Jewish Journal

Families Cling to Hope

"He just felt it was his job to help people."

by Michael J. Jordan

Posted on Sep. 20, 2001 at 8:00 pm

Tale after tale of courage and heroism are emerging from the wreckage of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil.

Take, for example, the story of Richard Allen Pearlman, who at the age of 18 was one of the tragedy's youngest heroes -- and victims.

Richard was dropping off a delivery from his employer to police headquarters in downtown New York, near city hall.

He heard the explosion when a hijacked airplane hit the World Trade Center, saw the fire and called his office to tell them he was running over to help, said Pearlman's sister, Lisa.

Richard had been a volunteer for the local ambulance crew since the age of 14, was trained in CPR and was a volunteer dispatcher on the weekends for Emergency Medical Services.

"He just felt it was his job to help people, so he was always helping people; that's just how he was," said Lisa, 21, Richard's only sibling.

The Pearlmans haven't heard from Richard since, but the family still clings to hope. Richard's photo and key details are included on a flier plastered among hundreds of others outside the New York State Armory.

Inside the armory -- off limits to media -- the families of those missing under the wreckage of the World Trade Center are bringing any item that might carry DNA to identify their relatives.

Outside the armory, the mood is at once warm and chilling.

Volunteers roam the somber crowd, politely offering free sandwiches, bagels or granola bars.

What's striking about the faces on the fliers is that they are a cross section of New York, a cross section of the world. They don't belong only to pinstriped lawyers and bond traders who worked in the Twin Towers; they were a rainbow of colors, of religions, of ethnicities, of nationalities.

Among them, when all is said and done, may be several hundred Jews.

Andrew Zucker, a 27-year-old lawyer working on the 85th floor of Tower No. 2, is listed on a flier near the armory site as 6-foot-1 and "stocky."

"The only reason I'm talking to the media is to get as much information out there as I can, to see if anyone remembers seeing him," his wife of four years, Erica, said by telephone from Riverdale, N.Y.

In between the two explosions last week, Erica said, she called Andrew.

"He said, 'I'm OK, I'll call you back.' He was last seen in the stairwell" around the 70th floor, "and that was it."

"If anyone has seen him, just tell him that we love him and need for him to come home," she said.

In Northern California, the family of Naomi Solomon is trying to make sense of the tragedy.

Solomon's family isn't holding out much hope of finding her, and talk about her in the past tense.

Solomon was a "joy-spreader," said her mother, Lottie, of Los Altos Hills near San Francisco. "She exuded joy and people flocked to her. Some people know how to do that."

The 52-year-old Solomon, a New York resident and vice president of business development for the San Francisco-based Callixa Corporation software company, was participating in a trade show in the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower when the plane hit.

Solomon was very involved in Jewish affairs. One of the last conversations Lottie Solomon remembers having with her daughter was about her newfound interest in the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation.

Naomi Solomon had attended an August conference in Washington, and hoped to do developmental work for the Wiesenthal organization.

She had a special relationship with her nephew Jacob, 6, and niece Sara, 4.

Now Jacob is trying to understand what happened, Lottie Solomon said.

"He sees the television images and he keeps saying, 'Was my Aunt Naomi in that fire? I know she's in New York, why doesn't she call? She'll always call even if she's busy, I know her,'" Lottie said.

In New York, many families shared the Solomons' experience of dealing with incomprehensible tragedy.

Half a week after the attacks, the six sites set up around the city by the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services had yet to serve a mourning family.

"They are still consumed with trying to find someone, and not dealing with 'loss' yet," spokeswoman Mindy Liss said.

For the Jewish families, their grief is coinciding with the High Holy Days.

For the survivors, the holidays have greater meaning.

Steven Shapiro, a Wall Street lawyer and a member of Temple Israel of Jamaica's board of trustees, was arriving to work a little late Sept. 11 after voting in the New York City primary -- which was canceled soon after chaos broke out.

As Shapiro was about to ascend from the subway platform to street level, a hyperventilating man charged down the stairs, yelling that both towers had been hit by planes and were on fire.

Shapiro walked up the subway stairs and, with hundreds of other bystanders, gawked at the sight above. He watched the towers fall from a nearby office.

Shapiro expected that holiday sermons at his synagogue would focus on the attacks, causing him to "reflect on luck and fortune and our own mortality."

Suddenly choking with emotion, he said, "Whether it's fate, or luck, or whatever it is that finds you in a certain place at a certain time, there were people who woke up that morning going about their business like I did, and who found themselves in harm's way."

The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California contributed to this report.

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