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Asking the clergy: What was your most moving Sept. 11 ceremony?

Friends and families gather at Ground Zero to

Friends and families gather at Ground Zero to honor and remember those lost on 9/11. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is being marked with public and religious ceremonies throughout Long Island. This week’s clergy discuss how they have been personally affected by past services commemorating the day.

Arthur Dobrin

Leader Emeritus, Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island

I didn’t know Tim Welty but I knew his parents. They had been on an education safari to Africa that my wife and I led. When Adele [his mother] called, I thought it had something to do with the trip. “No,” she said. But she knew that I was the leader of the Ethical Humanist Society and officiated at funerals and memorials. She asked if I could I do one for her son. He had been killed in the World Trade Center attack. Tim, a hazmat firefighter, had just finished his tour of duty and had returned to the firehouse in Queens. He had gotten out of his gear when the alarm came in. Tim put his equipment back on and rode back to Manhattan. Shortly after he arrived, the second tower collapsed on him. Tim and his family weren’t religious in the usual sense, so the memorial was held in the only facility large enough to accommodate the mourners — a catering hall in Astoria. More than 1,500 people were there: family, friends, police officers, public officials and, of course, firefighters. A brigade from London was present in uniform. The death of a young person is always a tragedy. So many deaths at the hands of terrorists was overwhelming. Officiating at Tim Welty’s funeral, focusing on the horror in the life of one young man, who out of a sense of duty gave his own life, keeps the time alive in me every day. And that’s a good thing.

The Rev. Timothy Lewis

Rector, St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, Bridgehampton

Without any doubt the most moving Sept. 11 service that I have attended was not any of the later, planned events but the impromptu gathering of people on that very day in 2001. It was a picture perfect morning (my day off, and my ninth day — not only in a new parish but in the United States). I learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center upon returning from walking my dogs on the beach, turning on my car radio and hearing the graphic reports. I drove to St. Ann’s Church offices in Bridgehampton. Parish staff and a few others were simply staring into space. It was more than shock — it was a tangible sense of bewilderment, even fear. The question was voiced: “What do we do?” I had no plan. Who does on such a day? I recall saying something like: “Open the church doors; light the lights and the candles. Put the flags out. Ring the bell. Tell people that we are here!” All those things done, I knelt down in the church to pray. I was aware that one or two people started to enter the church. And after about 10 minutes there were possibly a hundred people kneeling with me, mainly in complete silence although sobbing could be heard at times. It was probably the most powerful silence I have ever experienced. I stood up, fumbling the pages of the Book of Common Prayer and read aloud the 23rd Psalm. Then the Litany at the Time of Death, my voice only, without responses. Then the Lord’s Prayer was said by all. And a blessing. Silence returned. And slowly, one by one, the people got up and left. More structured services were to follow, but on that extraordinary morning the church’s doors were simply opened. And so were wounded hearts.

Rabbi Anchelle Perl

Director, Chabad of Mineola

At first glance this question is unfair, for each of the 9/11 gatherings I have participated in or attended have left me in tears. Sometimes it was the inspiration from the recollections of a survivor, or the eyewitness report of a first-responder, or the words of encouragement read aloud by the President of the United States. Each brought forth in me the most moving attributes of either courage, resilience or hope in the United States. However, last year was different for me. Reason: It came on the heels of my first in-depth visit to Ground Zero, where I spent hours reading the names of every person who died in the terrorist attacks, inscribed in bronze around the twin memorial pools. To be at the original footprint of the Twin Towers has left an indelible impact on my life. I stood at the Callery pear tree, known as the “Survivor Tree” for enduring the terror attack. I could see its new smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and present, and a living reminder of survival and rebirth. This visit made last year’s participation at the Sept. 11 memorial the most moving so far. Sure I was standing at attention on Long Island during the national anthem, but my heart wasn’t there. I was grieving in New York City, with the holy souls at Ground Zero. Today we’ve grown stronger together.


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