
For some simpler, more personalized angles on today’s historic date, I recommend a couple of tales, offered as true, from a little book called “Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart” by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, published just one year after 9-11.
There’s the amazing story of Ari Schonbrun, who would already have been in his 101st floor office, but because he had stayed at home an extra few minutes to help his son with some homework, was “only” on the 78th floor, waiting to transfer to an upper-level elevator, when the first plane hit above and all electricity was lost. Ari was able to help a severely injured woman grope her way down a dark, smoke-filled stairway, then at her insistence got into an ambulance with her and rode away to safety — just as the second plane hit.
And another is about the little shul near the Twin Towers where Orthodox professionals would say their morning prayers together before going off to work. On that fateful, fatal day, nine men waited and waited for a 10th to make the necessary minyan; they were all worried about being late for work when an old man, a stranger, finally arrived. The nine who had waited all officed in the Towers; the stranger who had made them late disappeared just as their prayers ended, just as they heard the first explosive blasts…
Maybe not such a “small” miracle at all!