|By Harriet P. Gross|
Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal published “Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart: Extraordinary Coincidences from Yesterday and Today” in 2002. And today is a very good day to pair one of its stories with a plea for action.
An Orthodox Jewish businessman with offices in New York’s World Trade Center was scheduled to fly to a West Coast meeting on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. But the day before, he decided to change his flight to later in the day, and his travel agent arranged another booking for him. He wanted that extra morning to catch up on some routine matters.
So that day, the man set out from his suburban home early enough to reach his office by 9 a.m. But unusually heavy traffic detained him, and he was still in his car, listening to the radio, when he heard the news: Terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center.
Badly shaken, he drove back home. Later, his travel agent called. “I’m in awe of how God has blessed you,” she said. The man’s voice was quiet when he answered: “Of course I feel terrible about all those innocent people who died,” he said. “I knew so many of them personally. But, yes, I’m deeply grateful to God for making it impossible for me to get to the office early this morning.”
“What?” answered the agent. “I didn’t know you were planning to go in to the office today! So God has blessed you twice! The flight I changed for you yesterday — the one you were first supposed to be on — was the hijacked one from Newark to San Francisco that the terrorists rammed into the North Tower. Do you realize what that means? You eluded death two times in one day! You had a double miracle!”
Plenty of stories about small miracles have circulated since Sept. 11, 2001. And some nasty tales have also made the rounds. There are always some people with cruel intentions in their hearts and prejudice in their mouths; they were the ones who said that no Jews at all were at work in the World Trade Center that fateful morning, that all of them knew what was going to happen and avoided harm through a “conspiracy” of their own. But there were many Jews who died there that day, just as there were Jews among the recipients of life-saving grace, like the man in this Halberstam-Leventhal story.
I pass the tale on to you now with a reminder: The seventh anniversary of that never-to-be-forgotten fall morning in New York is one week from today. Some friends of mine in the eastern U.S. have sent me a plea. They are asking me to join their “Fly the Flag” campaign, and I’m passing on their request to you.
“On Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008, an American flag should be displayed outside every home, apartment, office and store in the United States,” they say. “All individuals should make it their duty to fly the flag on this anniversary of one of our country’s worst tragedies. We should do this in memory of those who lost their lives on 9/11, to comfort their loved ones and friends who continue to endure the pain, and those today who are fighting at home and abroad to preserve our cherished freedoms.
“In the days, weeks and months following 9/11,” they continue, “our country was bathed in American flags as citizens mourned the incredible losses, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder against terrorism. Sadly, those flags have all but disappeared.
“Our patriotism pulled us through many tough times in the past, and it shouldn’t take another attack to galvanize us into solidarity. Our flag is the fabric of our country, and together we can prevail over terrorism of all kinds. So take a moment to think back to how you felt on 9/11, and let those sentiments guide you: Fly an American flag — of any size — next Thursday.
“Honestly, Americans should fly the flag year-round,” the message ends. “But if you don’t do that, then at least make it a priority on this one day. And remind everyone you know to do the same.” So I’m reminding you, and I hope you’ll remind others.
(P.S. I myself fly a flag outside my own home, every day. When it begins to fray, I request a new one from my congressman; when that arrives, I give the old one to the Boy Scouts for proper disposal. I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I don’t do myself.)