What I remember most is just how normal it was on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was at home in Westport, CT about to leave for our supermarket headquarters in New York City when I heard it: the breaking news on TV that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Few people thought “terror”. Not until the next chilling news flash when we learned that a second plane had done the same thing. And just like that, our world was turned upside down.
Our immediate priorities were the safety of our employees and the need to keep all of our stores open to serve the devastated population of New York. We had just opened a new supermarket days before on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village and were celebrating the grand opening week. That store quickly became a place of refuge for thousands of people fleeing downtown Manhattan by foot. Our employees did whatever they could, comforting them and providing water.
Manhattan is an island, accessible only by bridge and tunnel. All access was immediately cut off. In addition to the commuters unable to get home, trucks carrying food couldn't get in. Supplies would run out within days and the city felt like a war zone. With the thick black smoke choking off the air and blinding those trying to flee, civilians became soldiers as they led survivors to safety. Heroes were everywhere - police, firefighters and hospital staff. They put the safety and well-being of others ahead of their own. Our supermarket employees became heroes as well as they stayed in the stores overnight, preparing thousands of meals to feed the public safety and rescue workers.
“There are more good people in the world than bad ones,” I explained to our six year old daughter Julia that evening. Our sons Jack and Jonathan were too young to understand what was happening. Friends and family gathered together to hear words of strength and comfort from the President.
I remember speeding down an empty FDR drive with a police van motorcade a few days later to deliver food to police headquarters. My heart aches to this day with the vivid memory of seeing the command center personnel tabulating victims. I will never forget standing on the still-smoldering ground zero, that had tragically become a sacred place, as I silently recited the Kaddish prayer for all those lost, regardless of race or religion.
The Jewish High Holidays came soon after 9/11 and our congregation was shell-shocked. Security measures were quickly instituted by civilians with no military background, myself included, as chairman of the High Holiday committee. We used large SUVs to block entrances, hired security guards and communicated on walkie talkies even during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers. We came together to weep and pray for those lost, and to honor the heroes who selflessly saved lives.
The memory of those lost 21 years ago and the heroic sacrifices of so many has become etched in who we are today. We must never allow extremists to export their vile hate to our shores. The Iranian regime provided support for al Qaeda then, as it does today for terror groups around the world. The regime’s “constitution” calls for exporting its revolution and warped ideology to all corners of the Earth. The Iranian regime is responsible for countless deaths, including hundreds of Americans since 9/11, directly and through its puppet militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen and elsewhere.
In the days following 9/11, people around the world held candlelight vigils in solidarity with the people of the United States. We must remain vigilant and stand with our allies around the world who are fighting the same extremism and terror today. Let’s prove that the 9/11 attackers and their handlers succeeded in only one thing - uniting us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Avi Kaner is the Principal of Samawal Foundations. You can follow him on Twitter @AviKaner