Firefighters of New York 9/11

Remembering Nine Eleven
Thirty Six Stories

Abbaye said, “there is not less than thirty six righteous persons in each
generation who receive the
Shekhinah [the inner presence of Godliness].”
— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

In every generation, there are a finite number of stories that authenticate, define
the generation. In every event of significance, every catastrophe, every jubilation,
there are a certain number of stories — thirty six, thirty, one, ten thousand, thirty
six stories — that define the catastrophe.

The defining story for me of 9/11 is the story of the fire fighters of New York
City, and a particular account of those fire fighters given by a Board member of
the Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Vena Drennan (sp?). Her husband Capt. John
Drennan was killed on the job in 1994.

She was interviewed by Noah Adams on All Things Considered, this is what I
heard listening to it on the radio (pardon mistakes, I transcribed it myself):

Mrs. Drennan: We went down to the firehouse which is below Fourteenth Street.
I went to the wake of one of the firefighters. They have a sense of optimism.
They had decided to pray to my husband who they feel still watches over them.
And they said, Capt. Drennan — show us where the eleven [missing] members
are. And one young one said, I knew just where to put my shovel. Ladder Five is
so comforted that they were able to find five of their own and return their bodies
to their families and honor their deaths in a proper and magnificent funeral.

ATC: Mrs. Drennan — are you saying that those on the scene believed that the
spirit of your late husband helped them to find those who were fallen?

Mrs. Drennan: Yes, you lose your religion after a large crisis but you sure get a
spirituality about it.

ATC: There’s a photograph of something you don’t often see in the magazines in
the recent US News and World Report, of firemen carrying a dead man, the
Reverend Mychal Judge fire department chaplain you know him, sixty eight
years old . . .

Mrs. Drennan: He was one of my best friends . . .

ATC: As you know he was administering last rites and was killed by falling

Then she told the story of Mychal Judge and how he had comforted her after the
death of her husband, and how he had remembered her on her anniversary
every year thereafter.

Mrs. Drennan: When he prayed, it was the most blessed thing,
you felt that his prayers were a direct hotline to God.

ATC: He was a Franciscan priest.

Mrs. Drennan: Mychal was administering last rites to a firefighter that had just
been hit by a body of a woman. People were falling out of those towers so they
wouldn’t burn.
In the midst of this here he is kneeling and giving last rites. The firefighters when
they realized he had perished they carried him up to St. Peters church and they
laid out his body on the altar and they put his rosaries in his hand and they
pinned on his fire department badge and they prayed over him. Later that night
they wouldn’t let his body go to the morgue.

They brought him to their firehouse and they laid him in the back room and the
friars across the street of St. Francis of Assisi came and they lit candles and said a

He was beloved by every firefighter in the city and the fire department will
grieve many many years for the loss of his beautiful life.

There are a number of stories that define an event — thirty six, thirty, maybe one,
ten thousand — and one of them, one of those stories, may be the one that saves

This is the story that is saving me.


Lament for 9/11

Three Songs One Verse

All of them are songs from Lamentations 2:19, but one starts with the beginning of the verse, the other picks up the sentiment at the zakeif (trope, pause), the third continues after the et-nach-ta (the resting place).

ק֣וּמִי | רֹ֣נִּי בַלַּ֗יְלָ [בַלַּ֗יְלָה] לְרֹאשׁ֙ אַשְׁמֻר֔וֹת
שִׁפְכִ֤י כַמַּ֨יִם֙ לִבֵּ֔ךְ נֹ֖כַח פְּנֵ֣י אֲדֹנָ֑י
שְׂאִ֧י אֵלָ֣יו כַּפַּ֗יִךְ עַל־נֶ֨פֶשׁ֙ עוֹלָלַ֔יִךְ
הָעֲטוּפִ֥ים בְּרָעָ֖ב בְּרֹ֥אשׁ כָּל־חוּצוֹת

The first part:

Kumi Roni ba-lai-lah
L’rosh ash-mu-rot

Arise, sing in the night
At the beginning of the watches,

The second part of the verse:

Shif-khi kha-mayim li-beikh
No-khach p’nei Hashem

Pour out your heart like water
Before the face of G*d

We sing the first song, because to start at zakeif might be false:
To Pour out your heart like water
But not before you get up and split the darkness with your song.

Let’s sing the next version:

The second version picks it up at the zakeif and begins with:

Shif-khi kha-mayim li-beikh
No-khach p’nei Hashem

What’s the difference between the two versions?

The first version takes on the darkness first:
Arise, sing, split the darkness with your song.

The second version moves into the heart of suffering, but let’s assume we’ve pushed through the darkness with our song:

Pour out your heart, like water, before the face of G*d.

One verse, three parts:
Sing, when darkest;
pour out your heart, go to the center with our tears;
lift up your hands for the sake of the children.

What if we added what follows the et-nach-ta [resting place] to the song?

S’i ei-lav ka-pa-yikh
al-nefesh ‘o-la-la-yikh
ha-a-tu-fim v’ra-av
b’rosh kol-chu-tzot.

Lift up your hands toward G*d
For the soul of your young children
Who faint from hunger
On the top of every street.

It’s not far away, about them – the response is here, at the top of every street. We might have been preoccupied with the empty geography of ground zero, or pursued enemies half way around the world but our attention is directed here — the souls of our young children starving from hunger at the top of every street.

That part we haven’t written yet.

jsg, usa

Into the Ascent I Honor my Teachers

Into the Ascent now
I honor my teachers

Remembering Dr. Reines

He sat on a stool in his refuge,
fourth floor, wearing a lumberjack shirt,
he looked like a repairman,
taking break, lunchtime.
The owl-eyed Reines behind thick lenses at his table,
Mrs. Finkelstein behind her desk,

“All you rabbis are !@#$%” Reines said.
He said it again,
shook his head and stared at his feet.
Boots, large proletarian boots.
When we worked him up
he began to foam at the edges of his mouth
his voice squeaking registers.

“Maimonides saw clearly the relationship
between epistemology and religion,” Reines said.
“The Pentateuch did also.
Nobody around here did –
until Reines.”

“Does the moral right exist
for one entity to exercise authority
over another entity?”
Reines, voice rising.

“You are your own authority.
Sit down right here,
have a cup of structured freedom.”

“What’s this?”
He picked up a journal from the College.
“A fetus that has never achieved peoplehood.”

“Where is your altar?”
we used to ask.
“Surely you have a hidden altar
somewhere in your basement
where you make sacrifices
to the mystic gods you worship.
Who are your gods?”

“Hume, Kant, the secret Maimonides. Descartes.
Pour me a cup of coffee.
Before you leave, take my book.
Face your finitude.
Read it and tell me:
How is polydox religion
a response to Hume and Kant?”

“How do you feel?” Reines asked when I was sick.
“I don’t know.”
“Not knowing is a threat to the soterial state,”
said Reines, on his roost,
behind the table
where he sat.

jsg, usa