Heshey Jacob, a member of the executive board of the Hatzolah ambulance service, was about to leave his home on the Lower East Side for morning prayer services 13 years ago today — a day seared in his memory — when a call came in.
“A plane just went into the World Trade Center,” Jacob’s son told him.
“I thought it was a small plane.”
Within minutes, Jacob, who works as manager of East River Housing, was on his way to Lower Manhattan in a Hatzolah ambulance.
He spent the day there, till midnight, with only a break in early afternoon to take a man who had heart attack symptoms to Beth Israel Medical Center uptown, and to clean out his ambulance, which became filled with dust and debris when one of the Twin Towers collapsed.
“Time stopped moving,” Jacob, who doesn’t often speak of the 9/11 experiences, told The Jewish Week.
He was among more than 180 Hatzolah volunteers, all from the boroughs of New York City, who worked that day at what came to be known as Ground Zero.
Jacob saw people running in terror from the burning buildings. He treated injured people. “Cuts and bruises. Wounds, glass cuts. Some minor injuries.” He saw people jumping to their deaths. “That was the most difficult thing to see.” He witnessed one of the buildings collapse. “You prayed,” he said, “that you wouldn’t be hit with anything large.” He wasn’t; he escaped unscathed.
The other Hatzolah volunteers also emerged without any casualties. “Some broken arms — nothing serious.” Several EMT volunteers from other corps lost their lives that day.
“Tomorrow I’m staying with you,” the chief of one of the EMT corps told a Hatzolah volunteer that day. “God is with you.”
The next day, Jacob went back to Ground Zero, to look for people to help.
“I try not to think of this too often, I try not to talk about it,” Jacob said. “It brings back horror thoughts.”
When he passes the site of the former Twin Towers, after an absence of more than 30 days, he recited a Hebrew blessing, in accordance with Jewish tradition, for a location where God performed a miracle. “God did a nes [miracle], an open miracle for all of us” — for the Hatzolah members who survived their time at Ground Zero.
Jacob said he understands why Holocaust survivors often are reluctant to discuss their wartime experiences, since they tend to be too painful.
This week the Jewish community, along with the rest of the city, paused to remember the losses of Sept. 11, 2001. DOROT, which serves isolated members of the Jewish community, sent 1,000 handmade cards to members of the U.S. Armed Forces Abroad. At SUNY Binghamton, the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life and Hillel sponsored a Mitzvah Marathon Fair, in which thousands of students, faculty and staff participated.
The main commemoration event here took place at the National September 11 Museum at the site of the rebuilt Twin Towers.
Jacob didn’t go.
Invited to such 9/11 memorial events, he said he rarely goes to them. Relatives of men and women who lost their lives at the World Trade Center usually turn out in large numbers for the annual ceremony at the site.
“The families weren’t there,” Jacob said. “I was there.”