Jewish Journal

Terror Strikes Home

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Sep. 13, 2001 at 8:00 pm

September 11, 2001
LOS ANGELES - Word of the terrorist attacks reached Angelenos when they turned on their radios at breakfast time and the Jewish community immediately went on heightened alert.

The Jewish Federation building, the nerve center of the Jewish community, was partially staffed by senior personnel, while its agencies serving school children, the elderly and synagogues were fully operational, said John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation.

Since three of the suicide planes were headed for Los Angeles, Fishel feared that the impact on the community in lost lives will be severe. However, he assumed that lists of victims would not be available for another 24 hours. (Phone numbers given out for victim reports on are, for United Airlines, 800-932-8555; for AMERICAN, 800-245-0999.) Nina Lieberman, the executive vice president of Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles reports that doors will remain open at JCCs citywide, providing the routine gamut of early childhood and after-school services, while coordinating with the Jewish Federation and other agencies on plans for further services and responses to the day's events. One such option, she says, could, if needed, be to host blood banks at centers throughout the cities. She says that Jewish Family Services is planning to offer counseling to those who may require it.

Although the centers are on heightened alert, she says, the security precautions put in place after the shootings at the North Valley JCC two years ago are considered adequate for the present. "This is a profound and terrible tragedy," she says, "and we have not yet felt its full impact and ramifications. Obviously we will make our premises available if the community requires a place to convene."

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, together with its Museum of Tolerance and the adjoining Yeshiva of Los Angeles, was closed as a security precaution.

Offices of the Anti-Defamation League remained open. Its regional director, David Lehrer, said that his office had checked last week with Jewish institutions on points of security vulnerability, but, "No one could anticipate a tragedy on this scale."

The Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills plans to hold a memorial service after the evening service at 7.30 pm tonight (Tuesday). Rabbi Richard Camras reports one member of his congregation has already learned he lost a second cousin in the World Trade Center, and anticipates many more members will, by day's end, discover they know someone who was killed. He said "We wanted the congregation to know there would be a memorial because as Jews we respond to pain with prayer and study and coming together to support each other. We should withhold judgement and calls for revenge. It's not about those things, but about how we live with pain and the sense of our own vulnerability."

At the Stephen S. Wise Elementary School, teachers were told to conduct classes as normally as possible and not to turn on radio or TV sets. However, if a child were to ask about the attacks, teachers were to respond calmly.

At the Temple Beth Am¹s Pressman Academy, older students were informed about the attack in a special assembly. Teachers and adminstrators encouraged students to ask questions and speak about their fears. Yuval Rotem, the Israeli consul-general in Los Angeles, said that he would need "a new vocabulary to express his feelings and outrage at this time."

He compared his emotions to the ones experienced in 1991, at the beginning of the Gulf War, when Israelis heard the first sirens heralding the impact Scud missiles launched by Iraq. Most Arab-American and Muslim leaders were out of town or unavailable. One veteran spokesman, Don Bustany, termed the attacks "horrendous," but asked that judgment on the nationalities of the perpetrators be suspended until more definite facts were available.

Los Angeles Hebrew High School, which operates out of the University of Judaism on Sundays and Agoura Hills on Tuesday evenings, cancelled the Agoura session. Program Director Bill Cohen said the decision to close did not stem from concerns for student security but because he felt students should remain with family "to process this historic event psychologically." He said the school would do its part at some later date to help them process the tragedies on a communal level.

Chabad of Agoura will hold an evening or prayer at it's Canwood Avenue premises. Rabby Moshe Bryski told the Journal that the Sheriff's department has already contacted the institution, letting him know that it will be affording heightened security for the High Holidays. "We all come out of a week in which the fingers of the world, centered in Durban, pointed to Israel as the seat of all human evil. This occurred while plans were no doubt underway to launch this horrendous attack upon the U.S. The time may be right," says Bryski, "for another conference, this time focused on ridding the world of terrorism."

Temple Etz Hayim of Thousand Oaks will hold a memorial unity meeting tomorrow night at 8 pm. At least one congregant reports having lost a friend en route for a visit from Boston. Preschool this morning continued uninterrupted but temple officials have received calls from concerned parents and are contemplating cancelling after-school Hebrew classes today.

Agoura High School reports nothing amiss. An officer from the Sherrif's office has been assigned to the campus at least for the day. Deputy Principal Brad Benioff says school and peer counselors are standing at the ready to assist any students requiring assistance. Only a few parents so far, he say, have pulled students from class.

The Agoura Hills Jewish Community Center, in effect a day care center, remains open but its director declined to discuss matters further.

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