Having just finished davening Shacharis because President Bush's visit to the firehouse in the Lower East Side blocked my access to shul, I decided to write about how 9/11 affected me.
Just like this morning, I went to a later minyan that bright sunny morning. At about 9:10 I was finishing davening when my chavrusa came into the shul/beis medrash and informed that that two planes hit the two towers. I thought that was pretty scary and figured the crashes might have been intentional, but I did not understand the magnitude of the collisions. I imagined two single engine jets bouncing off the side of the buildings, with only minor casualties.
I came upstairs and went into Morg Lounge (a lounge in one of YU's dorms) and saw the two towers burning. Even then I didn't quite comprehend what was going on. Yeah I understood people probably died, but it didn't really hit me that the people above the crash sites probably were going to die. And of course I never dreamed the towers would collapse. The Twin Towers were designed to withstand all types of elements, including a plane crash.
I watched a little and then went to learn. I couldn't really concentrate so I went back up to watch. The process repeated itself a few times, until my roommate came down and told me one of the towers fell. That shocked me.
I grew up almost idolizing the Towers. They were a symbol of strength, a symbol of New York and by extension America. Bring down the Towers represented bringing down New York. I had great pride in New York and despite its myriad flaws, New York was my city and the America was my country.
Never before had I experienced an attack on my country. Sure I considered Israel my country as well and I intellectually understood that Israel was constantly under attack from terror. I had seen pictures of the Sbarro bombing (a place I frequented during my two year tenure in Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem), and I had experienced terror attacks in Jerusalem when I was there, but nothing compared to attacking a symbol of the country I grew up in.
By the time I made it upstairs the second tower had fell. Frankly I don't remember what happened after that. I do remember going to shiur and having no idea what was going on. I've spaced out and slept through shiurs, but I've never sat somewhere in shock for almost two hours having no idea what was going on. The day's events almost seemed surreal.
As I walked back from my failed attempt to go to shul today I thought about how my minor inconvenience paled in comparison to the horrible experiences the victims and survivors faced. As I stood by a barricade waiting to pass, I listened to my fellow citizens complain about being delayed a few minutes. I can't judge people without being in their place, but I think it's not the end of the world if someone comes fifteen minutes late to work.
Movies like United 93 and World Trade Center remind us how terrible the morning of September 11, 2001 really was. The minor inconveniences, such as having to wait a few minutes, or even the major sacrifices, whether by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, or by ordinary citizens through the minimization of their liberty are just small prices we have to pay in memory on the 9/11 victims and to ensure that something like that never happens again.
NOTE: I am not taking a position on whether the war in Iraq makes us safer or is part of the war on terror. I am also not arguing that the NSA wiretapping program or secret prisons are a good idea. What I'm saying is that as we remember the horrible events of 9/11 we need to understand that some sacrifices are necessary to protect our freedom. The thing about freedom is that it is never free.