September 13, 2001
Terror Strikes Home
Tragedy in the East reverberates in the Southland.
Four downed planes. Three landmark buildings, two towers leveled. One nation under attack.
Angelenos who woke up early Tuesday morning may have caught the beginning of the series of the terrorist attacks, when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Others, who woke up later, might have tuned in when the Twin Towers collapsed, or when a fourth plane possibly en route to Camp David crashed in Pennsylvania.
No doubt, they were soon brought up to date, as the city virtually closed down, and residents were glued to televisions, telephones and the Internet. With thousands believed dead, the world had unalterably changed. Despite assurances from government and police officials that no serious threats had been made against Los Angeles, the Jewish community immediately went on heightened alert.
The Jewish Federation building closed to the public but was partially staffed by senior personnel; its agencies serving schoolchildren, the elderly and synagogues were fully operational, John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation, told The Journal.
Federation officials and other community leaders and rabbis were in close contact with law enforcement officials, including at least one face-to-face meeting. (See story, p. 12).
Since three out of the four suicide planes were headed for Los Angeles, Fishel feared that the impact on the community in lost lives would be severe. "We deeply grieve for the substantial casualties in this dark moment in American history," he said in a prepared statement. "It will personally impact thousands of our friends, neighbors, co-workers and colleagues." At press time, the reports were tragic enough. Among those listed as dead were Edmund Glazer, a former resident of Woodland Hills who had recently moved to Boston. Glazer was chief financial officer of Chatsworth-based MRV Communications, a hi-tech company.
A United Airlines spokesman confirmed that Alona Avraham, a resident of Ashdod, was a passenger aboard the second hijacked plane to crash into the World Trade Center in New York. Avraham was in her mid-20s and had recently finished her university studies, according to Danny Raymond of Van Nuys, her second cousin.
Raymond said Avraham had spent a few days in Boston with friends and was heading for Los Angeles for a two-week visit, to include Rosh Hashana, at the Raymond home. She had wanted a respite from the tensions of her homeland.
All across the city, people with relatives and friends in New York and Washington tried urgently to get news of their loved ones' welfare. Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben's wife, Didi, received a call from her 22-year-old daughter in Manhattan's SoHo, just four blocks away from the tragedy, who witnessed the initial plane crash into the first tower. "She went outside and noticed the top quarter in flames, black smoke bellowing," Didi Carr Reuben said. "She called me on the cell in the morning and said, Ã…'I'm seeing the worst thing I've ever seen in my life.' She clicked off. I tried to call back, but I couldn't get through. I'm seeing the scene unfold on TV, knowing she's only blocks away. When the building disintegrated, I lost 10 years of my life."
Later in the day, Didi finally connected again with her daughter, who said, "I saw people jumping out of the windows to their deaths. Live. In person. I will never get over it."
The rush of emotion and outrage when he first heard about the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington could be compared only to one other experience in his life, said Yuval Rotem, the Israeli consul general here. "That was in 1991, at the beginning of the Gulf War, when the air raid sirens wailed in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to warn us that Scud missiles were on their way from Iraq," he recalled.
The veteran diplomat fumbled for words as he tried to express his profound sense of shock.
"We need a new vocabulary to describe my reaction. I am emotionally paralyzed; it is beyond reasoning," he said, adding, "I can say on behalf of all Israelis that our hearts go out to the American people, especially to those who lost loved ones."
Like all Israeli missions in the United States, the consulate was closed Tuesday, and Rotem sought to postpone a joint fiesta with the Latino community, scheduled for Wednesday evening.
Also closed was the Simon Wiesenthal Center, its Museum of Tolerance, and the adjoining Yeshiva of Los Angeles. The Museum was scheduled to reopen Thursday.
The center's two top leaders were abroad Rabbi Marvin Hier in London, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper in Tokyo where he had just opened an exhibit titled "The Life and Times of Simon Wiesenthal." Awakened at 5 a.m. by a call from Los Angeles, Cooper said the decision to close the Wiesenthal Center was based not on a sense of panic but basic common sense.
Cooper had flown to Tokyo from Durban, South Africa, where he served as a leading Jewish spokesman at the ill-fated United Nations Conference on Racism.
After watching the demonization of Israel and Zionists firsthand in Durban, Cooper said that for many of the delegates there, "Anti-Semitism served as a proxy for hatred of America," and that the two antagonisms could be meshed by the belief that Jews controlled America.
The offices of the Anti-Defamation League remained open. Its regional director, David Lehrer, noted that during the last two weeks he had been meeting with other Jewish organizations to go over security measures, but "no one could have anticipated a tragedy of this scale," he said. Nina Lieberman Giladi, the executive vice president of Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, reported that doors remained open at JCCs citywide, to provide 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, if needed, could 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 (For a list of telephone numbers, see p. 14).
Although the centers are on heightened alert, she said, 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 said, "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 United Jewish Communities canceled the massive Israel solidarity rally scheduled to take place in New York on Sept. 23. Organizers UJC made the decision as a result of "the need of all civilized people to grieve and begin healing from the horrific events of Tuesday, and in full support of law enforcement and public safety officials who are performing their duties under extreme conditions and emotional challenges." It is not clear whether the rally will be rescheduled.
Prayers and Vigils
Indeed, the community needed such places, and across the Southland, synagogues opened their doors as congregants gathered to pray and express their grief.
By late afternoon Tuesday, synagogues had announced several such gatherings by e-mail and phone. "As a religious community, we can pray for strength, for the welfare and recovery of those injured, for the souls of the dead and for some comfort for the bereaved, and that our leaders respond with wisdom, determination and thoughtfulness," wrote Dennis Gura in an e-mail to congregants of Kehillat Ma'arav in Santa Monica.
About 150 people attended a quickly organized prayer vigil at Kehillat Israel in the Pacific Palisades Tuesday evening. Rabbi Carr Reuben and Cantor Chayim Frenkel led the congregants in "America the Beautiful" and "Hatikva," the Israel national anthem. Rabbi Sheryl Lewart asked the audience to shout out words they were feeling: "sadness," "disbelief," "confusion," "terrified," "hope," "prayer, "grief" and "pessimism" were among the responses.
At 8 a.m. on Wednesday at University Synagogue, Rabbis Allen Freehling and Zachary Shapiro and Cantor Jay Frailich gathered with 55 members of their Reform congregation. They were joined by Monsignor Lawrence O'Leary of St. Martin of Tours across the street. "At a time like this," O'Leary said, " we do whatever we can do to provide an extra measure of comfort and strength. This is an opportunity for the entire community, not just the Jewish community, to lift our prayers to God at a time when it's most needed."
Elsewhere on the Westside, Young Israel of Century City held an "emergency Tehilim program" Tuesday night, as did nearby Congregation Bnai David Judea. Temple Akiba in Culver City announced a memorial service for Friday at 8:30 p.m.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro opened the doors at the Jewish meditation center Metivta at 7 p.m. Tuesday. "In commitment to contemplative action," he said, "we are opening our doors this evening to all those who wish to share the horror of this day in silent meditation and prayer. We are not inviting you to a political forum, or to rage against Ã…'our enemies.' We are gathering to share our humanity and our pain, and, together, to find our way to the spaciousness that allows us to continue the work of healing even in the face of horror."
Most South Bay shuls planned special services and some interfaith gatherings with nearby churches: Congregation Ner Tamid of Rancho Palos Verdes held a service Tuesday evening, as did Chabad Jewish Community Center, Beach Cities. "Any innocent person of any faith or nationality should be respected and shielded," Rabbi Ron Shulman said. "Anyone responsible for this kind of evil must be defeated." Said Chabad Beach Cities Rabbi Yossi Mintz, "You get a real feeling of what our brothers and sisters are going through in the Land of Israel."
In the valleys, Shomrei Torah Synagogue of West Hills held a memorial service Tuesday night. More than 600 people, almost all of them in tears, recited prayers, spoke of their anguish, and sang. Children lit four yahrzeit candles, one for each downed plane. "As Jews, we respond to pain with prayer and study and coming together to support each other," Rabbi Richard Camras told The Journal. "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."
Temple Etz Chaim of Thousand Oaks held a memorial and unity meeting Wednesday night. Chabad of Agoura held an evening of prayer at its Canwood Avenue premises. "
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," Rabbi Moshe Bryski said. "This occurred while plans were no doubt under way to launch this horrendous attack upon the U.S. The time may be right," Bryski said, "for another conference, this time focused on ridding the world of terrorism."
Teaching the Children
Most public and Jewish schools remained open, and educators faced the difficult question of how much to tell, and how to explain such tragedy.
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 asked about the attacks, teachers were to respond calmly.
Los Angeles Hebrew High School, which operates out of the University of Judaism on Sundays and Agoura Hills on Tuesday evenings, canceled 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 their families "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.
The Agoura Hills Jewish Community Center, in effect a day care center, remained open.
Preschool continued uninterrupted at Temple Etz Hayim of Thousand Oaks, but temple officials were receiving calls from concerned parents and contemplated canceling after-school Hebrew classes today.
As the enormity of the tragedy became apparent and concern mounted, school and synagogue officials began taking extra precautions surrounding the upcoming High Holy Days and assure the safety of families and congregants. (See story, p. 12).
Elementary school teacher Garry Corman, who teaches third grade in Sylmar, struggled not to show his sadness and fear while teaching his third-grade class. "I was shocked, going through very awful thoughts in my head. I was hoping the kids would not see this in my eyes." Corman said a good friend was 75 feet from the Pentagon when one of the terrorist-commandeered planes went down.
In the South Bay, few local synagogues planned to cancel religious school or services, though the school at Beach Cities Chabad Jewish Community Center reported attendance down by 75 percent. "We'll never give in and cancel classes," Rabbi Mintz said. "We feel very secure and safe." Rabbi Steven Silver of Temple Menorah, Redondo Beach, said: "We're going on with classes and services as usual. The only time I ever closed the building in 15 years was during the L.A. riots. That was because the chief of police asked me to."
At Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, many children didn't show up for school. "We're talking a lot about the plane crashes and the World Trade Center," said Zachary Powers, 12, who did go.
Reactions rarely varied from shock to grief to grave concern across the community (see page 10).
Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) called The Journal from the capitol in Washington, which had been temporarily evacuated, to gauge future American reaction.
One option is to say that America shouldn't be involved in the Middle East, said Sherman, a member of the House International Relations Committee and its Middle East subcommittee.
The other, and more likely, option, he said, is: "We will respond by mobilizing, as we did after Pearl Harbor. On that day of infamy, some 2,200 Americans died, and I fear that the death toll now will be the same, or higher," Sherman said.
"We can't wait around and act against one terrorist group one day and another the following week", he said. "We are obviously dealing with a sophisticated network of terrorism."
Arab American and Muslim leaders in Los Angeles were out of town or not available for comment. An exception was veteran Arab American spokesman Don Bustany, who termed the attacks "horrendous," but suggested that judgment on the nationalities of the perpetrators be suspended until more definite facts were available.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles released a statement that said, "Our country, the United States, is under attack," but also warned against "any generalizations that would only serve to help criminals and incriminate the innocent."
By late Tuesday, Jewish agencies and organizations had swung into action. Rabbis and other community leaders gathered for a closed-door meeting at The Federation building at 3 p.m., and The Federation published a list of emergency contact numbers and blood donor centers for people who need help or are able to assist.
"We condemn these horrific acts of terrorism," Fishel said. "We express support for the President of the United States and our government, in their efforts to bring the perpetrators of this violence to justice."