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Where Were You On September 11?

Where Were You On September 11?


Where were you on September 11, 2001? It is a question we have all asked and been asked. For my parents’ generation, that question was where were they when Kennedy was assassinated. Ours is most definitely the destruction of the Twin Towers.

I was in Jerusalem. My husband and I were directing a post–high school program for young women. Young women from New York. Some of whom had parents, relatives or friends working in the Twin Towers.

We all knew that history had been changed foreverWhen the first plane hit, I was in the park with a friend and my baby. Our students were on a trip to the Western Wall visiting the tunnels. Suddenly a man ran by the playground screaming about the towers. He made no sense, but something worried us enough to pursue it. We walked to a local barber shop, and there it was, on the small television in the corner: New York City.

Shockingly, no one was paying any attention. The music continued to play. The customers continued to gab. And there was the first of the towers with a gaping hole in its side. Before I even realized I had done it, I screamed “Pigua!” which means “terrorist attack!” In Israel that is a word you never want to hear, and when you do, it is serious. Needless to say, everyone quieted immediately.

Prior to my shriek, no one had paid attention, because the news was focusing on the United States. And no one could possibly have imagined that anything of the sort could have happened in New York City! We had all falsely believed that the US was immune. Terrorist attacks were something we in Israel had accepted as reality, but nowhere else.

And then, as we all stood watching the smoke billow out from Tower One, we froze in horror as the second plane plowed into Tower Two, followed by the collapse of the buildings.

And then we all knew that history was changed forever.

Where were you?

I called my husband who was in the center of town and told him to get home . . . immediately! I didn’t want him on the bus or public transportation. I was worried that World War III was about to erupt, and being in Jerusalem, I feared we would be at the center of it all. He came home. So did our students. And then we had to begin explaining.

Miraculously, none of their parents or relatives were in the Towers at the time. But we almost all knew someone who had been there. A friend of a friend, a relative of someone we knew, someone.

The world stopped. The world mourned. Here the greatest superpower had been hit at its core. The tallest buildings in New York City had been toppled. Thousands of innocent lives were instantaneously taken, and hundreds of thousands more forever scarred.

And no one thought it could ever have happened.

We were indestructible and invincible. We were the United States of AmericaPerhaps one of the most difficult realities to accept was our loss of innocence. As a people, as a culture, as individuals. Until September 11, as an American I felt protected, I felt safe, I didn’t question our security. Until September 11, we traveled, worked, ate, played, without the slightest thought or concern of an attack. We were indestructible and invincible. We were the United States of America.

As an Israeli living in Israel, I had accepted the reality of living in fear of terror. As an American, I had not. September 11 made me question my sense of trust and security. It made me question me.

I realized that I was always vulnerable. I just didn’t know it.

When we ask or answer, “Where were you on September 11,” we shouldn't limit the question to our geographical location. Because for all of us, it was so much more than that. Where were you? Where was I? Where were we? And more importantly, where are we?

There is a famous story of the Alter Rebbe, the first rebbe of Chabad, when he was imprisoned in Russia for teaching Judaism. A government official who was well-versed in the Bible and its commentaries approached him to ask a question that he felt the Alter Rebbe could answer for him. The official wanted to know why, in the story of Creation, Adam is asked by G‑d, “Where are you? Ayekah?” G‑d clearly knew where Adam was. And the official wasn’t satisfied with the standard response, that G‑d wanted to give Adam a chance to reveal himself.

“Where are you?” is a question that is constantThe Alter Rebbe responded that ayekah, “where are you?” is a question that is constant. For all time. For all of us. “Where are you?’” explained the rebbe, “is G‑d’s perpetual call to every human being. Where are you in the world? What have you accomplished? You have been allotted a certain number of days, hours and minutes in which to fulfill your mission in life. You have lived so many years and so many days—Rabbi Schneur Zalman spelled out the exact age of the minister. Where are you? What have you attained?”

This September 11, let’s not only ask ourselves, “Where were you when it happened?” But let’s reflect on where we really were, and where are we now? Have we changed, have we developed? Have we grown? Have we accomplished? Where are we in our mind, our heart, our spirit, our state of being?

And perhaps there is an even more important question to ask: Where do we want to be? And then let’s commemorate our devastating loss by doing all we can to get there.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Yossi Pantin - France September 23, 2015

I was flying from Milan to Casablanca, when I arrived my colleagues informed me about, I called some relatives leaving in NYC, and went to the hotel and fixed myself to the tv following this terrible event. I could not believe and thought to the innocent victims but I admit that I felt,for the first time in my life, to hate those killers and their religion. Reply

Deborah Revell Freeport September 16, 2015

I was in Montana, I woke up and booted up my computer for the day the first thing I saw was one building on fire. I thought it was an traylor for a new movie at first then I turned the volume up. The plain hit the second building and I was fixed to the TV for the rest of the day. I remember a lot from those minutes, especially when the news anchor said there were Muslims on their roofs cheering. My first thoughts of course were for the victims and their families for the rescue workers, but what I thought of those who cheered, they were pure hateful evil dark lost people. Reply

Wilbur Dukes jax. fla September 11, 2015

911 I was in knoxville tn. working and hearing the radio. boss come out and told me to get back too work and told him we were under attack and that people were scared and I was worried bout my kids. he didnt care and I was goin to get my kidsm he said no!. I told him well ill just quit
he said I couldnt quit, well just stand there and watch me! he did!!!!!!! we were a couple miles from where the us built the nuke bombs it droped on japan and people were freaking out!!!! ill never forget it. Reply

Claudia Oliveira de Deus Brazil October 2, 2014

I had plans to be there on that morning as soon as open its doors for visits. But Adonai , because his mercy, made me change my plans and I did not go there. Praise to the Lord. Reply

Sam Leon Dumfries October 1, 2014

I was five or six at the time (I'm 18 now). I went to a nonreligious elementary school called Swans Creek at the time, and it was naptime in Mrs. Rapee's (Rah-pay) kindergarten class. The other kids were all conked out like lights, but I sensed that something was happening, so naturally, I couldn't get to sleep. Three or four other kindergarten teachers from that hallway had come into our room, and one of them wheeled in the TV set we all shared. Someone turned on the news and we saw what had happened. I remember...feeling my sense of safety shatter within me. My thoughts immediately turned to my mom, who worked in the Pentagon at the time. As if she was reading my mind, Mom came bursting into the room and I remember just turning to her, tears in my eyes, and saying in my five-year-old voice, "I wanna go home, Mommy." I was later told that no one could watch a news recap of the events with me in the room, as I thought it was happening all over again and started screaming out of terror. Reply

Yochana Texas September 11, 2013

I was at home in Texas A friend called me told me turned on the news, there's been an attack on the WTC in New York. Being a native New Yorker and having family living there and working near the towers, I immediately tried to call to check on family. It would take hours and hours before I could get across. When I did they got out ok, but saddened that other co-workers did not. I believed I cried for days, but knew that NYC would never be the same. Reply

judi BALTIMORE September 11, 2013

I was sitting in Baltimore waiting to hear if I still had children that were alive. My son was in the second tower on the 67th floor and my daughter was running around barefoot trying to find him. September 11 is my birthday and I received the greatest present that anyone could get. I got my children back safe and sound. My son said that he kept saying as he was ascending the stairs;"I can't die today; I have to get out. It is Mommie's birthday"!
Every year on this day, my birthday, I thank god that those above where watching over my children AND GAVE THEM BACK TO ME. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma September 11, 2013

I was working in a mental health clinic in Lowell. I was on the phone trying to encourage a man to join a group I planned to run at the clinic, who had psychiatric issues. He stopped and told me about the plane and the World Trade Center, and I thought, this man is totally psychotic, and then he talked about the Pentagon, and I found a way to politely exit the conversation, then went into the hallway, and everyone was talking about this. So I called him back to apologize, for getting off so fast. That day the patients huddled around the television in the Day Room, and they were terrified, of bombs dropping on Lowell, that is could be, the end of the world. I was scared, not having the details of what was happening, and petitioned to leave early on behalf of all staff. It was very hard, to convince the woman running the Clinic that there were powerful reasons to let us go early, as in relatives, who might be affected.

For me, it's true, the world has never been the same. Reply

Arlen Mesa AZ September 11, 2013

Where was I? I was in the US Army and taught Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey CA. I was stationed at the institute from 1998 to 2004. I watched the planes crash into the World Trade Centers in my class and told them that is why we're here. Reply

Anonymous waterford, Ire September 19, 2011

Where were you 9/11 I was on my third day of holiday in the Burren, Co. Clare. I had visited the Twin Towers twelve years prior, and had exited the lift and stood at the exact spot where the first plane hit. Reply

Anonymous montreal, canada via September 16, 2011

911 My daughter just started daycare. As i walked in the house from dropping her off the phone rings. One of my friends tells me to turn on the TV I asked her why? what's going on ? just do it she says. As I turn it on the shock and horror I felt watching what had just happened was unreal at first I thought I was watching a clip to a movie or something until minutes later I see the second tower go down. Reply

Cathryn Brisbane, QLD, Australia via September 15, 2011

Where I was I was in Brisbane, Australia, at home. It was about 10.45pm on the night of September 11 in Australia and I was watching the late-night news with my sister. It showed that a plane had hit the first tower, and we were like, "What are the chances of a plane crashing so precisely into a building?". After an ad break, the news showed that a second plane had hit the other tower. That's when they said it was terrorism, but we were still like, "Why would the pilots crash into buildings?". It didn't occur to us that terrorists would learn to fly planes and take over the cockpit! Then a little later, we saw footage of smoke coming from a building, and we were like, "That's not New York". It was the Pentagon. At that point, we got our parents out of bed so they could see what was happening! I ended up going to bed about 2am that night/morning. I was walking through Brisbane CBD on the 12th, and planes were flying overhead, and EVERYONE was looking up. We'd lost our innocence. Reply

rhona corinne friedland north miami beach, florida/usa via September 13, 2011

where i was in 1994 i relocated from brooklyn to florida to be near my parents and get out of the frozen nyc winters with three young children. i was heartbroken leaving brooklyn, as i lived there all my life. i also worked in manhattan from l976 up until l990, mainly as a temporary secretary and office worker in the world trade center.

we moved to florida after my third child was born. if i had stayed in brooklyn, there would have been a very big chance that i was back working as a temp secretary in the world trade center by 2001, which was my favorite place to work. i worked for olsten temp agency and they mainly had contracts in the world trade center and wall street. i worked in over 50 offices throughout the wtc for almost 15 years (1976 - 1990). ten years later i still mourn the wonderful people i worked with in the wtc throughout those years. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma September 13, 2011

the world will never be the same again This is what I said, as I drove home, not knowing whether people I knew had been trapped and perished. And it seemed our world was suddenly filled with vulnerability, like never before.

For me, the world has never been the same again, and the news reflects this, as we go around the world, in terms of the terrific shock waves this created.

I had some strange presentiment that something was going to happen that morning en route to work, and I did recall after the event, talking to people in New York who had many such stories. What does THIS mean?

I went to Ground Zero shortly after and I was overwhelmed with the pain, of posters searching for loved ones, poetry on walls of buildings, the dust and devastation. It was choking with such sorrow. I will never forget.

How can we, ever forget? Some events become indelible, as Kennedy's Assassination. We are doomed to remember and perhaps all we can do is love, support, care for each other, and by realizing life's fragility: give love. Reply

Claudia Oliveira de Deus Belo Horizonte, Brazil September 13, 2011

where were you on september 11? I was supposed to be in the towers, but thank God I didn´t go to NYC, and ended up being at a friend´s house. Reply

Allison Bresin Glendale September 12, 2011

full circle When the twin towers hit I was in my house. My mother told me what had happened but being tha tI lived in Arizona, far away, I didn't understand until I watched it on the news. I was so disconnected from new york and these two structures. I had never been to this place and I had never seen this building, but somehow I still felt like I had lost something. That day I went to school ( I was in 8th grade) and I remember most being in my band class and sitting with my peers. We were shocked, upset, and emotional. Together we sat watching this atrocious historical event.
Today I am a high school teacher. My students can barely tell me what a noun is but every single one of them knows about September 11th. This horrible part of our past has united and educated us about humanity in a way that grammar never can/will. I feel blessed to have my freedom and my classroom because of the people who live their lives defending this country. Reply

Yossi Mondelli Rome, Italy September 12, 2011

Where were you on 11 Sep. I was working for an airline and flying from Milan to Casablanca. When I landed, my colleagues informed me about the disaster;
My first reaction was of astonishment because I could not believe such murderer should exist, I thought and still convinced that governments should get tough without mercy in fighting terrorism; I cannot accept that some terrorists, from Guantamano, were sent to their original country in Europe, or when Israel answer some " human associations " have the courage to protest.
The question is " What governments are really doing against terrorism ?" I think that apart careful airports checks, which is useful of course, nothing more is done; it's proved by the fact that 10 years were necessary to get a guy called bin laden, I assume that he probably had something to do with the event. Reply

Mustapha Kaduna, Nigeria. September 12, 2011

Watching the television I was by my television screen when I saw a plane approaching the tower. I was stunned saying: O Allah, O Allah O Allah! What is wrong that the pilot has lot control of his plane? I am still puzzled by the 9/11 incident and find it difficult to believe that a human being can behave as such. The sad thing is, the world has failed after ten years to find a lasting solution to 9/11. I do not know the reaction of our forefathers Abraham, Ishmael, Issac and Jacob. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell River, CA September 12, 2011

Here in Riverside, Chabad sent me... A message. (Along with others who go to this one). It said that there was a memorial gathering to commemorate 9-11 in downtown Riverside, but I was too crushed emotionally to even leave my apartment. I'm still choked up. Reply

Jay Tompkins Fulton September 11, 2011

9/11 Back in 2001 i was just driving to work. I thought it was some pilot errir. Reply

Years later, we look back at the 9/11 terror attacks and ask what we have learned as Jews, as Americans and as people.