Together with a dozen of his congregants at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, Rabbi Clifford Kulwin heard about the 9/11 attacks while riding on a bus en route to Ofakim, a MetroWest NJ partnership city in Israel.
“Suddenly the driver turned up the volume,” Kulwin wrote in an e-mail to NJJN. “The announcer’s tone made even the non-Hebrew speakers realize something had happened.”
The idea that planes hitting the World Trade Center “seemed ridiculous,” said Kulwin, was soon replaced by his realization that his wife, Robin, would be set to arrive around that time at the WTC subway station on her way to work in lower Manhattan.
He quickly called home. “Miraculously, I got her on the phone,” wrote Kulwin. “She had decided to take the kids to school and head into work late.”
Several others in his group had family members working in the World Trade Center; after hours of dialing and redialing, another miracle: all were safe.
That night, Ofakim hosted the visitors at a barbecue, and Kulwin was asked to speak.
“Normally, the challenge would be to ensure my Hebrew was up to the task. Now, I was looking for the right words in any language,” he wrote.
Kulwin was struck by the kindness and compassion of his hosts, noting that — perhaps enhanced by the Israelis’ own too frequent experiences with terrorism — “the feeling of sad, sad unity was extraordinary.”
When his group arrived at Kennedy Airport three days later they spotted no other planes on the runway and saw no other passengers collecting luggage at the baggage carousels. “And as we went outside, there was a smell in the air that had not been there a week earlier,” wrote the rabbi. “The world we came home to was not the one we had left.”