Victims families cling to hope


NEW YORK, Sept. 17 (JTA) — Tale after tale of courage and heroism are emerging from the wreckage of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil.

Take, for example, the story of Richard Allen Pearlman, who at the age of 18 was one of the tragedy’s youngest heroes — and victims.

Pearlman was dropping off a delivery from his employer to police headquarters in downtown New York, near City Hall.

He heard the explosion when a hijacked airplane hit the World Trade Center, saw the fire, and called his office to tell them he was running over to help, said Pearlman’s sister, Lisa.

Richard Pearlman had been a volunteer for the local ambulance crew since the age of 14, was trained in CPR and was a volunteer dispatcher on the weekends for Emergency Medical Services.

“He just felt it was his job to help people, so he was always helping people; that’s just how he was,” said Lisa, 21, Richard’s only sibling.

The Pearlmans haven’t heard from Richard since, but the family still is clinging to hope. Richard’s photo and key details are included on a flier plastered among hundreds and hundreds of others outside the New York State Armory, a few miles from the twin towers.

Inside the armory — off limits to media — the families of those missing under the wreckage of the World Trade Center are bringing any item that might carry DNA to identify their relatives.

Outside the armory, the mood is at once warm and chilling.

Volunteers roam the somber crowd, politely offering free sandwiches, bagels or granola bars.

But people don’t have much appetite. The crowd is composed of relatives posting fliers of their missing beloved on brick walls, telephone booths, mailboxes, even to a TV station truck; the television media churning out heart-rending interviews with these relatives; and ordinary New Yorkers, sharing their grief and solidarity, perusing each of the thousands of fliers as if at an art exhibit.

What’s striking about the faces on the fliers is that they are a cross- section of New York, a cross-section of the world. They don’t belong only to pinstriped lawyers and bond traders who worked in the Twin Towers; they were a rainbow of colors, of religions, of ethnicities, of nationalities.

Among them, when all is said and done, may be several hundred Jews.

Andrew Zucker, a 27-year-old lawyer working on the 85th floor of Tower #2, is listed on a flier near the armory site as 6-feet-1 and “stocky.”

“The only reason I’m talking to the media is to get as much information out there as I can, to see if anyone remembers seeing him,” his wife of four years, Erica, said by telephone.

In between the two explosions last week, Erica said, she called Andrew.

“He said ‘I’m OK, I’ll call you back.’ He was last seen in the stairwell” around the 70th floor, “and that was it.”

“If anyone has seen him, just tell him that we love him and need for him to come home,” she said.

Across the country in northern California, the family of Naomi Solomon is trying to make sense of the tragedy.

Solomon’s family isn’t holding out much hope of finding her, and talk about her in the past tense.

Solomon was a “joyspreader,” said her mother, Lottie, of Los Altos Hills near San Francisco. “She exuded joy and people flocked to her. Some people know how to do that.”

The 52-year-old Solomon, a New York resident and vice president of business development for the San Francisco-based Callixa Corporation software company, was participating in a trade show in the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower when the plane hit.

Solomon was very involved in Jewish affairs. One of the last conversations Lottie Solomon remembers having with her daughter was about her newfound interest in the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation.

Naomi Solomon had attended an August conference in Washington, and hoped to do developmental work for the Wiesenthal organization.

She had a special relationship with her nephew Jacob, 6, and niece Sara, 4.

Now Jacob is trying to understand what happened, Lottie Solomon said.

“He sees the television images and he keeps saying, ‘Was my Aunt Naomi in that fire? I know she’s in New York, why doesn’t she call? She’ll always call even if she’s busy, I know her,’ ” Lottie Solomon said.

In New York, many families shared the Solomons’ experience of dealing with incomprehensible tragedy.

As chaplain for the New York State Division of Parole in New York, Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum has ministered to the families of victims in the armory and at hospitals around the cities.

The armory “is like walking into a house during shiva,” said Rosenbaum, who also is a pulpit rabbi in Queens and executive vice president of the North American Boards of Rabbis. “They come with hope in their hearts, but they also come with the realization of what the worst may be.”

Half a week after the attacks, the six sites set up around the city by the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services had yet to serve a mourning family.

“They are still consumed with trying to find someone, and not dealing with ‘loss’ yet,” spokeswoman Mindy Liss said.

For the Jewish families, their grief is coinciding with the High Holidays.

For the survivors, the holidays have greater meaning.

Steven Shapiro, a Wall Street lawyer and a member of Temple Israel of Jamaica’s board of trustees, was arriving to work a little late Sept. 11 after voting in the New York City primary — which was canceled soon after chaos broke out.

As Shapiro was about to ascend from the subway platform to street level, a hyperventilating man charged down the stairs, yelling that both towers had been hit by planes and were on fire.

Shapiro walked up the subway stairs and, with hundreds of other bystanders, gawked at the sight above. He watched the towers fall from a nearby office.

Shapiro expected that holiday sermons at his synagogue would focus on the attacks, causing him to “reflect on luck and fortune and our own mortality.”

Suddenly choking with emotion, he said, “Whether it’s fate, or luck, or whatever it is that finds you in a certain place at a certain time, there were people who woke up that morning going about their business like I did, and who found themselves in harm’s way.”

(The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California contributed to this report.)

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