Terror Strikes Home

September 11, 2001
LOS ANGELES – Word of the terrorist attacks reached Angelenoswhen they turned on their radios at breakfast time and theJewish community immediately went on heightened alert.

The Jewish Federation building, the nerve center of theJewish community, was partially staffed by senior personnel, whileits agencies serving school children, the elderly and synagogueswere fully operational, said John Fishel, president of the JewishFederation.

Since three of the suicide planes were headed for LosAngeles, Fishel feared that the impact on the community in lostlives will be severe. However, he assumed that lists of victimswould not be available for another 24 hours. (Phone numbers given out for victim reports on are,for United Airlines, 800-932-8555; for AMERICAN, 800-245-0999.) Nina Lieberman, the executive vice president of Jewish CommunityCenters of Greater Los Angeles reports that doors will remain open atJCCs citywide, providing the routine gamut of early childhood andafter-school services, while coordinating with the Jewish Federationand other agencies on plans for further services and responses to theday’s events. One such option, she says, could, if needed, be to hostblood banks at centers throughout the cities. She says that JewishFamily Services is planning to offer counseling to those who mayrequire it.

Although the centers are on heightened alert, she says,the security precautions put in place after the shootings at theNorth Valley JCC two years ago are considered adequate for thepresent. “This is a profound and terrible tragedy,” she says, “and wehave not yet felt its full impact and ramifications. Obviously wewill make our premises available if the community requires a place toconvene.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, together with its Museum ofTolerance and the adjoining Yeshiva of Los Angeles, was closedas a security precaution.

Offices of the Anti-Defamation League remained open. Itsregional director, David Lehrer, said that his office had checkedlast week with Jewish institutions on points of securityvulnerability, but, “No one could anticipate a tragedy on thisscale.”

The Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills plans to hold a memorialservice after the evening service at 7.30 pm tonight (Tuesday). RabbiRichardCamras reports one member of his congregation has already learned helost a second cousin in the World Trade Center, and anticipates manymore members will, by day’s end, discover they know someone who waskilled. He said “We wanted the congregation to know there would be amemorial because as Jews we respond to pain with prayer and study andcoming together to support each other. We should withhold judgementand calls for revenge. It’s not about those things, but about how welive with pain and the sense of our own vulnerability.”

At the Stephen S. Wise Elementary School, teachers weretold to conduct classes as normally as possible and not to turnon radio or TV sets. However, if a child were to ask about theattacks, teachers were to respond calmly.

At the Temple Beth Am¹s Pressman Academy, older students were informedabout the attack in a special assembly. Teachers and adminstratorsencouraged students to ask questions and speak about their fears. Yuval Rotem, the Israeli consul-general in Los Angeles, saidthat he would need “a new vocabulary to express his feelingsand outrage at this time.”

He compared his emotions to the ones experienced in 1991,at the beginning of the Gulf War, when Israelis heard the firstsirens heralding the impact Scud missiles launched by Iraq. Most Arab-American and Muslim leaders were out of town orunavailable. One veteran spokesman, Don Bustany, termed theattacks “horrendous,” but asked that judgment on thenationalities of the perpetrators be suspended until more definitefacts were available.

Los Angeles Hebrew High School, which operates out of theUniversity of Judaism on Sundays and Agoura Hills on Tuesdayevenings, cancelled the Agoura session. Program Director Bill Cohensaid the decision to close did not stem from concerns for studentsecurity but because he felt students should remain with family “toprocess this historic event psychologically.” He said the schoolwould do its part at some later date to help them process thetragedies on a communal level.

Chabad of Agoura will hold an evening or prayer at it’s CanwoodAvenue premises. Rabby Moshe Bryski told the Journal that theSheriff’s department has already contacted the institution, lettinghim know that it will be affording heightened security for the HighHolidays. “We all come out of a week in which the fingers of theworld, centered in Durban, pointed to Israel as the seat of all humanevil. This occurred while plans were no doubt underway to launch thishorrendous attack upon the U.S. The time may be right,” says Bryski,”for another conference, this time focused on ridding the world ofterrorism.”

Temple Etz Hayim of Thousand Oaks will hold a memorial unitymeeting tomorrow night at 8 pm. At least one congregant reportshaving lost a friend en route for a visit from Boston. Preschool thismorning continued uninterrupted but temple officials have receivedcalls from concerned parents and are contemplating cancellingafter-school Hebrew classes today.

Agoura High School reports nothing amiss. An officer from theSherrif’s office has been assigned to the campus at least for theday. Deputy Principal Brad Benioff says school and peer counselorsare standing at the ready to assist any students requiringassistance. Only a few parents so far, he say, have pulled studentsfrom class.

The Agoura Hills Jewish Community Center, in effect a day carecenter, remains open but its director declined to discuss mattersfurther.