The unspoken tzedakah of 9/11

A personal account
of helping a
stranger in need
9/11/01. Another day, like Pearl Harbor, to forever “live in infamy.” Did you spend all day yesterday remembering, as I did?
What stories can be told about it? There’s a seemingly miraculous tale about nine observant Jews who prayed together regularly in a little shul near their World Trade Center offices being delayed that day because a 10th man never turned up to make a minyan. Just one of many reports invoking the Almighty.
My tale isn’t miraculous — except for the fact that it happened. I woke up that morning, turned on the TV, and started screaming. But being nothing, if not practical: I had a voucher for a flight refund from a small airline (no longer in existence) that had to be redeemed in person at its D/FW desk. When I called the airline — which, it turned out, was clueless — I was told that yes, it was business as usual, I should just come in with my voucher. So I did.
I drove to D/FW: no traffic. I drove to the proper gate entrance — no cars anywhere. I went to the airline desk: Two women were there; next to them was another airline’s desk which had already been deserted. I claimed my refund and was about to leave when suddenly a crowd of people came on the scene; the last plane in the air on its way to DF/W had just landed, and all its passengers were looking for representatives from their next-desk airline, which had none on duty.
What could I do? Everyone was milling around, needing all the help that people who have suddenly been totally deserted most need: information, and contacts for using the information they get. To their great credit, the two at the desk of that insignificant, long-gone airline stayed there, using their phones to contact hotels, to see if cabs could come to pick people up. What more could they do?
But I knew — because my Judaism has taught me nothing if not this: I could help one person directly, and by myself “save one (granted, small) world.” I picked out a man at random — tall, with thin sandy hair, looking to be in his mid-40s, wearing shorts and sandals. I went over to him and asked if I could help, and how. Turned out, he was a top-level internationally known soccer coach and judge on his way from Australia to participate in some up coming events. He was stranded far from where he was supposed to be. I invited him to come home with me, and he was more than grateful. My car — my beat-up beloved old Prizm — was the last private vehicle to leave D/FW Airport for several days to come.
Once in the house, I showed him the guest room, cleared out a shelf in the refrigerator, and offered the telephone, plus my promise to drive him to shop for his own food. (You all know by now that I am not a cook, so I included him in the amounts of whatever I threw together for my husband and myself, but gave him an option I was sure he’d also be glad to accept!) Fred also took part in driving this unexpected guest as necessary.
Our Aussie was, of course, unable to get to any of the matches he’d traveled so far for, because no planes would be flying in time. Instead, he lived with us for three weeks, until he was finally able to make arrangements for getting back to the Outback. In all that time, even at its end, no money changed hands. I never did ask for compensation, and he never did offer. We both knew that this was a once -in-a-lifetime situation that was beyond material charge or cost. We did not become friends; we have had no contact since. This was just one of those strange things — and there were so many of them — that happened in the wake of 9/11.

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