Four New Jersey rabbis watched the 9/11 10-year commemoration ceremonies at Ground Zero as guests of Gov. Chris Christie.
From a vantage point in the still unfinished One World Trade Center, the four — Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler, Rabbi Mendy Carlebach, Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, and Rabbi Aaron Kotler — looked down on the ceremony from the 21st floor, which was equipped with a live feed of the moving ceremonies below. They were joined by numerous political figures from across the state, including U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, as well as executives of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“We could see President Obama and President Bush and their wives pull up,” said Mendy Carlebach of the Chabad of North & South Brunswick. “The governor spent a couple of hours mingling with us, along with his wife and children.”
Even famed entertainer Paul Simon, who sang his hit “The Sounds of Silence” during the memorial program, came up. “We wished him a L’shana tova,” said Carlebach.
For Zwickler, who came to know Christie after he spoke at the rabbi’s synagogue, Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob and David in West Orange, before his election, the day was “remarkably emotional.”
“It was such an honor for me to be there and be able to share in the emotions of the day,” Zwickler said. “The pain of the families was just so palatable and so real. It was just a very moving experience and they did a remarkable job with the memorial itself. You really get a sense of the lives lost, the destruction, and the tribute being paid to their lives and families.”
The group was later allowed down to the memorial itself, where, Zwickler said, he was “overcome.”
“There was a woman there from outside of this area who was there for the very first time and was able to see her husband’s name in writing,” engraved on the memorial installation, he said. His body was never found, Zwickler said, “and now after 10 long years she finally has a place to go and reflect.”
‘Quiet and serene’
The rabbis were taken to the site on a police-escorted bus from Port Authority headquarters in Jersey City through the Holland Tunnel, which was closed to traffic. Mendy Carlebach, a Port Authority chaplain, made arrangements to hold morning services in a conference room prior to the group’s departure, including blowing the shofar in advance of Rosh Hashana.
“We started davening at 5:40 a.m. and as we were praying the police superintendent of the Port Authority, Michael Fedorko, passed,” recalled Carlebach. “He stopped to ask us to pray the day goes well.”
After the ceremony, Fedorko, who is also director of Port Authority Public Safety, came over to the rabbis to thank them for their successful prayers.
Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, Mendy’s father, is executive director of Rutgers Chabad and religious leader of Congregation Sons of Israel in Ocean Township; Kotler is chief executive officer of the Beth Medrash Govoha Yeshiva in Lakewood.
A personal highlight for the group was receiving a guided tour of One World Trade Center by Port Authority board of commissioners member Jeffrey Moerdler and director of World Trade Center construction Steven Plate. They were taken to the 73rd floor, the highest completed floor, providing sweeping views of the Hudson River and the USS New York, which contains steel from the destroyed World Trade Center.
At the new building, “they are averaging one floor a week,” said Mendy Carlebach. “To see everything was just so sentimental. We really felt the quiet of the day. Of course, lower Manhattan was closed to vehicular traffic, but until the ceremony began it was very quiet and sort of serene.”