9/11 Diary from the OU Archives: The Triumph of the Human Spirit

IT WAS SURELY going to be just another typical Tuesday at the office. I arrived at the OU’s headquarters– located just six blocks south of the World Trade Center – at 8:25 A.M. and found the other early birds at their workstations. I began to settle down, turned on my computer and was reading my email, when someone anxiously hurried into my office saying, “One of the towers is on fire.” I ran across the office to look out the window and saw uncontrollable flames rushing from the tower’s top floors. We did not as yet know of the “first plane,” so I naively asked, “How will the firemen get up there?” When the second plane hit, it felt as if a major earthquake had struck lower Manhattan, but the worst was yet to come. When the first tower disintegrated and collapsed right in front of us, spewing forth billowing thick smoke, we were all overtaken by a sense of fear and catastrophe. “Where should we go? What can we do?” It was not a typical Tuesday; it was 9/11.

Our offices could not be reopened for the next week and a half. There was no electricity, no phone service, no computer capabilities and no fax or email access. From an offsite location, we quickly updated our website and posted emergency contact numbers and information that enabled our companies to receive urgently needed responses. When we finally returned and resumed “normal” activities – even as we smelled and sensed all that was emanating from Ground Zero – a note of optimism and humanity reverberated throughout the OU’s offices. When phone messages could be retrieved, emails opened and mail read, a collective voice of concern came through from hundreds of our certified companies all over the country and all over the world. Companies’ contacts called their rabbis at home, urgently offering loving concern. The countless attempts to reach out to “my favorite rabbi” were repeated in numerous voice mails. “I know, you must be backlogged, but please just let me know that everyone is okay and safe at the OU,” was a refrain that resounded in hundreds of sensitive messages received here.

For this, and for your personal care, concern and outreach, we thank you. Often, we become so involved in our daily routines, that human faces and touches are eclipsed. Indeed, Ground Zero will forever remain ingrained in history’s personal and collective psyche as epitomizing man’s most bestial and diabolical side. For all of us at the OU who were so closely touched and traumatized by the 9/11 events, your concern and good wishes have reaffirmed our faith in the triumph of the human spirit. We join hands with you in praying for the restoration of sanity, peace, security, safety and tranquility for America and all mankind.

by Rabbi Eliyahu Safran
reprinted from the Behind the Union Symbol, Winter 2002