We all have 9/11 memories etched into our brains, and it’s funny how your mind can play tricks on you.
On September 11, 2001, I was beginning my first year as director of education at Park Avenue Synagogue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The next day, when the scope of the devastation was becoming clearer, the senior staff was called in for an emergency meeting. Given that so many of our members worked on Wall Street, we were bracing for news of many deaths within our community.
Fortunately, it turned out that very few synagogue members lost their lives — though almost everyone had been touched by the tragedy in some way.
One quick-to-emerge piece of Park Avenue Synagogue 9/11 lore was that the life of Howard Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, had been spared by a stroke of luck. Lutnick had been at PAS that morning, dropping off his son for his first day at the synagogue’s nursery school, at the moment the plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center.
So, it has been surprising to me to read in some recent news articles, including an interview with Lutnick in today’s New York Post, that he had been dropping his son off that fateful morning not at PAS, but at the kindergarten at the Horace Mann School.
I have been wondering why this minor inconsistency, this small detail has been bothering me. Surely, it doesn’t really matter exactly which early childhood center the CEO was at when 658 of his employees, including his brother, lost their lives.
I’ve concluded that it has something to do with the fact that even now, as exactly a decade ago, I could not fully comprehend the magnitude and meaning of what had happened. I recall looking down Madison Avenue and seeing huge plumes of smoke and debris rise into the sky as the towers fell, and not being able to really assimilate that vision.
That day, one that shattered the lives of so many families, has stayed with me as a collection of fragmented images and experiences, of little pieces that make up a whole story that I can’t really completely understand. The story about Lutnick having been at PAS the morning of 9/11 is one of those fragments, one little piece of my personal narrative of that infamous day.
But now, 10 years later, I have gained some distance in time and space from the events of 9/11. It’s not those fragmented pieces that I need to cling to, but rather to the kind of hopeful and grateful sentiments that Lutnick has expressed about the colleagues and friends who helped him to not be broken.