Editorial: Memoir the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

By Haber, Leo | Midstream, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Editorial: Memoir the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11


Haber, Leo, Midstream


The year 2001 proceeded pleasurably for me and for my family. My elder son's birthday took place in February and my younger son's and mine in May. Also in May came the long-awaited publication of my first novel, The Red Heifer, by Syracuse University Press. Sylvia and I then celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary in June. Sylvia's birthday occurred in July, and my reluctant but climactic elevation to the editorship of Midstream was signaled by the publication of the July/August issue with my name and position in black print to prove that it was not a dream. And then--the world seemed to fall apart and make personal triumphs and family joys of minimal or no consequence with the sudden national trauma of September 11, 2001. The permanently etched symbol of 9/11 and the devastation at ground zero, a new term of sorrow in our language made everything else seem to be almost irrelevant.

Most of us have a penchant for remembering where we were when major national events took place, especially the heart-stopping tragedies. At age 14, I was a student at the Herzliah Hebrew Teachers' Institute in Manhattan, attending classes two evenings a week and on Sunday afternoon. On this wintry Sunday afternoon in December, in a break between two subject periods (after a Hebrew literature class with the superb Hebrew poet and Dean/Founder of the institution, Moses Feinstein, and a class in the grammar of the Hebrew language with the great grammarian and weekly columnist for the HaDo'ar magazine in New York, Daniel Persky), two of the guys in class, much older than I, decided to scoot out during the short break to the local candy store for a snack. I urged them to find out the score of the football game between my New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers (yes, a short-lived professional football team in those halcyon days), and to report back to me. Five minutes later, they burst into class with the semi-hysterical announcement: "The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor!" We younger students neither knew what or where Pearl Harbor was, nor did we seem initially to be concerned. One of the two young men shouted angrily: "Don't you all realize what this means? We're now at war with Japan!" I don't recall if they ever managed to tell me the score of the football game.

I looked forward to three important activities I had scheduled for a Friday in November of 1963. In the morning, I was submitting a novel manuscript for consideration by a major publishing house in midtown Manhattan. At 1:00 p.m., I planned to be at a hospital in Brooklyn to visit my mother who was undergoing a series of diagnostic tests over several days and nights. At 3:00 p.m, I hoped to be back home at our apartment not far from Coney Island in Brooklyn to help my wife Sylvia welcome the first visit of a local piano teacher whom we had hired to teach our children. Our eleven-year-old elder son was awaiting his first lesson in classical music, with our eight-year-old younger son to follow in a few months. Oh yes, I was on sabbatical that year from my high-school teaching position and attending a doctoral seminar in English literature at Columbia University. I was free that day to roam around New York because the class didn't meet on Fridays. (I never completed a dissertation because I wanted to write fiction and poetry. Nor did I ever contemplate becoming an editor.) Past noon on that Friday, I left the publishing house after submitting my novel to a nameless secretary who was very kind and strolled down an avenue in midtown Manhattan toward a subway station. Suddenly, I spied a crowd on the sidewalk ahead of me pressing against the parry open door of a street-level stockbrokers' office, apparently listening intently to a radio inside and groaning. My first thought was that the stock market must have suffered a major fall in prices. When I inquired of one of the bystanders, he said, "President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas." I was shocked and gasped audibly. I suddenly felt that I must hurry to my mother's side in the hospital. …

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