Oleh Profile: From the Twin Towers to Ulpan Etzion

A 9/11 survivor makes aliya with Nefesh B'Nefesh. Cafe Oleh hears his story.

See Readers' Comments at end of article. It's 8:45 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Henry Fuerte, 33, a systems engineer from Brooklyn, NY is late to work. His office in Marsh & McLellan, a large insurance brokerage firm, is located in the World Trade Center on the 90th floor of the North Tower and it takes two elevator rides to get there. Exiting the first elevator on the 78th floor, Fuerte makes his way to the second elevator that will take him to the 90th floor. He pushes the "up" button and seconds later the elevator arrives. Fuerte steps inside. The time is 8:46 a.m. At the very moment that Fuerte steps into the elevator, hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, originating from Boston Logan Airport, slams into the North Tower between Floors 90-100 just 12 floors above. The resulting explosion catapults Fuerte out of the elevator, back into the hallway and reduces the elevator to pieces, sending it crashing down 78 floors. Fuerte lands at the edge of the elevator opposite, which is also gone, and he is nearly thrown down the elevator shaft. Amidst the ensuing smoke, dust and debris, Fuerte immediately comes to his senses and with the 1993 WTC attack in mind, thinks a bomb has exploded, unaware that a jet is burning above him and 355 of his work colleagues have just died. He has been wounded in his right eye as well as his back and knees, but he's in one piece. Hearing cries coming from one of the other elevators, he realizes people are still stuck inside. Together with some other survivors, Fuerte attempts to pry open the doors, but to no avail. To this day he does not know what happened to them. Along with others trying to escape the building, Fuerte searches for an emergency exit. They find the first stairwell, but the door is locked. Quickly moving on, they enter the Hyundai offices located on that floor. The workers there insist on carrying on working. Fuerte moves on. He finally finds another stairwell and begins to descend the narrow staircase to the ground floor 78 stories below. At approximately the 35th floor, Fuerte passes firemen on their way up. Their faces still etched in his mind, Fuerte now realizes that most them probably never lived through the day. Finally making it outside into the street, he immediately begins to make his way towards the Brooklyn Bridge where he joins thousands of people fleeing the city on foot. Arriving in Israel On July 13, 2005, Henry Fuerte is one of the passengers aboard an El Al plane from JFK bound for Ben-Gurion airport. The Nefesh B'Nefesh flight is full of new immigrants journeying to a new life in Israel. Upon arrival, Fuerte meets with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other government dignitaries. Not a bad beginning for a guy who survived a terrible ending. Fuerte shares his views on aliya IK: Why did you make aliya? HF: Besides for the fact that Nefesh B'Nefesh makes it easier by cutting through all the bureaucracy and being of assistance in many ways, I've always thought about it, but never seriously. Having been involved with Hillel, Bnei Brith and Birthright, living in Israel was always a thought. After 9/11, I realised that I would rather live in Israel than die in America. Besides, just living here is a good experience in itself. IK: What do you like most about being here so far? HF: The atmosphere. I don't have to explain my Jewishness and when it comes to Jewish holidays I have nothing to worry about in terms of work, since everyone here either keeps the holiday, or understands what it is. Also, Israel is the only normal place for Jews to live and raise a family. IK: What do you find most difficult about being here? HF: Leaving behind family was most difficult, but being on your own in a foreign country is equally tough and takes some getting used to. IK: What impact did 9/11 have on you with regards to Israel? HF: It propelled me to seriously think about making aliya after only having mulled it over in previous years. Fuerte now lives in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem and attends Ulpan Etzion where he is studying Hebrew and becoming familiar with Israel, it's society and culture. Send your comments >> Ande: Although my family did not have the same near tragedy as Mr. Fuerte, it was my daughter's first day of yeshiva in NYC and my wife had an appointment in the WTC that morning, which I only learned she "missed" many hours later. We too began to think seriously about fulfilling our dreams of making aliya as a result of that horrible day. My wife and daughters made aliya on August 2 and, G-d willing, I will join them in the near future.
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