Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual
teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law.
He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their
search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money,
and spiritual engagement.
Tribeca Synagogue On 9/11: The Untold Story Of the Shul Near Ground Zero By Aryeh Werth
Photo Credit: Courtesy
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Rabbi Jonathan Glass was enjoying bagels, coffee, and a dvar Torah with several men from his daily morning minyan. As usual, politics was also on the menu.
“This was the first year of President Bush. The country was in transition after eight years of Clinton, so we often talked politics,” recalled Rabbi Glass, the long time rav of the Tribeca Synagogue at 49 White Street, one of two synagogues within walking distance of the World Trade Center (WTC).
At 8:50 a.m., the lively conversation was interrupted by the ring of a phone. Rabbi Glass paused to pick up. “A plane just hit the World Trade Center! Secure the building!,” the shul president said on the end of the phone.
Rabbi Glass thought it was a bad joke and hung up. Breakfast continued for another 10 minutes until the custodian ran into the room with a panicked look on his face: “A plane hit the World Trade Center!”
“We all ran outside and saw a ring of fire around the upper floors of the north tower. It was hard to process,” recalled Rabbi Glass about what he saw from Church Street. “We assumed it was an accident. Then I heard a horrible grinding sound. I didn’t know what it was.”
“A plane just hit the south tower!” someone shouted, confirming a second plane went into the other WTC tower. Rabbi Glass retreated back into the synagogue to figure out what had to be done next – for his family, community, and the synagogue building.
“When you’re in the middle of it, the atmosphere is charged, like in a different dimension. Then I started processing everything and I remembered my wife Minky had a 9 a.m. real estate appointment on Murray Street – two blocks from Ground Zero,” said Rabbi Glass. He tried calling her cell phone but the mobile phone system was not working. “I didn’t know if she was dead or alive.”
“I was also thinking about my children. I had five kids at school. How do I get them back home?” he said.
Trapped Inside the Tower
He was also worried about members of the shul community. Rabbi Glass later found out that one of them, a former member, had been inside the North Tower when the plane hit floors 93-98. “Steven Jacobson was a young father when he came to the shul in the 1990s,” recalled the rabbi. “He was a transmitter engineer for WPIX-TV and got trapped in his 110th floor office just below the rooftop antenna.”
After the first plane hit, a colleague called to see if Jacobson was okay. “It’s getting hot up here. What happened?” Jacobsen said according to a log of 9/11 witness accounts in the New York Times. He was told to activate an air pack that could give him 5 hours of air. After the second plane hit, the colleague called back to tell Jacobson it was a terrorist attack and he should get to the roof. “It’s too hot to leave the room,” Jacobson said. “Get me out of here. Send help.” The phone line went dead.
“Just as we thought that our community emerged unscathed, we got word that Steve didn’t make it out,” said Rabbi Glass. “We were heartbroken for his widow and two small children.” Remains of Jacobson were not found until December.
Another person in the shul’s community, Danny Hochman, was on the North Tower’s 83rd floor.” Hochman fortunately survived, climbing down all 83 flights as quickly as possible.
‘Get Out of New York’
At 10 a.m., the custodian rushes into the rabbi’s office with another shocking announcement. “The World Trade Center has collapsed!”
“Papers were flying in the air like confetti,” Rabbi Glass recalled. People were running away from the blocks closer to the WTC.
In nearby Battery Park City, the apartments of several synagogue members went black and smoke filled their apartments. Later that day, the families were evacuated by boat and none moved back to the area.
A few congregants who were stranded found refuge in the shul until they could figure out a way home. All the ways in and out of Manhattan were sealed off, and downtown was now locked down as a search and rescue zone.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Glass still didn’t know what happened to his wife. He rushed over to the neighborhood police station, the 1st precinct, to get advice about what to do. “I can’t give you any guidance,” the police officer said. “But if you want my personal opinion: get out of New York.”
The Glass Family Reunites
Soon after the north tower collapsed at 10:29 a.m., the office phone rang. It was Rebbetzin Glass. Her client didn’t show up for the 9 a.m. appointment, so she started walking home.
“I was just a few blocks away when I heard a loud crash, turned around and watched the first building collapse. I was petrified and gave out a scream,” she recalled. “I then ran home and called my neighbor. She came over and we just sat there shocked. We said Tehillim.”
The two younger daughters soon returned home, but Rabbi Glass and his wife could not reach the other three kids.
“I didn’t know where my kids were,” said Rebbetzin Glass. “Two of them had traveled to Brooklyn for school and one to Queens. They didn’t have cellphones at the time.”
Around noon, Rabbi Glass left the synagogue to join his wife at home.
“We couldn’t stop panicking until we knew the kids were okay. I was worried about my oldest son, Dovid, who was supposed to go yeshiva in Far Rockaway. And I was concerned about Elkie, 15, and Benzion, 13, because they were younger and stranded in Brooklyn. I knew they wouldn’t get home for a while,” recalled the rabbi.
At about 4 p.m., Dovid Glass walked through the front door. He was forced off the train in Brooklyn. Dovid managed to find a bus that got him to the end of Brooklyn but he had no way to get across the East River to Manhattan. Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait too long. The J train resumed running and took him to his home subway station.
Late afternoon on 9/11, Elkie and Benzion called and Rebbetzin Glass found them a place to stay with family. They returned home two days later.
Long Term Impact
The Tribeca Synagogue was closed until the Shabbos after 9/11, though the area was locked down for some time, with strictly controlled police checkpoints and military vehicles. The entire downtown area below Worth Street, four blocks south of the synagogue, was a frozen zone for months.
Even though the shul was able to open, its community was permanently changed.
“We took a huge hit, and lost 20 families overnight. They never came back after being forced to relocate.” said Rabbi Glass. The shul’s once-a-week Hebrew school program, mostly children from non-Observant families, went from 60 to never more than 25 after 9/11. “We didn’t recover until 2005 when a totally different group – young professionals – started to move in and we transformed the shul for them.”
With his family and congregants accounted for, Rabbi Glass had another concern on 9/11 that continues to this day. “I was worried about another attack. You are a Jewish institution in an area has been hit few times by terrorists. Maybe it’s just a matter of time.”
James Cagney at 80, was Interviewed by Tom Snyder.
Tom Snyder interviews 80 year old James Cagney on his farm on "Tom Snyder's Celebrity Spotlight". Video recorded June 23, 1980.
The Jewish baby who grew up to become a priest - then returned to Judaism
Given away by his mother during the Holocaust, Yaakov was raised a Christian and became a high-ranking church official.
Yaakov and Rabbi Chanoch GechtmanYad L'Achim
a winter night in 1943, a young, frightened woman knocked on the window
of the Vashkinel home in a small town not far from Vilna.
The woman quickly handed Amelia Vashkinel a small, tightly wrapped
bundle containing a baby, who was just a few days old. That night was
preceded by several secret meetings held between Amelia and Batya, the
baby’s mother, who knew she had been sentenced to death and wanted to
save her son.
With the Holocaust at its peak, Amelia was afraid to take in a Jewish
baby and raise him. She explained to the mother that if it became known
that he was Jewish she would be put to death. But Batya, determined to
save her son at all cost, told Amelia: “You are a Christian. When he
grows up he’ll be a priest and a teacher.”
hesitated, weighing the pros and cons of taking in the baby, and in the
end decided to give life to the helpless baby in her arms.
Batya whispered the child’s name and disappeared into the darkness.
“You had a very Jewish family name,” the adoptive mother told her son,
when she revealed the secret to him 35 years later. “But I very quickly
forgot it. I was afraid it would be a death sentence. And so I didn’t
want to remember anything from that night.”
This is the story of that child, Yaakov, whose life has taken many
turns. He discovered conclusively that he was a Jew when he was a senior
priest in Poland. In recent years, however, his life has come full
L’Achim has been at Yaakov’s side during this process, sometimes
directly and sometimes indirectly. It provided him with sacred Jewish
objects, and more. Recently, an extraordinary meeting was held between
Yaakov and Rabbi Chanoch Gechtman, head of Yad L’Achim’s counter
At the meeting, Yaakov was moved by the sound of the shofar, which he
compared to the deep cry of a long-lost son returning to his father.
“This is my story, the baby that was taken captive,” Yaakov responded with great emotion.
Everyone in the room was moved by the sight of an 81-year-old Jew who
had lost his Jewish identity as a baby during the Holocaust, returning
to his people.
Yaakov added: “Look at how amazing things turned out. Hashgacha
[divine providence] arranged things such that from a young age I was a
teacher and then a priest. I never married, which means I never married a
non-Jew, and I never had non-Jewish children. I imagine that had things
worked out differently, it would have been much more difficult for me
to leave everything and return to the religion of my fathers.”
Yaakov now lives in Jerusalem and works for Yad Vashem. He continues to enjoy a warm connection with Yad L’Achim.
Etrog Boxes – In All Their Cardboard And Silver Glory
As we breathe a sigh of hopeful relief that our prayers were heard during the YamimNoraim, we now focus our attention to getting ready for .
After we inspect an etrog to purchase, some of us will take the etrog and place it in a sturdy box so it can be kept safe from possible damage during the holiday. In the world of antique Judaica, it appears that containers made specifically for the purpose of holding an etrog is a rather late development, as the oldest verified etrog boxes (either cast in the actual shape of an etrog, or a box with a Hebrew inscription on it relating to ), date no earlier than the 18th century.
The oldest representation of an etrog itself is found on bronze coins minted during the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans, specifically those in the years 69 and 70 CE. In the photos shown, one side has an etrog, while the other side has two lulavim. The ancient Hebrew script around the etrog states “For the redemption of Zion,” and around the lulavim “Year four quarter” (meaning the coin was minted in the fourth year of the revolt, and the value of the coin is of a quarter of a shekel). Coins like this, when appearing for sale, can vary from a few hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars, as it all depends on the condition of the coin, and in some cases, the provenance.
A personal favorite antique
etrogbox of mine is one that resides in the collection of the Israel Museum. The box is made of the most simple, basic material imaginable: cardboard. Atop the cardboard are hundreds of dyed glass beads on strips of cloth that were painstakingly placed in such a way to reveal colorful Hebrew words that relate to the Biblical commandment for the
etrog, the name of the owner of the box, and the date, which is 1860. It is thought that this box was made in Germany.
A silver container cast in the shape of an
etrogsold at Sotheby’s in London last year for $15,000. It was made in 1851 in Glasgow, Scotland, which explains why the price realized was so high when compared to the estimate given by Sotheby’s, which was $4,000 – $6,000. Judaica made in countries where the Jewish population was very small, tends to be significantly more valuable than a similar item made in a country which has a much larger Jewish population. For example, if the Glasgow container was made in Germany or the Netherlands, it would sell in the $2,500 – $3,500 range.
One of the most fascinating
etrogboxes to appear for sale in recent years was at Sotheby’s in New York, in 2011. The title of the lot was “An Arts and Crafts
etrogContainer, circa 1925.” Given an estimate of $6,000 – $8,000, it sold for $18,750. I remember going to the sale to examine the box in person, and was amazed at the quality of the piece, as there was extremely skilled work made by hand in the silver which revealed beautifully executed Hebrew wording on the lid and around the box, as well as a procession of bearded men in
Frustratingly, there were no hallmarks to be found on this box, which was surprising to me, as it was quite apparent that the box was made by someone who was a trained and very talented silversmith, and said maker would be proud to announce himself as the creator of the piece with his signature or monogram. The style of the Hebrew letters and decoration indicated a date of manufacture of the 1920’s or 30’s, likely by someone in Germany or the U.S.
Personally, I felt it could only be done by one of a handful of Jewish silversmiths in Germany that were producing Judaica of this quality at the time. Indeed, after the box was purchased, research by the buyer, the Judaica dealer Jonathan Greenstein, located a photograph of this very etrog box in a German newspaper from 1924! It was stated that it was done by Baruch Friedlander, a noted maker of Judaica, who fled Germany to Palestine in the 1930’s and continued making Judaica throughout the 1950’s in Israel. His German-produced Judaica pieces are extremely rare and highly desirable. His efforts in pursuing this etrog box, from the purchase itself to the research, made Mr. Greenstein the owner of a Judaica object worth substantially more than what he paid.
etrogbox that has achieved the greatest sum ever at auction may surprise our readers, as it is not an antique, nor is it from pre-war Europe. Given an estimate of $30,000 – $50,000 by Sotheby’s in 2013, the box sold for an astounding $93,750. This is because the silver box, made entirely by hand, was made and signed by Ilya Schor. Ilya Schor was an artist, painter, jeweler, engraver, sculptor, and maker of Judaica. Born in Poland in 1904, he trained at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts in 1930, and in 1937, he was awarded a grant by the Polish government to study in Paris, where he exhibited his works in a Salon in 1938 with success. He fled Paris in 1940, eventually making his way to New York City.
This etrog box, made in New York in 1956, features hand cut and engraved panels of figures from Tanach; Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Dovid. There is a man holding a Torah and a man holding a lulav and etrog, a boy with a kippa and payos holding a lulav and etrog and a girl holding a Simchas Torah flag. The lid features a fully-formed three-dimensional family scene flanked by birds. There are collectors just of works by Schor, and this was a rare opportunity: while some Judaica made by Schor, such as mezuzah cases, appear on the market from time to time, larger, elaborate pieces like this etrog box, do not. Silver works by Schor are so collectible that forgeries began appearing in the marketplace beginning in the 1990’s, so to any potential buyers out there, be careful.