As he sat in his study at Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield watching the horror of the 9/11 attacks on television, Rabbi Mark Mallach thought immediately about two relatives and one of his congregants.
One of his sisters-in-law worked in the World Trade Center; another had an office in the American Express Towers across the highway.
Both women made it to safety.
But synagogue member Lee Adler, who worked on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center, did not.
“I quickly called Lee’s wife, Alice, and asked if she had heard from Lee. “Her response: ‘No, there was no answer,’ when she called his cell,” Mallach wrote in an e-mail to NJ Jewish News.
The rabbi shut down his synagogue and sent preschool students home before driving to the Adler home in Springfield.
“Over the ensuing days we maintained a vigil at the Adler home, but with an eerie feeling that it was becoming a shiva home after Adler’s brothers searched for him in vain,” the rabbi wrote.
As they sat at the Adler family’s dining room table one day, Mallach held hands with Adler’s widow and his mother, Isabel.
“I told them what we knew and drew the conclusion that Lee was never coming home. No trace of him was ever found. In Isabel’s eyes, as soon as I took her hand, I saw that she knew it. In Alice’s eyes, I saw profound disbelief and shock. I then went upstairs to their 12-year-old daughter, Lauren, and broke the finality to her, too,” he said.
Although Adler was the only member of Mallach’s congregation among the dead, several others either witnessed the carnage or lost relatives in the attack.
A decade later, Mallach said he remains “extremely reluctant to visit New York, and a feeling of despair over 9/11 continues to linger within me. As a rabbi, it has deepened my understanding of the brevity of the breath, and the need to teach how we must treasure every moment and relationship.”