One of the towers had collapsed, though we didn’t know that. We lingered in the basement of the building as more refugees arrived. They were all covered with unearthly white soot, ashes of the burning building.
After a lull it seemed prudent to leave and we made our way across the street.
We stopped at a green-grocer where I had bought my lunch a thousand times but they wouldn’t let us in.
The building next door, fancifully named the Regatta, was kinder. They ushered us in and offered us water and comforted us as we waited – for what, we weren’t sure. Eventually, police officers showed up and led us to a boat docked nearby that would lead us to safety inNew Jersey. As I walked to the boat, I remember thinking: “It has happened again.”
I was thinking back to that long-ago day in the 1960s when as Jewish refugees fromEgypt, my family and I had also been forced to flee, boarding a boat that took us fromAlexandriato safety abroad.
As we drove down Route 27 that October morning, we saw a sign for “Pumpkintown.” We stopped the car and wandered into a painfully jolly scene – pumpkins everywhere for sale, children playing amid haystacks.
My husband bought me a roasted corn which I munched on as we walked the grounds, amazed that such prettiness still existed on this earth.
* * * *
Room 119 of the Sag Harbor Inn seemed as good a place as any to set up my new office.
We all but moved in. My husband, a reporter for The Daily News, still had to work out of his newsroom Monday to Friday, but we lingered on weekends, leaving early Monday morning for the city.
When we’d return Friday nights, I always requested Room 119.
A friend pointed out that 119 was 9/11 backwards.
There was a dreamlike quality to that period. I would venture out to our balcony and stare at the water, then come back inside and work on a story.
I reported a Page 1 piece about a woman mail carrier whose route for years had been theWorldTradeCentertowers. Her name was Emma Thornton, and I’d found her toiling away in the main Post Office, sorting mail addressed to people in WTC offices – many of who were probably dead. She was trying to remain upbeat – to do her job.
That fall and winter,New Yorkwas still angst-ridden. Still, in my retreat in Room 119, I began to feel that maybe the terrorists wouldn’t find me, that I had discovered a safe-haven.
* * * *
Come Spring, we had settled into a routine, racing every weekend fromManhattantoSag Harbor.
ThoughNew York Cityhad stabilized somewhat, I had friends who had simply packed up and moved, relocating toLong IslandorNew Jersey.
I envied them – they weren’t taking any chances.
Passover was around the corner, and the prospect of staying inManhattanfor the holiday filled me with dread. While I was observant, I hadn’t found my ideal “shul” in theHamptons.
I had heard of an Orthodox synagogue inSouthampton. I called the Rabbi, Rafael Konikov, and asked if I could join his congregation. On Saturday morning, I made my way to a house tucked behind hedgerows – Chabad of Southampton Jewish Center. It had no sign, no identifying emblem, so I found myself wondering if it really was a synagogue.
Pushing the door open, I wandered into an airy room divided into two seating areas, one for men and one for women in accordance with tradition. Potted plants served as a divider.
The rabbi smiled at me: I had come in time for the Torah reading from the Five Books of Moses, to be followed by a special Haftarah, a section recited after the weekly portion.
This week, he announced, we would be retracing the prophet Ezekiel’s journey to theValleyofDry Bones. I followed in English as the Rabbi read from the Hebrew text the eerie story of Ezekiel coming across a desolate area filled with skeletal remains and watching amazed as one by one the bones stood up and began to move, filled with life again.
I felt myself shivering. It was as if I were reading not some ancient Biblical text but my own story of the last several months.