Services mark mourning period for WTC victims


NEW YORK, Oct. 16 (JTA) — Like hundreds of thousands of other New Yorkers, Shira Klein has had a difficult month since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

So last week, Klein attended one of three major services being held here on the shloshim, the end of the month of mourning that marks the Jewish grieving for the dead.

“I needed to come and be a participant as a member of a community,” said Klein, a music teacher and performer. “I came for the depth of the ritual of shloshim. I hadn’t realized that it had been 30 days. I believe very much in the Jewish way of honoring time. I knew that I needed to come back to the community.”

Klein was one of approximately 500 people who gathered on the evening of Oct. 11 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan.

Organized by the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services and Upper West Side congregations, the memorial included cello and choral performances and group singing led by singer Debbie Friedman.

Few of the participants who came to the evening service had lost family members in the attack.

But many of them came because they wanted to support those who did lose people on Sept. 11 and because they felt the need to come together as a community.

Some were most touched by the group singing — during one song, audience members put their arms around each other’s shoulders and swayed — some by the poetry, and others by the individual testimonies describing victims.

“They were mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, lovers and friends,” Rabbi Joy Levitt of the JCC in Manhattan said during her invocation. “Each person a whole world. Each person a tragic loss. Each person irreplaceable.”

Firefighter Stuart Keane of Ladder Company 19 spoke at the service, remembering several of his friends who died during the attack.

“Peter thought he could borrow some gear from the fire station across from the Trade Center,” Keane said of one friend. “He went in, borrowed some gear and left a note with his wallet and keys. The note said, ‘I’m with ladder 42. Please hold my stuff. Tell my family I love them.’ Pete is still missing.”

The service gave Esther-Ann Asch a needed opportunity to reflect.

A vice president of FEGS, a social service network funded in part by UJA-Federation of Greater New York, Asch said she has been doing employment counseling for those who worked at the World Trade Center.

“For all of the distractions in our lives, this was a peaceful evening,” Asch said. “We have all been so overwhelmed by all the demands that this tragedy has inflicted on us that few of us have sort of sat back and thought about the deeper realities and that our lives are changed forever,” she said.

Most of all, Asch said that the evening caused her to feel like a survivor.

“When we think of survivors, we all think of Holocaust survivors,” Asch said. “But I feel like a survivor in this tragedy. It sort of brought an awareness to me of what surviving is,” she said.

If this memorial was part spiritual gathering and part sing-along, a memorial service earlier that day at Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue was more traditional.

That service — attended by some 300 — featured reflections by Jewish leaders, Jewish liturgy and speakers who honored firefighters involved in rescue efforts.

The specter of the Holocaust was apparent at the service, which was co-sponsored by American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Park East’s spiritual leader, and several Holocaust survivors drew parallels between the Holocaust and the attacks on the World Trade Center. Shana Grossman, the 11-year-old granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, lit yahrzeit candles to honor those killed in the attacks.

The service focused not just on the loss of Jewish life but also on non-Jews killed on Sept. 11. Several firefighters from a local fire station were honored at the service, and a priest who was attending the service joined the speakers on the podium.

“On the 30th day of our mourning period, we rise from the abyss of devastation and despair to face life, learning to live again and to appreciate even more our blessed America that has given us freedom and democracy,” Schneier said.

The service ended with the singing of “God Bless America.”

Corinne Nhaissi attended the service along with her eighth-grade class from the day school affiliated with the synagogue.

Nhaissi, whose mother worked across the street from the World Trade Center but escaped unharmed, said she still has nightmares about the attacks.

She is afraid to take the subway to school and, once she arrives, has to sign in and have her bag inspected by security guards. Everyday she worries about her friends and family in Israel, she said.

Last Friday morning, a third shloshim service took place.

Held at Ground Zero, the service included representatives of some 40 national Jewish organizations as well as New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s chief of staff, Tony Carbonetti.

Giuliani was slated to speak but had to cancel at the last minute in order to deal with anthrax attacks in the city.

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