For my generation, September 11th is our JFK assassination. Sometime, someone will ask, “Where were you when you heard the Twin Towers came down?”
My answer never fails to fascinate, because it’s so convoluted. Technically, I heard the rumor in school. But it wasn’t verified by a reliable authoritative source until I got home at 5:30pm that night.
Yep, you heard that right.
Here’s what happened.
It was 9 in the morning and we had just finished davening. We were finding our places in our Chumash when the principal walked in. With some solemnity – but not that much – she said there had been a crash in Manhattan (a helicopter into the Empire State Building?) and we were all going to say a kapittal Tehillim for the injured.
This was only a month after some kid flew his plane into a building in Florida, apparently because he was on Accutane, so I didn’t think much of it.
Class proceeded as usual.
Between classes, however, rumors started accumulating. The secretaries were not at the office window because they were glued to an ancient radio in the office – presumably something kept in the back of the filing cabinet for emergencies. They were somber, but not officially supposed to talk. Still, if you were friendly with them (I was not) you heard some rumors.
And the rumors were weird.
We said another perek of Tehillim before the next class, and together at lunchtime. It was never completely clear what we were saying Tehillim for, though. The crash was obviously bigger than initially described, and someone said Hatzolah was on the scene so we were saying Tehillim for them, although it was unclear why they would need it, or maybe it was all the Jews who worked downtown who might be in the Empire State Building (or the Twin Towers. It might actually be the Twin Towers. Or both. Or something.)
The most prolific information came from the students with illicit cell phones, or who called their parents on the payphone at lunch or during gym class. The Twin Towers had been hit by a plane, the White House had been hit by a plane, the Empire State Building had been hit (by a plane not a helicopter) – it was utterly ludicrous, so of course I didn’t believe it. “And Manhattan Island is sinking,” I joked. We played machanayim in gym and then went back to the classroom for Global History, where we learned about the French Revolution.
I walked home after school and burst through the door with my usual, “Hi Ma! What’s for supper?!”
“Lasagna is in the oven,” my mother said, looking at me strangely. “How was school?”
“Boring. When will it be ready?”
“Did you hear what happened today?”
“Oh I heard a lot of things, most of it crazy.”
And that was when I found out that, actually, three jets had been flown into three American landmarks, and another had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, there were an estimated 10,000 dead, and it was thought to be terrorism.
Most people think this is completely nuts. My friends who were in school in the Midwest were sent home early. It was a day to huddle with your family in front of the TV wondering if the world was going to end. And we, across the bridge in Brooklyn, were learning Navi as usual? Nobody from the school had made an official announcement? How is that not crazy?
To be fair, I understand my principal’s thought process completely. If the world was going to end, where was a better place to be: at home watching TV or getting in some last zechusim learning Torah?
And if you were going to be learning Torah, why be distracted by distressing rumors of current events? We would learn much better without this information. Besides, everything was unconfirmed and speculative. We were better off shielded from such things.
And honestly, I kind of agree. Although it would have been nice to get a proper, official, news update at some point, so we weren’t actually the last people in the entire world to find out what happened.