Unlike thousands of World Trade Center workers on Sept. 11, Abe Zelmanowitz had easy access to an escape route from the doomed twin towers.
But the 55-year-old Brooklyn resident, an Orthodox Jew, refused to leave behind a disabled colleague. He remained on the 27th floor of the north tower, even after firefighters reached them, and even after the south tower collapsed.
Now, a Brooklyn yeshiva wants to make sure the Torah values Zelmanowitz embodied are imparted on others.
"The way he died was a sanctification of [God’s] name," said Rabbi Aryeh Zucker of Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael in Marine Park. The 3-year-old yeshiva for young adults, where Zelamanowitz, 55, occasionally davened on Shabbat, recently dedicated a library in his memory. "When I heard about [his death] the first thing that came to my mind was this library."
According to an account pieced together by his family, Zelmanowitz was close friends with a fellow Blue Cross/Blue Shield programmer, Ed Bayea, a quadriplegic who worked on a specially outfitted computer. When the north tower was struck, a health care worker who accompanied Bayea to work, but had been on a higher floor at the time, was overcome by smoke. Zelamanowitz told the nurse to leave the building, promising her he would stay. Bayea was in a wheelchair loaded with heavy equipment, and it is believed they may have descended a few floors with the help of firemen before the tower collapsed.
Neither man’s body has been recovered, although Zelmanowitz’s work ID tag was found in the rubble.
In an address shortly after Sept. 11, President George W. Bush praised Zelmanowitz’s "eloquent act of sacrifice."
But a more lasting tribute takes place every weekday morning at Ohr Yisrael, a short distance from the Flatbush home Zelmanowitz, a bachelor, shared with his brother, Jack, and sister in law, Chavi.
"Every morning they mention my brother’s name before they learn," says Jack Zelmanowitz, who donated Abe’s set of Talmudic tractates, known as a Shas, to the yeshiva, where some 45 young adults study for the rabbinate. "It’s very beautiful."
Rabbi Zucker says he makes a point of teaching his daily Talmud class from the donated tractates.