The morning was fittingly overcast for the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 as dozens of neighbors, first responders and politicians gathered in Sea Cliff to commemorate the tragic day. More than two decades after the country and the world were stunned by those horrific events, the memory of the day still looms over the people of Long Island, Manhattan and the entire United States of America.
Roughly 50 people stood outside the library and village hall at 8:48 a.m., the exact time the first plane hit the first tower. Firefighters in full uniform accompanied by a fire truck stood at attention as elected officials and religious leaders shared their thoughts and memories of the sudden, unexpected attack on the country.
Standing in front of the clock outside of the Children’s Library, which was installed to commemorate the day, Bruce Kennedy, the village administrator and former mayor, opened the proceedings speaking about the loss of the 2,977 people whose lives were cruelly cut short.
“We gather to honor the innocent lives that were taken, and bring a measure of peace to neighbors and friends,” Kennedy said. He added that they were also there to honor the brave men and women who risked their own lives to try and save others. “And most of all, we gather to assert that innocent citizens did not die in vain; that from the darkness sprang something beautiful, one of our finest hours, a time when we found common purpose.”
Jesse Lebus, the reverend of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Sea Cliff and a member of the Fire Department, reflected on how many people have continued to keep the memory of that day in their hearts. Through monuments and memorials like the clock outside the library, which is set to the exact time and date of the first attack, to stickers that read “Never Forget.”
Lebus emphasized the fact that this and other memorials stand not just in honor of the people whose lives were lost, but of the conspicuous bravery shown on that day, and every day before and since, by those who continue to risk their lives in service of others.
“(These monuments) are in vain however, if they do not also remind us to be grateful, grateful for our lives and the ongoing service of our firefighters and medics,” Lebus said. “These monuments and memorials are in vain if they do not remind us to be humble, that life is short and fragile.”
The voice of Elena Villafane, the mayor of Sea Cliff, was choked with emotion as she addressed the gathered crowd. She spoke about how in that moment, all those years ago, the nation seemed to lose its innocence, and that the reverberations of the attack continue to pain the people of this community and this country after all this time.
“On that day, the very sense of who we are as Americans and New Yorkers was changed to its very core,” Villafane said. “There was before, and now there is after, and after is forever.”
The event closed with a speech by Irwin Huberman, rabbi of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Glen Cove. In addition to leading the crowd in prayer, he spoke of the importance of teaching subsequent generations about the memory of that day, and how people must seek to find compassion and love in the face of hatred and intolerance.
“There’s a Hebrew prayer that says ‘And you shall teach these words to your children, so that the memory never dies,’” Huberman said. “It’s hard to forgive on this day, and that’s up to each one of us according to our capacity to forgive, but we can never, never, never, ever forget.”
During an interview later in that day Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, one of the attendees, spoke about her memories of that day, and how it continues to impact the lives of Americans despite the passage of time. She spoke about how she remembers her children innocently watching the show “Dragon Tales,” and how she and her husband both remember hearing a sound like a tree falling, although no tree had fallen.
“It’s amazing how quickly we’re all brought back to that moment, and we all share this common trauma,” she said. “Like any trauma, I think a lot of us are still reeling from it. You do recover to a certain degree, where you can move forward and function, but as soon as we’re reminded of it those feeling of absolute sadness, fear and shock come back.”
Ed Lieberman, former mayor of Sea Cliff, also spoke later in the day about how the memory of the day is still fresh in his mind. After the ceremony he said he went to the Glen Cove City Court to argue a case, which was where he was when the first attack happened, which brought back a flood of emotion and memory from that day.
“I remember it as clear as the blue sky of that day,” Lieberman said. “Twenty-two years later, it still obviously affects us all.”