9/11 fund’s founder turns pain into healing
Awareness Day speaker advises women: ‘Find something larger’
Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News
Edie Lutnick was among those who lost loved ones on 9/11. Her brother, Gary Lutnick, had an office in the ill-fated Cantor Fitzgerald firm, where a second brother, Howard, was president. At 36, Gary Lutnick was the average age of 9/11 victims.
But as Edie made clear in her talk before about 150 women at the Women’s Awareness Day luncheon — an annual program of the Women’s Philanthropy department of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ — there was nothing average about these siblings.
No strangers to tragedy, they lost both their mother and their father within six months to cancer, just as Gary was entering high school, Howard was starting at Haverford College, and Edie was still an undergraduate at the University of Rhode Island.
“It was the three of us against the world,” she recalled.
As Howard rose to become president of Cantor Fitzgerald at age 29, Edie and Gary were not far behind. The financial services firm hired Gary after he finished college; when Edie started her own firm focusing on labor law, Howard gave her space in the Cantor Fitzgerald offices.
“The three of us were incredibly close,” Edie recalled. “We lived within three blocks of each other, we vacationed together, we had the same friends,” she said.
By September 2001, the three siblings were all working in offices between the ill-fated 101st and 105th floors of One World Trade Center.
As Edie recalled, the three went to a concert together on Sept. 10. “The next morning, Gary went to work. I had a meeting that got canceled. Howard took his child to his first day of kindergarten. If it had happened at 2 p.m., all three of us would have perished. But on Sept. 11, Gary passed away.”
Within days, Howard called, suggesting they needed to establish a foundation to take care of the survivors, and he wanted her to run it. Her response? “You’re out of your mind.” She added, “I just wanted to curl up in a ball. But then I thought about all the people who were more qualified than me to run it. And I realized they were all gone.”
Cantor Fitzgerald lost 658 employees — over two-thirds of its workforce — in the attack.
On Sept. 14, 2001, the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund was born. To date, it has raised and distributed $180 million to Cantor Fitzgerald families, and more to victims of other tragedies. But it did more than offer financial relief, at least for Edie. “Finding something larger than my own grief is what got me out of bed in the morning,” she said.
She offered advice to every woman in the gathering on the Aidekman campus in Whippany. “Everyone in this room has faced or will face some kind of tragedy or trauma. It’s part of life. If you can find something larger than your own grief, it will not only heal you, but it will enable you to accomplish spectacular things in the world.”
She received a standing ovation before heading out to sign copies of her book, An Unbroken Bond. She donates 100 percent of the profits from its sales to the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund.
Lutnick “has now extended her charity to aid hundreds of needy families throughout the world,” said Deborah Brody — who cochaired the event with Shari Bernstein — in a statement. “This is so similar to what we in Women’s Philanthropy do to assist the needy, here as well as abroad.”
The event raised more than $104,000 for the UJA Campaign of Greater MetroWest NJ, supporting the federation’s efforts, together with its local and overseas partners, on behalf of Jews in need in Ukraine and its partner communities in Israel, programs to assist seniors, help for the unemployed, and counseling for families in crisis.
Women’s Awareness Day attendees make a minimum gift of $180 to the UJA Campaign; General Plumbing Supply, Friedman LLP Accountants and Advisors, and Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel served as corporate sponsors.