September 11, 2001. A date that will forever be ingrained in my memory. I was 12 years old, in eighth grade. That year was supposed to be memorable in a positive way – I would be celebrating my bat mitzvah in one month, and in one year would be moving onto high school.
But everything changed that day. I remember it like yesterday. It was lunchtime and I went to my locker to get my lunch. A friend mentioned in passing, "Did you hear the twin towers fell." My heart went into a state of panic. That's where my dad worked, for Cantor Fitzgerald as a controller on the 21st floor.
Next thing I knew an announcement came on the loudspeaker asking all students to report to the auditorium. That’s when they told us there had been a terrorist attack. I was shell-shocked and immediately burst into tears.
They told us there had been a terrorist attack. I was shell-shocked and immediately burst into tears.
I found my 10-year-old brother and we were escorted to the main office where we were met by my mother's friend. She greeted us with a hug and said we were all going to do everything possible to try and find my dad. She took us home and I walked into a sea of people on their cellphones desperately trying to find out any information. We knew that my dad's boss had made it out, and we were hoping he made it out, too.
The sea of people lasted for days. Many even slept at my house, making phone calls till all hours of the night just trying to uncover any piece of hope that he was alive. The days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into a month. With no luck. At that point we began to understand that my dad wasn't coming home.
My brother and I were too young to understand the true meaning of loss. They wanted to hold a memorial service for my father, but the rabbi wouldn't perform the ceremony until everyone was comfortable with the reality of the situation. I wasn't willing to give up hope that my dad was still alive.
However, the adults around me knew the importance of holding this service. As a result, one night my mom's friend had a long talk with me. She explained and helped me understand that this was all really happening.
As a little girl I always looked up to my dad as my protector. He was tall, strong, smart, and most of all, kind. He made a huge impact on everyone he met. As a soccer coach, he would run from one sideline to the other, cheering on both teams. He was the main figure in encouraging my Jewish education and participated in my bat mitzvah parsha lessons at Hebrew school.
My dad was known for a gold necklace that he wore every day. He hung on it various trinkets that had sentimental value – among them a photo of me and my brother.
As months passed and the clean-up progressed, they started a program which allowed victims families to collect any "artifacts" or "body parts" of loved ones that were found. They called my family about eight different times – to report finding muscle tissue, or a tiny piece of bone. That is what we buried, returning to the cemetery each time.
We were hoping they would find the necklace. But they never did.One artifact they did find was my dad's Cantor Fitzgerald ID card, which I now carry with me every day.
In order to help my mom, my grandparent moved in with us. My mom suffered from severe depression. Watching her go through this was so painful. I felt the need to be strong for her, and instead shut off all my emotions to be as stable as I could for all of us. My biggest fear in all this was to be stereotyped, forever known as "the girl who lost her father in 9/11."
He missed my graduations. He will not walk me to the chuppah.
Looking back, what is done is done, and I can't change the past. At the end of the day, what hurts most is that I am a young woman blooming into my young professional years and beginning my life. My father will never see this. He has already missed my high school and college graduations. He will not walk me to the chuppah. He will not witness the birth and life of my future children.
The connection a girl has with her father is irreplaceable. Although I know he is watching from above, the tangible presence will always be missed. I feel it the most when I see fathers and daughters interacting. I am so happy for them, but I long for that connection as well, even just one last time.
Forging the Link
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Israel this summer on birthright. It was truly the best experience of my life, from start to finish. Initially I was scared at the idea of going to Israel, not knowing what harm could possibly be. But I found the country peaceful and vibrant. I had been blindsided by the news media and blurred by the emotion of my own experience with terror.
On the trip, as we each began sharing our personal histories, I knew that 9/11 would eventually come up. I just didn't know how soon. On the second night, we sat in different circles and were asked to share why we came to Israel. People began sharing about their family members who had passed away, and how they wished to develop their connection to them through this experience.
I was the last to speak. Until today, I prefer not to discuss 9/11 at all. The sad reality is I don't talk about it because people do not want to hear other people’s baggage or sob stories. They don't want to feel another’s pain and as a result shy away. As a result, I chose to shove the memories in a box, lock them up and throw away the key.
Now being asked to speak about it with a bunch of people I just met was extremely unsettling. When it came my turn to speak, I had to excuse myself from the room because my emotions had taken over and I couldn't speak.
Even just saying the word "Dad" makes me burst into tears.
Tragedy doesn't define us. I choose instead to live as the Jewish people do: Honor the deceased by celebrating life.
As the trip progressed, I eventually shared. My best friend who was on the trip had never even heard me talk about it before. Being in Israel made me feel the true meaning of family and support that I had never felt in my life.
I connected with my people and our land. It was the gift of knowledge that helps me continue to live in the light.
I never want to live with horrible thoughts surrounding my head. Tragedy doesn't define us; it a part of us and we have the opportunity to overcome it and become stronger because of it. I choose instead to live as the Jewish people do: Honor the deceased by celebrating life.
I have moved on. I am now an MBA student, a dance teacher, and zumba instructor. 9/11 has never stopped me from following my dreams. Life is a valuable gift and we should cherish every moment. Hold friendships and families close, and create memories that you can cherish for a lifetime.
This to me is the true meaning of "memorial," the link in my father’s chain.