The old truism about any two people on earth being connected by six degrees of separation seems to be insufficient when a tragedy of this magnitude strikes. The degrees seem to whittle away to three, maybe two, often one. When talking about the Jewish community and a catastrophe that hits the heart of New York City, everyone seems to know someone who knows someone. No one is left without a personal connection to someone who was nearby, who got out just in time or, unfortunately, who didn't make it out. Below are some snippets of what might usually pass as water cooler gossip, but in these extraordinary times, are the ties that make us one nation, one people.
Stacee Hess's mother can see the World Trade Center from her Lower East Side apartment, just as Hess, who now lives in Beverlywood, could as a child. When Hess' mother and sister, who were visiting from Los Angeles, saw the north tower burning and the second plane hit, their horror was personal. They knew that their brother and son, Eugene Fein, was working on the 101st floor.
Thank God, it was only a little while before they found out he was alive, and a hero.
When the American Flight 11 struck the north tower, Fein, who works in the other building, heard the message over the loudspeaker. Stay calm. Stay where you are. We are assessing the situation.
Fein is a Vietnam vet. He was not going to sit this out. He looked around him at the other managers. Anyone else coming with me? No, we'll stay put, see what they say. Fein went around the corner to the department he manages and told them all to follow him.
At the elevators, he found a dazed old woman, whom he took along. They got into the elevators, made it outside and Fein told everyone to just keep walking north as fast as they could.
Fein walked to his home on the Lower East Side, where his wife and children awaited him. Many other families in his Jewish neighborhood were still waiting on Friday.
Aside from the people Fein led out, few from his office survived.
Rochelle Majers Krich, an award-winning mystery writer, wrote the following e-mail on Thursday afternoon: "As I write this, I'm at my computer, checking the American Airlines Web site, trying to find out whether my husband is coming home tonight. Circuits to the New York area are busy, and I haven't been able to get in touch with him.
"Tuesday, Sept. 11, was my husband's birthday. I e-mailed him a Blue Mountain card at midnight on Monday to tell him I loved him, and awoke to the news, relayed by my son, that the World Trade Centers had been attacked. 'That was years ago,' I told him.
"'No, no,' he insisted. 'It's on CNN.' And it was, along with the report that a jet had crashed into the Pentagon.
My husband was in Washington, where he occasionally has business meetings at the Pentagon. I wished I'd paid more attention to his itinerary. I dialed his cell number. No answer. I dialed again and left a message and sat, hands clenched, watching the increasingly horrific images on the television screen and willing the phone to ring so that I could hear his voice and know that he was all right. My daughters and sons called. 'Where is Daddy?' And I had to tell them I didn't know.
"Half an hour later he phoned me. He was in his rental car, on the way to Atlantic City for a business meeting (that was canceled), and then to New York to attend our daughter Meira's brother-in-law's wedding.
"Happy birthday, I told him, my head pounding with relief. Please be careful.
"Meira, I remembered suddenly, two months married and living in New York, had scheduled a job interview that morning in Manhattan.
"Where in Manhattan?
"I tried phoning her in-laws, again and again, but couldn't get a line. Not on their house phone, not on either of their cell phones. I e-mailed her in-law's neighbor and asked Meira to contact me. Later, my husband phoned and told me Meira was all right. She had been dressed, ready to go to the interview, when her husband told her the news. I am acutely aware how fortunate we are."
Skip Sperling, who works for ITG Software Solution in Culver City, moved to Los Angeles in 1989 but never left New York emotionally. Sperling, his wife and two kids, who attend Pressman Academy, cancelled plans to fly to New York for Rosh Hashana.
ITG is based in Midtown Manhattan, and many employees have missing family members.
"Almost all of us have business associates that were in those buildings," Sperling wrote in an e-mail. Sperling's twin brother, Neil, lives with his wife Rosie in the West Village, in an apartment that had a stunning view of the Twin Towers.
Neil, an ear surgeon in Brooklyn, was summoned Tuesday to the ER, which was gearing up for hundreds of patients. They only received two.
Rosie works in the World Trade Center, teaching Portuguese to executives that do business with Brazil. She was not due in to work until noon on Tuesday.
As a new New Yorker, having moved from Brazil, her main connection to the city was her work. She has not been able to reach her co-workers.
"She is plagued with feelings of emptiness and guilt," Sperling wrote.
With a whole summer ahead of her in midtown Manhattan as her husband trained for a job, Beverlywood resident Stacy Kent scoured the neighborhood for ways to entertain her two young boys. She found the Fire Zone, an interactive center where, aside from computers and play areas, real firefighters with real trucks teach fire safety to kids. Zevi, 2-1/2, was in heaven. They went everyday, and everyday they were greeted by Raymond Lloyd, a New York City firefighter who had been on the job for 20 years.
"Firefighter Lloyd not only greeted us with a smile, he took the time and effort to engage my children and entertain them. The man was a total stranger, whom I spoke to almost everyday for the past few weeks. He knew me and my children by name," Kent said.
On the morning of Sept. 11, Lloyd was working at the Fire Zone when the World Trade Center was hit. He immediately grabbed his gear and ran downtown to find his unit.
He was one of the first on the scene.
Lloyd is survived by his wife and children.