Henry Gerson, 65, remembers being late for work on that fateful Tuesday morning
12 years ago - September 11, 2001.
The New York native was delayed
because he had been recitingSlichot, the traditional prayers of repentance said
between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
“I remember I entered the building
at 8:47 [a.m.] and the lights flickered. And I thought, this is not a good
Gerson remembers that a wall of people suddenly came rushing at
him, moving toward the exit. As he turned to follow, he spotted the Sbarro’s
that used to occupy a space on the sublevel of one of the Twin Towers, which
called to mind the bombing of Jerusalem’s Sbarro’s a month earlier, on August 9,
2001. That suicide attack killed 15 people.
“I remember thinking to
myself [that] this couldn’t happen here,” Gerson said.
That was when he
heard that a plane had hit the first Tower.
Gerson recalls rushing away
as the second plane hit and running across Brooklyn Bridge with another
observant Jew, a woman; they were both reciting Psalms. He was thinking that
what was happening was “the hand of God.”
On Wednesday, which marked the
12th anniversary of 9/11, while most of New York seemed more absorbed in its
mayoral race, Gerson and others at the World Trade Center observed the
diminished crowds and seeming sense of apathy regarding the
“That’s what happens,” Gerson mused, regarding the decline
in the number of attendees. “Times goes on. The people directly affected will be
here for years.”
As Gerson spoke, families of victims, identifiable by
their blue lapel ribbons and dark sunglasses, were leaving the memorial service,
which was not open to the press nor to the public. Nevertheless, the families’
supporters, some bearing posters and signs, stayed in Zuccotti Park, once the
site of the Occupy Wall Street movement, in solidarity.
Linda Mula, 44,
of Queens, returns each year with a new handmade poster honoring firefighter
Michael Joseph Cawley, who “loved fishing, had a good family and volunteered at
a camp for kids with special needs.”
Mula isn’t related to Cawley, she
said, but she knows his family, and she comes every year so that “someone sees
his picture and does something good in his name.”
Frank Gotlibowski, 45,
of Rocky Hill, Connecticut, was carrying the same poster that he takes each year
to commemorate Jeffrey D. Bittner, his late colleague. Both Mula and Gotlibowski
said they weren’t bothered by the small turnout as much as by the police not
letting bystanders stop at the NYPD barricades surrounding the ceremony and by
the lack of loudspeakers that would have enabled people nearby to hear the
reading of names of the deceased.
Mula recalls that in 2009, it was
raining and she stood inside a department store three blocks away for shelter,
but she could hear the ceremony. This year, “I couldn’t hear a
Another frustrated bystander was Greg Packer, 49, of Long Island.
Packer said he has been coming to the site annually ever since the first
anniversary and he was stunned by the change this year.
telling people to move along,” he said. “It’s completely different from years
past. We shouldn’t have that [change in] attitude.”
Zuccotti Park and from the exiting stream of 9/11 families, fireman Thomas
Dowdle, 59, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, sat in full uniform, with medals and honors
on his jacket. Dowdle said he has been serving as a firefighter for 35 years
with the 33rd battalion, 118th company, and he plans to retire at the end of
Twelve years ago, he entered the North Tower and lost eight
firefighters from the 118th that day.
He’s been on “light duty” ever
since, after numerous surgeries.
“I still have a piece of glass in my
eye,” he said. “It's behind the optic nerve; they can’t do anything about
Ever since 9/11, Dowdle said, he has trouble sleeping in the days
leading up to the anniversary.
“I lost a lot of friends that day,” he
said. “I come here every year and I think, I can’t believe this
Dowdle said it was “weird” that The New York Times chose to
exclude 9/11 coverage from its front page for the second year in a
“I check the papers every day,” he said. “It’s kind of
The new Freedom Tower stands today, gleaming in the sunlight,
nearly completed and primed for its opening in spring 2014.
blocks away from the stationed, unsmiling police and from the 9/11 truthers in
their leather jackets, one can see tourists with cameras, businessmen rushing up
and down Wall Street and parents taking children – born after September 11, 2001
– to school. Life goes on.