Solemn Torah ceremony recalls day of infamy

Riverdale Jewish Center commissioned an Israeli scribe to create holy scroll


It seemed everyone at Sunday’s Torah dedication for 9/11 victim Andrew Zucker said the same thing: If you knew Andrew, you never forgot him. You either loved him or you hated him, but you never forgot him.

As the Riverdale Jewish Center’s congregation gathered in Seton Park to honor the outspoken young lawyer who perished on that tragic day, it was clear he would never be forgotten. Family and friends commissioned a scribe in Israel to write a Torah scroll in his name, which will be forever housed in the Orthodox synagogue.

“Of all the tributes to Andrew, this  is the tribute he would most have wanted,” said his mother, Sue Zucker, who traveled from Long Island for the ceremony.

From the time he was a little child, she said, he loved the Torah.

“He was a passionate person,” said his sister, Cheryl Shemesh. Surrounded by her three toddlers, Shemesh said she gives tours at the World Trade Center memorial site where “I get to tell Andrew’s story. I get to talk about what kind of person he was, and why he didn’t leave.”

A 27-year-old father with a baby on the way, Zucker started a job at top law firm Harris Beach on Aug. 1, 2001, on the 85th floor of Tower Two. When the planes hit on Sept. 11, he called his wife Erica to say he was OK.

He made it down to the 78th floor, from survivor accounts, then heard that some of his coworkers were trapped. He ran back to rescue them.

Seven of the 12 Harris Beach employees who survived the attacks said Zucker saved them.

Under a white tent in the late-morning sun, some 300 people lined up, children in their arms, to have a hand in the new Torah scroll. A local scribe hired to write the last few lines at the ceremony, chose letters from congregants’ names to darken with his quill pen.

“Mazel tov! Mazel tov! Mazel tov!” he said when the Torah was finished. Joyous music sounded from a saxophone. The 300-strong crowd spilled onto Independence Avenue, dancing and singing with the new scroll up to the synagogue steps.

Inside, Erica Zucker sat far from the pews in a neat white blouse, her reddish hair pulled back in a barrette. She does not grant press interviews, and did not speak at the service. But she sent a representative to the pulpit.


Simple message

Standing at the knees of a family friend who sang at the service, 4-year-old Jason Zucker delivered a simple message to his father’s temple.

“I love you, everyone!” he sang, with a shy smile. Then he ran back to his mother as she wiped away a tear.

To Jews, the Torah is an eternal covenant with God.

As Zucker’s community celebrated his life, people throughout Riverdale forged their own eternal covenants with lost loved ones this week, and with the collective memory of how this city was forever changed on that fateful morning.

From informal gatherings, to art shows, to campus memorial service, many in the community marked the five-year anniversary of Sept. 11 by banding together over something that, like Zucker, they will never forget.

“It’s a sad day that is always going to be fresh in our minds,” said Patty Kellett at a candlelight vigil at Netherland Gardens on Monday. Her husband, Joseph, was a commodities trader with Carr Futures when he was killed in the attacks.

He was 37.

Standing outside the complex with her two daughters, 9 and 10, she remembered lighting candles on the same spot five years ago, praying with her neighbors while she waited to hear of her husband’s fate.

She shared a hug with her friend Anne McGinn, who lost her husband, firefighter Bill McGinn. The two said life goes on through their children, who have become friends.


Somber serenade

Some 150 people held candles in the cool night air, and sang along quietly to “Amazing Grace” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” with singer and guitarist Maura Fogerty. Councilman Oliver Koppell and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz spoke to the crowd, and local priests led gatherers in prayer.

At Lehman College, students and faculty gathered on the path where the school’s 9/11 memorial sits. A faculty member played “Taps” on the trumpet, and Lehman president Ricardo Fernandez memorialized the three alumni and one student who died in the attacks.

The ceremony included the tolling of a historic bell from the USS Columbia, presented by the U.S. Navy to acknowledge the role of the campus during World War II, when it was a training station for WAVES — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.

At 8:46 a.m., staff members at the College of Mount Saint Vincent tolled its bell to mark the time of the first plane’s crash, and rang it again at 10:28 — the time the second tower collapsed. Later that day, all of them read the names of 9/11 victims, while some read poetry that related to the day.

Students wrote messages on a banner that was hung at Ground Zero later that evening.


Artistic tribute

Several local artists commemorated the day through their work. The Bronx Artists Collaborative exhibits visual art and hosted 10-minute open-mic performances at the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, where Riverdale poet and songwriter Jann Klose performed some tunes.

Riverdale artist William Bird unveiled a painting that firefighters at Engine 26 in Manhattan commissioned him to create for their firehouse memorial, which includes a portrait of fallen firefighter Paul Tegtmeier. He was originally assigned to Ladder 46 in Kingsbridge, but called to work with another company that day.

“As an artist, a New Yorker and a human being,” Bird said, being commissioned for the painting was “one of the most intense and amazing experiences of my life.”

Originally published Sept. 14, 2006