Ackerman, Great Neck community remember 9/11 15 years later

Ackerman, Great Neck community remember 9/11 15 years later

Former U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman said he was standing outside of a YMCA in Flushing with John Liu, the former New Yorker City Comptroller who at the time was seeking election for his first term as New York City Councilman, when his chief of staff first alerted him that a plane hit the World Trade Center.
After the call, Ackerman said at a Temple Israel memorial service for 9/11 victims on Sunday, he continued to speak with Liu and residents voting in that day’s Democratic Primary.
 But a few minutes after the first call, Ackerman said, his chief of staff called again to deliver news using his “dark sense of humor.”
“He said either one of two things are happening, either the air traffic controllers are having a very bad day, or we’re under some kind of attack,” he recalled.
Ackerman said he then went back to his office and “watched unbelievably as the towers collapsed” with his staff.
“It was sort of an out-of-body experience watching it, something that you were seeing but really couldn’t process, really couldn’t understand what was happening,” he said. “What could this be? Is it for real? You couldn’t get your mind around it. It was so colossal, so catastrophic.”
Ackerman gave his personal account of the events following the Sept. 11 attacks in front of over 100 Great Neck residents, Temple Israel congregants, Alert Fire Company and Vigilant Fire Company members at the memorial service at the 9-11 Memorial Bridge in Saddle Rock.
The service was intertwined with the temple’s usual evening prayer service.
Ackerman explained that after the attacks he appeared on a few radio shows that same day that asked what had happened.
“I said, America has just lost it’s innocence,” he said. “It’s awakened to the reality of what is happening in the world.”
After taking a limousine service to his office in Washington, D.C. and spending a couple of days there, Ackerman said he returned the Friday after the attacks.
He walked down the street towards the site of the attacks with then-president George W. Bush and other elected officials.
Ackerman said they were instructed to wear facemasks, but some questioned why there was a need to put them on.
“I said it’s furniture, it’s cement and it’s the remains of a thousand people that were breathing in with every breath,” he said. “And then everybody put their masks on”
A few days later, Ackerman said, he arrived at a makeshift building at the pier near the World Trade Center, where the American Red Cross and other volunteers had set up rooms and tables for those trying to find their lost loved ones.
“There were crowds of people coming through, all kinds of people, distraught every one of them. Looking like zombies,” he said. “I was lucky to be there I felt, to just see this.”
Ackerman recalled seeing one woman sitting at a table designated for firefighters, who was trying to find her husband.
He said she was “composed” but that changed when the volunteer asked her what her husband was last seen wearing.
“At that instant this woman went to pieces,” Ackerman said. “That question, for some reason above all others, struck her with the reality that she would never see him wearing anything else again.”
Shortly after seeing that woman, he said, he was approached by a volunteer to go speak to a Hasidic Jewish man who was staring at the wall of pictures posted by people looking for their loved ones.
Ackerman said he stood next to the man, who did not look at him once, but after about five minutes told him that the picture he was looking at was his “baby brother.”
The man told him that he had called and gotten through to his brother and told him to leave the tower he was working in when the plane struck.
“I can’t, his brother told him. ‘I’m sitting in the next cubicle with a man from Puerto Rico, who is Puerto Rican, who I work with and he’s in a wheelchair and he can’t run and we’re holding hands because he’s not going to die alone,’” Ackerman recalled the man telling him.
“My heart just felt horrible,” he said.
Ackerman said that standing on the 9-11 Memorial Bridge and thinking back to the events that took place 15 years ago, makes people question how something of that magnitude could happen and wonder if it would happen again.
“It’s only natural and normal to be angry, to want to get even, to want to get back, to get revenge,” he said. “But in the long-run we have to figure out how to deal with it and how to stop it.”
Ackerman, who was the featured speaker at the service, said the world needed to “build more bridges.”
“Bridges that connect us with all of the people in the world and all of their grievances and figure out how on earth do they get solved. And for that we have to think and for that we have to pray,” he said. “For that we have to ask God to give us enlightened public leaders all over the world who are willing to talk to each other and figure things out, because once somebody starts getting even, somebody else gets even.”
The service ended with a moment of silence, a group singing of “God Bless America” and the blowing of the shofar, which Rabbi Howard Stecker was in accordance with the long-standing Jewish tradition to “wake us up.”
Great Neck Democratic Club President and Temple Israel past President, Steven Markowitz, said Sept. 11 is a day to memorialize those who lost their lives and for everyone to come together as one.
“Today is not a day for politics,” Markowitz said. “Today is a day for all Americans to come together to commemorate what happened out there.”
Earlier on Sunday, the Great Neck Vigilant Fire Company held a ceremony at Jonathan L. Ielpi Firefighters’ Park.
The site of the ceremony has historic and personal significance to the fire company.
Ielpi was a New York City firefighter, Vigilant fire company assistant chief and graduate of Great Neck North High School who died responding to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The park includes a statue of Ielpi and is dedicated to the victims of the attacks.
Vigilant firefighters met at the firehouse, located at 83 Cutter Mill Road, then drove over to Firefighters’ Park in fire trucks and ambulances.
The service was also attended by members of the Ielpi family and members of the public.
Department Chief Josh Forst recited the names of Great Neck residents who died during the attacks.
“We are here today to remember everyone who passed away in the towers, in the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania,” Forst said.
Rabbi Marim Charry, who is a member of the Vigilant Fire Company and one of the department’s clergy, said it was important to continue remembering the day and educating those who were either very young or not born yet about what happened.
“They don’t remember, but we can’t let them forget,” Charry said.

By Joe Nikic

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