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The Varied Ways of Paying Homage to Unforgettable Day and Its Victims

September 11, 2008 By:
Michelle Mostovy-Eisenberg, JE Feature
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This Thursday, Sept. 11, marks the seventh anniversary of the deadliest terrorist assault ever to occur on American soil. But that date also happens to be when Oliver Leo Blackman turns 7. He shares his special day -- not just the month and day, but also the very year -- with the date of the terrorist attacks. The youth was born just after midnight seven years ago, noted his mother, Amy Blackman of Short Hills, N.J.

Amy Blackman -- whose parents, Rosalind and David Ingber, live in Oreland and announced Oliver's birth in the Jewish Exponent in the fall of 2001 -- recalled that unforgettable day. She said that she woke up a few hours after giving birth to see the tragic events unfold on the television in her room at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J. Her husband, Ian, who works in New York City, hadn't gone into the office; he kept his wife updated as the hospital began preparations in case victims of the attacks were brought there, due to its proximity to New York, and because of the masses of people who had gathered wishing to donate blood.

It's no surprise, then, that Oliver has grown up with a deep understanding of the attacks.

"We've explained to Oliver about what else happened on his birthday," said Blackman, noting that the family has visited two Sept. 11 memorials in their hometown. "Nobody ever forgets [Oliver's] birthday, because of the date," she added, noting that she gets reactions from all sorts of people whenever she mentions her son's date of birth. She said it often starts a conversation that begins with the question, "Where were you?"

Something Joyous Among the Sadness
It's safe to say that Sept. 11 is a difficult day for those profoundly and directly affected. At least the Blackman and Ingber families, as Amy Blackman pointed out, have something joyous to celebrate to get through the day.

But when it comes to the larger community, have the memories of 9/11 faded away? Is Sept. 11 becoming just another day on the calendar?

Whereas many remembrance ceremonies marked the first few anniversaries, fewer formal events are taking place this year, as was also the case last year. As of Tuesday morning, there were three advertised programs on the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia calendar, and only two additional ones on the Exponent community calendar -- none of which were billed as a memorial service or overtly Sept. 11-themed event.

Jennifer Brier, an endowment officer for Federation, who is organizing one of these events -- the annual Solomon and Sylvia Bronstein Seminar for Professionals -- explained that the program is traditionally held in early September and it was a calendar issue that led them to choose the date. During the seminar that will be held at the Rittenhouse Hotel, she said, "we will acknowledge and remember it is Sept. 11," perhaps with a moment of silence.

Randy Schaller, director of catering at the Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue, said he didn't have any Jewish affairs scheduled for Sept. 11 this year, but he chalks this up to the anniversary's mid-week placement, rather than people avoiding the date in general. He added that Thursdays are not a common choice for most Jewish weddings.

What the Calendar Says
It was in 2005 that Sept. 11 last fell on a weekend (a Sunday), and it won't be until 2010 that the anniversary will again occur on a weekend, this time on Saturday -- a prime evening for Jewish weddings. But just because programs and joyous events may occur on Sept. 11 doesn't mean people are ignoring the historical significance of the day, noted Schaller.

"I don't think people are ever going to forget about 9/11," he said, "but, at the same time, you have to move on."

Hillel of Greater Philadelphia executive director Rabbi Howard Alpert said he sees the terrorist attacks as not a "stand-alone event," but part of a larger picture in what has become an ongoing war. He added that he's concerned that large-scale commemorations would be a diversion that might lead people "to forget the war the other 364 days of the year," but noted that on Thursday evening, as Hillel members gather for their first board meeting of the new school year, they will hold a moment of silence for those who died seven years ago.

"This is an ongoing matter," said Alpert. "Once it is all finished, American society will figure out how commemorations will be held, where we will honor all of the victims of the war" -- which is his designation for what others call the war on terror.

An Unforgettable Beginning
But as Susan Friedman, principal of the Robert Saligman Middle School, noted, Sept. 11, 2001 will be a day that she and the school community will never forget: The terrorist attacks took place just three weekdays after the then-brand- new school opened its doors for the first time.

To mark the occasion, remembered Friedman, she had accompanied the sixth-graders on a field trip to Lancaster, while the seventh-graders were on their way to an overnight trip to Connecticut. Friedman recalled learning of the attacks when she phoned the school office. Meanwhile, the seventh-graders, said the principal, were on a bus heading north along the New Jersey Turnpike and saw the World Trade Center come down.

"It was a very horrible time," added Friedman, as she recalled the counseling that was offered to students, "and we dealt with it as a community."

Friedman explained that, for the first three anniversaries, at least half a school day was spent on remembrance activities. She noted that this year, as in the past few years, the whole school will "honor the memory of the victims of Sept. 11" through discussions, special readings, several moments of silence and reflection during the usual Thursday morning Torah reading service.

"I'm sure 9/11 is commemorated in every school," said Friedman, but added that remembering 9/11 at Saligman, "is never a question. It is going to be recognized every year." 

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