Rabbi Daniel Cohen looked at a television screen while he was visiting a hospital patient and saw both planes slam into the towers of the World Trade Center.
“One plane might be an accident, I thought to myself, but two was an attack,” he wrote in an e-mail to NJ Jewish News.
A half hour later, Cohen began organizing leaders of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, where he is religious leader, to track down congregants who might have been affected directly by the assault.
“Many had horror stories but survived,” he wrote. “One congregant and two parents in our preschool did not.”
Quickly the leadership pulled together a worship service for the following evening.
“The sanctuary was overflowing. That, in turn, taught me an important lesson about the importance of synagogues, churches, and mosques,” Cohen said. “I was reminded that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, even less ‘active’ members of the community knew they wanted/needed to be at their house of worship and with their community.”
In the ensuing weeks, Sharey Tefilo-Israel hosted support groups and a community-wide conference on coping with the tragedy.
“Despite the fact that we too were reeling, it was clear that, as those who are entrusted with the well-being of our community, it was not ‘about us.’ Our role was to look after those who needed us, and our own needs and desire to process what had happened would have to come later. I was gratified to see how everyone rose to the occasion,” wrote the rabbi.
In the 10 years that have followed, Cohen has witnessed “just how resilient we human beings are, even when we encounter tremendous pain and loss.”
Three children whose father died that day have grown into “three remarkable young adults,” he noted.
“More than anything, the experience reminded me how random life can be, how precious it is, how people matter most, and how community, as flawed as it might be at times, remains not only relevant but critical to living life fully.”