Across the Sept. 11 Divide

'New York Is Part of Us'

Empire State Building New York
A father and daughter contemplate a painting of the pre-9/11 New York skyline in a Tel Aviv square on the first anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center (Photo: AFP)

The marking point in time, a year, doesn’t leave much choice: It’s hard, almost impossible to overcome the instinct that we have to review and draw conclusions, to search where we came from and where we are heading.

Our lives were supposed to change forever after that day, and indeed they did change, if not necessarily in a way that the experts predicted.

Those of us [Israelis] who live in New York can attest that the city is not the same as it was before Sept. 11. The state of the economy is bad, the mood is a bit grim, and it’s difficult to escape the feeling that the occurrence of another major attack is just a matter of time. And yet, the feeling of personal security hasn’t really suffered. We are not suspicious of every passerby who speaks Arabic; we haven’t armed ourselves. We continue to live our lives in the city that we love.

Our camaraderie and patriotic attitude did not evaporate along with the smoke. As true New Yorkers, we continue to be pushy, to protect our place at the front of the line, to nag the waitress when our soup hasn’t arrived. We haven’t lost our sense of cynicism and self-irony. We don’t feel that postmodernism has died, we don’t change the channel when “Sex and the City” comes on TV. We still plan our future, talk to our parents back home, and go to work each morning.

So what did change? We can say that we have adopted a certain level of modesty. New York doesn’t seem to us like a place on a different planet anymore, light-years away from Tel Aviv. We understand now more than ever that home is a spiritual haven, a state of mind, a gut feeling, not simply a temporary apartment lease. Sept. 11 has shown us that we truly don’t know what tomorrow will bring. What we have is here and now.

On every “Oprah Winfrey Show,” someone can get up and say that we must live each day as if it were our last, that we must make the best of it. To our trained ears, it sounds like a typical American cliché, but it’s also a sort of universal truth that was known to everyone else but us.

What else has happened? We cling to our place of work. The economic state is as difficult here as there [in Israel]. For us, there is always a place to escape to, but now we have to stay put, not move around too much. We try to put some money aside, to speak politely to our neighbors, to say hello to the police officer who is patrolling the block. Who knows, maybe sometime in the future it will benefit us, like a savings account we forgot existed.

Just like 8 million other people, we love New York. We always dreamed of being here and it’s hard to forget that exciting feeling we experienced that day we first saw the skyline of the city from a cab we took from the airport. We have invested a good chunk of our money in this city, part of our souls, all of the survival skills that we learned at basic training in the army.

New York is ours. It is a part of us. No one will take it away from us. Its landscape is embedded in us. Even if we don’t remember the last time we ventured further uptown than 23rd Street.

Whoever passes Ground Zero now sees a huge circular void in the rocky terrain. On the ground, where two World Trade Towers once stood, on the most expensive and famous chunk of real estate in the world, there is a gigantic black hole. The policemen, the firemen, and the emergency rescue units are long gone, and with them the tourists, and the politicians who took guided tours.

What remains is a black hole filled with some heavy equipment and millions of pieces of DNA from people like us, who came to the office in the morning and didn’t return home at night.

When walking uptown away from the site, it’s hard to overcome the urge to turn our heads back. But every time we look back, we rediscover that something familiar, grand, and breathtaking is gone.