Rabbi Marc Fitzerman

The following sermon was delivered during the 2001 Jewish High Holiday season following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It has been included on the Torah From Terror website as a resource and retains the copyright of its author. Please cite the source accordingly.

September 19, 2001

Remembrance and Hope:
A Service of Testimony and
Rabbi Marc Boone Fitzerman


We gather in longing, in the shadow of chaos;
We gather to bear witness to loss and destruction.
Meaning will come, and understanding;
Truth will arrive at another time
And everything will take its accustomed shape.
There will be words and ritual and the comfort of liturgy,
And we will tell each other what it was all about.
But in an hour of chaos there can be no seder,
No rounded words of resolution,
No final judgments by those who speak for us—
Not while the rubble is still mounded high,
Not while the dead lie still, unburied,
Not while the mourners have not begun to mourn,
Not while the plume continues to rise,
And ashes cake the surface of the city—
A snowfall of grief and un-creation.
The first task of mourning is the telling of loss,
Its particular look, its color and shape;
The way it smelled and sounded on the day it happened;
The telling, over and over again,
Of where we were at the very moment,
And what we saw, and who did what;
And how the priest was carried into the church he loved
So that his body could dignify the ruin and confusion;
And how the killer’s picture surfaced in the trash—
The very document that brought him to this land.
No abstracts here, no summary statements,
No general remarks or estimated losses,
But the thing itself, without disguise or euphemism,
The thing observed, the thing felt deeply.

First Testimony

[My brother] heard a loud crash and the building shook and [there was] a hissing sound. When the elevator doors opened, a thick cloud of black smoke came billowing out and he turned around to head for the front doors. As he was about to jump the turnstile, there was a loud explosion which picked his body up and hurled him through the front glass doors and into the street. His head was literally on fire and at that point he really started to panic. There was a man a few steps in front of him, whose body was engulfed in flames. He used his hands to try to put the fire out on this man, until a security guard came and wrapped his jacket around the man and dropped and rolled him.


We pray for wives who will not see their husbands,
Who will never see them in the land of the living;
And for husbands who heard a last word of love,
Choked and broken, a whispered hope
That the plane would land, that the floor would hold,
That there would be no fire, that all would be well.
We pray for parents who could not hold the hand
Of a child dying beneath beams of steel,
Falling, falling with impossible force,
A universe suddenly collapsed on itself,
Compressed as if between two great hands.
And we pray for children who do not yet know their losses,
Who cannot know the meaning of the tears
Shed and wiped and shed again,
A torrent of grief, sweeping, unquenchable.
Let all who mourn feel our sorrow unending.
Let all who are grieving feel our echoing grief.
We have no gift of life to bestow on the mourning,
No return to “before,” no undoing of “done,”
But the willingness to walk with those who will walk,
To stand with those who are willing to stand,
To sit with those who can only sit,
And to kneel in the dust, hand to forehead,
When there is no one to walk or stand or sit.

Second Testimony

Tim Finnerty is missing. He is my son and I feel like I have been robbed of my spirit. I see the anguish on Theresa’s face, she’s his wife, and I want it to not be there. She has a beautiful smile. Why is that missing, too? All of you who know Tim are missing something, too. He was so willing to help and gave so much to everyone. Why is he not here to continue? My son was fun to be with, and waiting to find out information from the World Trade Center destruction has taken away all the fun. I want more than memories. I want Tim.


Who will give us justice at the moment of pain?
Who will bestow the blessing that will make this day right?
No voice calls from the mound before us,
No cloud is broken to reveal its interior.
All is cloud; all is thick, impenetrable—
Thick with vengefulness, thick with spite and loathing;
Thick with the rage that lifts knife to throat;
Thick with the viciousness that pulls aside the door,
To reveal the promise of the throttle and gauges,
And the gleam of the buildings on the near horizon.
How marvelous to see them! The flames, the smoke,
The promise fulfilled in the mind of the believer,
Over and over until truly fulfilled.
The silver tube now inside the building,
Columns collapsed by the great sweep of metal;
An aluminum scythe in a ripening field.
Each stalk a pillar, a support, an upright,
Held from below, holding above,
Until nothing could hold a moment longer.
How long does it take to un-build a building?
It is over almost before it is begun.

Third Testimony

All we could see was dull orange flame licking out of the windows two thirds of the way up the building and smoke billowing up. Looking through binoculars at the flames was even more frightening as you could almost feel the heat. We clung together. Many of us wept, no one knew what to say. It was obvious that many people were dying, that they had no way to get past all that fire. Several of us saw people jumping out of windows. We began to talk of their families. One of us had two nephews who worked there, and he couldn’t stand still. Finally, he reached his sister, and learned that they were all right. Then, all of a sudden, a huge burst of smoke rose from the southern tower and it crumbled and disappeared from sight. Everyone gasped and clutched each other even tighter. It was a completely horrifying experience. Something so permanent, just disappearing. And who was in it, or under it? We stayed longer. And then the second tower erupted in smoke, and sank out of sight. We all gathered in a prayer circle. Jews, Christians, a Moslem, a Buddhist. And we prayed for [the] safety of those in the building and their rescuers, and for strength for the health-care givers, and for strength for the families to deal with their grief and for wisdom to know how to respond skillfully and not vengefully. And then we sang.


We praise the men of Company 18,
And all the companies from all the firehouses,
Who rushed with their brothers into the mouth of chaos,
Who rushed because they could not help but rush,
Who rushed, to be crushed on a sooty morning,
When the city of fifty thousand people
Was suddenly consumed and made no more.
Bless their efforts, bless their heroism.
And bless the heroism of those who helped them,
Who saw the face of God on a darkling day,
And ran towards disaster with hope and mercy.
We praise the doctors and we praise the donors.
We praise the couriers and drivers and cameramen.
We praise the ferry workers and we praise the nurses.
We praise the cooks and we praise the welders.
We praise the friends and we praise the strangers,
From the hewer of wood to the drawer of water.
We praise the women and we praise the men
Who helped the fallen and carried the dead,
And who are at their work this very moment,
Because someone must always attend to the dead.
Give them strength and alertness and stamina and feeling,
So that they can bring to a close what was begun by others.

Fourth Testimony

I was on the 70th floor and heard people screaming, “Help me, help me.” I saw people jumping out of the windows. My partner and I started yelling for co-workers. There was water from the sprinklers everywhere. We heard explosions. We were pushed against the floor. I thought my leg was broken. I grabbed the belt of a fireman. (don’t let go, don’t let go). He and his buddy made it out.


And make us holy.
Give us the strength to see the face of God
In those who do not look like us.
Give us the strength to see that all are not alike,
And that a name, a face, the sound of a voice,
Is not the same as guilt; is not guilt at all.
Let our freedom stand without impairment,
Offered freely to those who share this land.
Let justice be done, but let it be worthy justice:
Unhurried, scrupulous, dignified, fair.
Who will stand if unruly men
Throw off the restraints of law and mercy?
No people can withstand the assault of a patriotism
That does not respect the rule of fairness.
Give us calm and patience and understanding.
Give us the strength to abide a time of waiting,
While the future is measured out with wisdom.
Give us all of this, for we will not survive
The fury of our own impatient passions.

Fifth Testimony

On Thursday, I left The New York Times, where I have been a staff editor for 23 years, at my usual time, 11:30 a.m., for lunch….On Fifth Avenue, five or six police officers rushed me, made me put my head against a wall and, with threats and curses, spread-eagled me and handcuffed me. Amid a lot of cursing, they searched me. All that time, I asked them what I was being accused of. I told them I was an editor at The Times and that my Times identification was in my right front pocket. They grabbed it and my driver’s license from my wallet, but I remained handcuffed, with my face against the wall, for about 15 minutes. An officer, evidently after consultation with a sergeant, undid the handcuffs and told me I had been detained because someone in the crowd said I had said I had a bomb….I can only imagine that I became a suspect because I was wearing a kufi, a knit cap usually worn by Muslims. I told the officers that I was neither an Arab nor a Muslim, but a Puerto Rican Roman Catholic….Some friends have suggested that I stop wearing a kufi, but I tell them that the day we can’t wear what we want, the day we give up our freedom, is the day the terrorists have won.


Shmay Raba:
And let us enlargeYour name
With leaders of insight and understanding.
We pray for men and women who will do our will
With firmness, clarity, and resolution.
And we pray for men and women who will do our will,
With a care for children and the weak and vulnerable.
Give them strength and mercy and open hearts.
Let necessity unfold in each form it takes,
But bent to conform to the shape of peace.
We ask for blessing on those who lead us:
Give them knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.
Let them serve our cause as they serve Your cause,
With acumen, courage, sureness, and will,
Tempered by modesty, restraint, and justice.
Give them eyes to see and ears to hear,
So that we come forth in victory to the blessings of peace.

Sixth Testimony

I went out the side door. Initially I thought it was a car accident. Then I looked up and saw Tower One of the World Trade Center in flames. It was clear there were hundreds of casualties. Everyone was on cell phones. I’d lost my cell phone and laptop computer when I ran out of the building. I went over to the Hudson River. After I called in to my editor from 3 World Trade Center across the street, there was another wave of panic and people were running everywhere. I went outside and saw Tower Two had been hit, right about in the middle. For a while, I just stared and watched with the other survivors as the tower burned. As I was watching, I heard a gasp and an “Oh no!” Someone had just jumped or fallen from the top of Tower One. I saw three more people fall from Tower One.


And let us finally pray for the city itself:
Torn, undone, its shining wholeness
Brought low beneath a deluded martyrdom.
Aycha yashva; How does the city sit?
It sits in piles of glass and metal,
And scraps of paper from a thousand offices,
Blown by the ferocious winds of passion.
“She that was great among the nations,
She weepeth sore into the night.
All her pursuers overtook her…
Her adversaries are become the head.
Behold, O Lord, my affliction,
For the enemy has magnified himself;
The adversary has spread out his hand.”
We pray for the day of restoration,
When the city itself is crowned with joy.
Let towers rise on sure foundations,
On streets once littered with twisted fragments,
Now made broad by glad procession.

Seventh Testimony

I was sitting at my desk when my body shook and I heard the impact of the first hit. I didn’t know exactly what it was but I know it had to be a bad “accident.” The people on my floor were screaming and I ran to the window to see the West Street side of the blast. I looked out the window and noticed debris falling blocks away, people falling from the sky, people down on the ground, people cowering for cover, and the first fire trucks to arrive on the scene. My building security announced that the problems across the street did not impact us and that we should not panic and stay put. I grabbed my personal effects, just in case. I made it to the lobby and the door was locked. I went down to the next level, which was an exit onto West Street where everything was happening. I turned to run back to the lobby. The group of us banged on the door. I prayed that the towers would not fall over onto my building and that I would

die. By the grace of God, someone was in the lobby and opened the door.


We join each other now in words of hopefulness:
Mishebaraych avotaynu Avraham ve-Sarah:
May the God who blessed Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar,
Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and his family—
Leah and Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah—
Bless and heal the wounded and the maimed.
Give them and their families courage and hope,
That what began in fire will end in restoration;
That what began in darkness will end in daylight.
Let the burned be made whole;
Let the bent be straightened.
Let the broken be knitted together with love,
And the saved be saved from confusion and fearfulness.
Let each of them stand to bear witness to You
Who are Somaych noflim and Rofay cholim.
We pray for healing of the body and the spirit,
So that the crease of experience yields to consolation.
And let us all say: amayn, amayn.

Recitation of the Names

And now we join each other in words of comfort.
Five thousand missing and hundreds dead.
We turn to each other with open palms,
Questions hanging in the dust-flecked air.
Let this gathering close where it first began,
With care for each and every soul
Pulled into the swirl of desolation.
They are gone, and will not walk again,
Or weep or sing or speak our names.
But we, the living, can speak their names
And make the sounds of liberation.
We stand to recite the names of the dead,
And to blow the notes of a festive season
Turned inside out by human suffering.
We stand to recite these eighteen names,
Then the blowing of the shofar and eighteen more.
Eighteen more, and then more again.
We stand to recall until the end of time
Names that will live as long as we remember them.
Let these names stand for all who died,
Who gave their lives or had them taken
In storm and fire, in blood and suffering.

Names and Teki’ot

Barbara Arestegui, 38
Jeffrey Collman
Sara Low, 28
Karen Martin
Thomas McGuinness, 42
Kathleen Nicosia
John Ogonowski, 52
Betty Ong, 45
Jean Roger, 24
Dianne Snyder, 42
Madeline Sweeney, 35
Anna Williams Allison, 48
David Angell, 54
Lynn Angell
Seima Aoyama
Myra Aronson, 52
Christine Barbuto, 32
Carolyn Beug, 48


Kelly Booms
Carol Bouchard, 43
Neilie Casey
Jeffrey Coombs, 32
Tara Creamer, 30
Thelma Cuccinello, 71
Patrick Currivan
Brian Dale, 43
David DiMeglio
Donald Ditullio, 49
Albert Dominguez
Alex Filipov, 70
Carol Flyzik, 40
Paul Friedman
Karleton D.B. Fyfe, 31
Peter Gay, 54
Linda George, 27
Edmund Glazer, 41


Lisa Fenn Gordenstein, 41
Andrew Curry Green
Paige Farley Hackel, 46
Peter Hashem
Robert Hayes
Ted Hennessey, 35
John Hofer
Cora Holland, 52
Nicholas Humber, 60
John Jenkins
Charles Jones, 48
Robin Kaplan, 33
Barbara Keating, 72
David Kovalcin, 42
Judy Larocque, 50
Jude Larson, 31
Natalie Larson
N. Janis Lasden, 46


Daniel John Lee, 34
Daniel C. Lewin, 31
Susan MacKay, 44
Chris Mello, 25
Jeff Mladenik, 43
Antonio Montoya
Carlos Montoya
Laura Lee Morabito, 34
Mildred Naiman
Laurie Neira
Renee Newell, 37
Jacqueline Norton, 60
Robert Norton, 82
Jane Orth, 49

Thomas Pecorelli, 31
Berry Berenson Perkins, 53
Sonia Morales Puopolo, 58
David Retik


Philip Rosenzweig
Richard Ross, 58
Jessica Sachs, 22
Rahma Salie, 28
Heather Smith, 30
Douglas Stone, 54
Xavier Suarez
Michael Theodoridis, 32
James Trentini, 65
Mary Trentini, 67
Pendyala Vamsikrishna
Mary Wahlstrom, 75
Kenneth Waldie, 46
John Wenckus, 46
Candace Lee Williams, 20
Christopher Zarba, 47
Robert Fangman
Michael Horrocks


Amy Jarret
Amy King
Kathryn LaBorie
Alfred Marchand, 4
Victor J. Saracini
Michael Tarrou
Alicia N. Titus, 28
Alona Avraham, 30
Garnet “Ace” Bailey, 53
Mark Bavis, 31
Graham Berkeley, 37
Touri Bolourchi, 69
Klaus Bothe, 31
Daniel Brandhorst, 42
David Brandhorst, 3
John Cahill
Christoffer Carstanjen, 33
John “Jay” Corcoran, 44


Gloria de Barrera, 82
Dorothy Dearaujo, 82
Lisa Frost, 22
Ronald Gamboa, 33
Lynn Goodchild, 25
Francis Grogan, 76
Carl Hammond, 37
Christine Hanson, 3
Peter Hanson, 32
Susan Hanson, 35
Gerald F. Hardacre, 62
Eric Hartono, 20
James E. Hayden, 47
Herbert Homer
Robert Jalbert, 61
Ralph Kershaw, 52
Heinrich Kimmig, 43
Brian Kinney, 29


Robert LeBlanc, 70
Maclovio “Joe” Lopez, Jr., 41
Marianne MacFarlane
Louis Neil Mariani, 59
Juliana Valentine McCourt, 4
Ruth McCourt, 45
Wolfgang Menzel, 60
Shawn Nassaney, 25
Marie Pappalardo
Patrick Quigley, 40
Frederick Rimmele
James M. Roux, 43
Jesus Sanchez, 45
Kathleen Shearer
Robert Shearer

Jane Simpkin, 35
Brian D. Sweeney, 38
Timothy Ward, 38


William Weems
Charles Burlingame, 51
David Charlebois
Michele Heidenberger, 57
Jennifer Lewis, 38
Kenneth Lewis, 49
Renee May, 39
Paul Ambrose, 32
Yeneneh Betru, 35
MJ Booth
Bernard Brown, 11
Suzanne Calley, 42
William E. Caswell, 54
Sarah Clark, 65
Zandra Cooper
Asia Cottom, 11
James Debeuneure, 58
Rodney Dickens, 11


Eddie Dillard
Charles Droz, 52
Barbara G. Edwards, 58
Charles S. Falkenberg, 45
Dana Falkenberg, 3
Zoe Falkenberg, 8
James Joe Ferguson, 39
Darlene “Dee” Flagg, 63
Wilson “Bud” Flagg, 63
Richard P. Gabriel Sr., 54
Ian Gray, 55
Stanley Hall, 68
Bryan Jack, 48
Steven D. “Jake” Jacoby, 43
Ann Judge, 49

Chandler Keller, 29
Yvonne Kennedy
Norma Khan, 45

El Malay Rachamim (Leader)

Psalm 23

Adonai is my shepherd, I shall not want—
Giving me repose in green meadows,
Leading me beside the still waters to revive my spirit.
Guiding me on the right path for that is God’s essence.
Though I walk through a valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no harm, for You are with me.
Your staff and Your rod comfort me.
You prepare a banquet for me in the presence of my foes.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and kindness shall be my portion all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the House of Adonai forever.


Yitgadal, ve-yitkadash shemay raba
Be-alma divra chirutay ve-yamlich malchutay
Bechayaychon, u-ve-yomaychon, u-vechayay dechol bayt Yisra’ayl
Ba-agalah u-vi-z’man kariv ve-imru: amayn

Yehay shmay raba mevorach le’olam ul-olmay almaya

Yitbarach ve-yishtabach ve-yitpa’ar ve-yitromam ve-yitnasay
Ve-yithadar ve-yitaleh ve-yithalal shemay de-kudsha: berich hu
Le’ayla le’aylah min kol birchata ve-shirata
Tushbechata ve-nechemata
Da-amiran be-alma ve-imru: amayn.

Yehay shelama raba min shemaya,
Ve-chayim alaynu
Ve-al kol Yisra’ayl ve-imru: amayn.

Oseh shalom bi-m’romav, hu yas’aseh shalom alaynu
Ve-al kol Yisra’ayl, ve-imru: amayn.

Oseh Shalom (Congregation)

Final Testimony

Hey [Julie], it’s Brian, I’m on a plane and it’s hijacked and it doesn’t look good. I just wanted to let you know that I love you and I hope to see you again. If I don’t, please have fun in life and live your life the best you can. Know that I love you and no matter what, I’ll see you again.

Teki’ah Gedolah

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