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At Synagogue Near Ground Zero, Soot-covered Hat a Powerful Symbol

August 13, 2002
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

About 11 months ago, Rabbi Meyer Hager was standing outside of the Wall Street Synagogue he heads early on a Tuesday morning, chatting with a fireman on the street.

“We felt a giant blast on the street, he turned on the radio, which said to keep all channels clear” for upcoming orders “and we saw smoke billowing out of the towers. It was an inferno, I can’t describe the horror. Just looking up there, knowing” the fireman standing next to him was “going up.”

The synagogue — located just four blocks from Ground Zero — lost electricity and water for days afterwards. Inches of ashes piled onto the building, but the rabbi turned no one away.

Hager says he thinks of that Sept. 11 morning every day.

He still keeps the hat he wore that day in his office. Covered in the dust that fell from the sky that day, he says he looked “like a snowman” in it.

But Hager says, he just never wanted to clean it.

On Aug. 7, a mixture of local residents and businessmen filed into the synagogue in the mid-afternoon to commemorate Yom Kippur Minor — a holiday marked by a penitential service to prepare for the High Holidays.

As about 15 to 20 men — some dressed in khakis and collared shirts, others in Orthodox garb — davened and chanted emotionally at times, it appeared that the emotions of Sept. 11 lingered like the dust on the rabbi’s hat.

“It’s a big reason why I became a regular” at the synagogue, Robert Schwartz says.

The 43-year-old works across the street at Seaport Orthopedics. He saw the horrors of the attacks up close after the medical facility was turned into a triage center for the injured of Sept. 11.

While he used to come to the synagogue from time to time, he says, after Sept. 11 Schwartz started using his lunch hour to pray there every weekday.

Congregants continued to file into the synagogue after the service.

Eventually, about 75 people filled the pews for the regular afternoon prayer.

A small, simple room with bare wooden walls surrounding a circular bimah, the synagogue hasn’t added any extra security precautions since Sept. 11.

And while Hager said police had increased their patrols after news circulated about Al-Qaida threats on Jewish centers and synagogues, there has been only one visible addition of any kind to the synagogue since Sept. 11: a piece of paper, slapped onto the glass doors that divide the lobby and the synagogue’s interior with peeling shreds of tape.

“Thank you very much for the donations you have given to the families of our fallen brothers. We are privileged and honored to call you neighbor and friend. Toda Raba. May Shalom one day become a reality,” the paper reads.

Written by a Fire Department spokesman, it features the seal of downtown Manhattan’s Engine No. 6.

Even though the small note is easy to miss walking in, it patches what is an otherwise unmended tear in a still- recovering community.

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