Politics & Policy

The Jews Knew?

Remembering the Jewish victims of September 11.

There is something about growing up in the Golden Age of Conspiracy Theories (in my case, for example, that the Mafia/Castro/ CIA really killed President Kennedy) that turns one off to conspiracy theories for life.

It’s deeply frustrating that sometimes, no matter how great the evidence to the contrary, conspiracy theories, hoaxes, rumors, and myths just won’t go away.

Take, for instance, two of the earliest and most insidious rumors to begin circulating about the September 11 terror attacks: That President Bush had prior knowledge of the attacks, and that Israel secretly warned Jews to stay home that Tuesday, to avoid being killed in the attacks — all supposedly orchestrated by Israel.

Of course, in order to subscribe to this myth, we would have to ignore the fact that Osama bin Laden has taken gleeful personal responsibility for the attacks (and presumably he didn’t feel particularly compelled to warn President Bush beforehand). 

So then, when and where did this myth begin? Just four days after the attacks Syria’s government-owned newspaper, Al Thawra, claimed that “four thousand Jews were absent from their day of work on the day of the explosions.” As the U.S. Department of State explains:

The 4,000 figure apparently came from an article entitled “Hundreds of Israelis missing in WTC attack” which appeared in the September 12th internet edition of the Jerusalem Post.  It stated, “The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has so far received the names of 4,000 Israelis believed to have been in the areas of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon at the time of the attacks.”

Unknown conspiracy theorists apparently seized upon the 4,000 figure, transforming it into the false claim that 4,000 Jews did not report for work at the World Trade Center on September 11.

The tragic truth is that some 10-to 15-percent of the 2,071 victims of the World Trade Center attacks were Jewish — not surprising, given that the population of New York City is approximately 12-percent Jewish. According to information gathered by the New York Times and the Medical Examiner’s Office records, and reported by Jewish Week, “There were at least 400 victims either confirmed or strongly believed to be Jewish.”  

Their stories are heartbreaking. Some, like Marina Romanova Gertsberg, an immigrant from Ukraine, had begun working at the World Trade Center just days before the attacks; others, like 25-year-old Monica Goldstein, were about to marry their sweethearts. Still others, like 36-year-old Eric Sand, had recently become parents. At least two Jewish fathers perished along with their sons. One victim, Arlene Eva Fried, was the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

In an effort to repudiate the myth of Jews staying home on 9/11, the State Department has listed the biographies of 76 of the Jewish victims of the World Trade Center attacks. Among them is Joshua Birnbaum, a 24-year old assistant bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald. “Josh’s smile always managed to light up the faces of those with whom he surrounded himself. He had a special charm,” recalls Birnbaum’s best friend, Leehe Matalon.

Twenty-seven-year-old Shari Anne Kandell, a Cantor Fitzgerald employee, was a theater buff who is remembered by her family and friends for her selflessness.

Aaron Jacobs, a vice president at Cantor Fitzgerald, had backpacked through Europe and taught job skills to welfare recipients; at the time of his death, he was planning to marry Jeannine McAteer.

Andrew Kates, age 37, was a marathoner who loved spending time with his wife, Emily Terry, and his three children: Hannah, 5, Lucy, 3, and Henry, 1 — little ones who loved climbing into bed with their parents on Saturday mornings.

Karen Klitzman, 38, had, according to her twin sister Donna, taught English in Macao and China before going to work for Cantor Fitzgerald.  Alan Lederman, 43, once climbed Mount Whitney. He died while trying to help two frightened women to escape the south tower.

Nancy Morgenstern, 32, was an Orthodox Jew who brought kosher food along on cycling trips. A colleague described Morgenstern as “one of the most thoughtful, disciplined, funny, crazy, independent women I ever knew.”

Thirty-nine-year-old Michael Rothberg enjoyed skiing, jogging, and boating; he once took part in a bike-a-thon to raise money for a friend who had cancer. Ronald Ruben, a vice president at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, spent his first holiday bonus at a toy store, later delivering the toys to hospitalized children.

Attorney Andrew Zucker, who helped others escape the 78th floor of the south tower, left behind a pregnant wife. Lawrence Polatsch was a colorful character whose friends recall that he crashed the wedding of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas. He was planning his own wedding at the time of his death.

So were Joshua Rosenblum and Gina Hawryluk, colleagues at Cantor Fitzgerald. On September 11, Hawryluk stayed home to complete plans for their September 15 nuptials; Rosenblum went to work as usual. His memorial service took place at Temple Beth El in Cedarhurst, New York.

And the list includes many, many more stories of Jewish victims whose memories are cherished by their families and friends. As Matthias Kuntzel notes in the Weekly Standard, the 9/11 terrorists chose New York City as a target, in part because so many Jews live there. Mohamad Atta, who flew the jet that struck the north tower, “was convinced that the Jews were striving for world domination and considered New York City the Center of world Jewry, which was, in his opinion, Enemy No. 1.” He and his fellow terrorists succeeded in murdering at least 400 of them — which makes it especially ironic that some continue to insist that Israel was responsible for the attacks, and that Jews stayed home that day.

Along with all of the other victims on September 11, the many Jewish victims deserve to be fully recognized, mourned — and remembered.

  Anne Morse is a writer living in Maryland.


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