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Table of Contents
About this Issue
Remembering September 11th
Holocaust Survivors Reflect on September 11th
Teaching the Holocaust in an Age of Terror
Remembering and Commemorating September 11th
Glossary of Terms

Volume 16, No. 1/ Fall 2002   
Remembering September 11th
Needing to Help

Promoting divercity Promoting divercity
Remembering September 11th
•  Images of Reflection and Commemoration
•  Needing to Help
•  Fear and Suspicion for Middle-Eastern American Students
•  Table of Contents
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Eli Valley is an author and New York City resident.

An Unfathomable Situation
The first weekend after the attacks, I volunteered at St. Vincent's Hospital. By then, the empty stretchers that had lined Greenwich Avenue had already been wheeled back inside. There was nobody to fill them. Technically, then, we weren't helping the rescue effort. We were helping hospital workers get through their normal rounds of West Village emergencies, but even that felt important, however unrelated to the tragedy. The volunteer station had been set up atop the hospital steps at the corner of Greenwich and 7th Avenue, as if our raised view of several streets could somehow bring order and reason to an unfathomable situation.

Paralyzed Helplessness
We needed to be involved with each other, and so we all kept coming — a woman from Hoboken who couldn't stop crying, a Los Angeles costume designer who canceled a flight to remain in New York, a couple from Atlanta that took a week off work to drive up. Professional masseurs from the Upper East Side arrived to give free massages to rescue workers. Everybody needed to keep active, to fend off the paralyzed helplessness of watching images of carnage repeated ad nauseam on TV. Not only did we need to be with other people, but we needed to be with them in public spaces, as if our presence outdoors, on the streets, would refill the city's depleted veins.

A Stable Force of Help
Those streets outside St. Vincent's had become one of many ad hoc missing person's memorials, complete with candles and scores of photographs smiling hauntingly on the walls. A middle-aged Japanese woman with an "I Love Israel" hat was passing out books about Jesus. A men's choir sang "God Bless America" to sustained applause. Beneath the missing person's photographs, three women held each other, shaking, in a triangle of agony. Just being a part of that process, being a stable force of peanut butter and jelly, Lo Mein and Gatorade in the midst of the public funeral, was a source of comfort for everybody, including the volunteers. Besides, when their shifts ended, firefighters and cops came up from the rubble and we could feed them.

Overflowing with Donations
We galloped over each other to feed anybody wearing a hard hat. One day a woman approached us with food. We had to turn her down; we were overflowing with donations, and her food would just go bad. She was shaken, she couldn't accept it. She raised her voice: "You're telling me that what I'm trying to do here, what I need to do here, you're not going to let me do?" So we had to comfort her too, to softly reassure her that later in the week, her food would be needed. It was the first time I ever felt a sense of community in New York — of people living for other people, of people who could not survive without giving. I wondered how long it could last.

A Need to Grieve with Others
St. Vincent's Hospital wasn't enough. I needed to be with people not just in giving but in grieving. I needed to be part of some testament to life, a public event whose energy derived from our shared humanity. Union Square had become New York's central area of public mourning, so I went there a couple days after the disaster.

A Museum of Mourning
The square was a mosaic of grief, with the most creative and enthralling dedications to the missing. The Twin Towers were everywhere, replicated into a universal archetype on children's drawings, sculptures, and innovative twists on ancient images. It was like a museum of mourning, filled with a flowing mass of wandering hipsters, NYU kids, homeboys, evangelics, mommies, tourists, transcendentalists. They all had this look of heightened sensitivity and genuine humility. Again, it was as if snobbery and pretense, the city's indomitable traits, had suddenly vanished.

Uniting in Harmony
A big crowd was dancing to bongo drums and singing, "Give Peace a Chance." Young Europeans riffed the line "People of the world, unite, unite!" and danced and smiled as if they were at a rave. It was beautiful, after days of ceaseless tears, to witness this life-affirming response to grief. That was the way it seemed to me — people uniting in the harmony of our shared humanity after such a tragic catastrophe. People letting go, embracing life after such a horror.

Discussion Questions

1. Eli Valley describes a community spirit in New York City in the immediate aftermath of September 11th. From your experience was this neighborhood spirit apparent in your community after the attacks?

2. What factors do you look for in considering whether there is a sense of community?

Dimensions Online
Volume 18, No. 1, Fall 2004
Yehuda Bauer

Volume 17, No. 2, Fall 2003
Using Testimonies for Researching and Teaching about the Holocaust--Part II

Volume 17, No.1, Spring 2003
Using Testimonies for Researching and Teaching about the Holocaust-- Part I

Volume 16, No. 1, Fall 2002
Remembrance and Commemoration of Two Catastrophes: September 11th and the Holocaust

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