Stuart Hoffman was at an economics conference in the Marriott World Trade Center, next to the Twin Towers, on Sept. 11, 2001, when the planes hit and the buildings burst into flames.
The chief economist of PNC Financial Services Group Inc. was able to escape from the al-Qaida terrorist attack unharmed, but the memory of being at ground Zero on that tragic day remains.
He happened to be awake Sunday night when the news broke of Osama bin Laden’s assassination.
“It brought back a lot of memories,” Hoffman said. “My first thought was of the 3,000 fellow Americans who lost their lives that day, and their families. I hope there was some feeling — if not of closure — then of peace, that would come to them.”
“As our president said, justice has been done,” Hoffman continued. “And with the 10th anniversary of the attack coming up, it will be better to reflect, now that the mastermind has been put where he belongs: out of our misery.”
Many other Jewish Pittsburghers were reflecting on Sunday’s attack on the bin Laden compound, and how Jews ought to respond.
Some took a moment to respond pragmatically. Jeffrey Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said he reminded the community’s organizations Monday to remain vigilant about security following the attack.
“The only thing we did was to remind people to follow their procedures,” he said.
Others reflected on the attack.
Rabbi Yale Butler, of Squirrel Hill, was shopping at a Judaica store in Monsey, N.Y., about 30 miles from the World Trade Center, on 9/11, when he heard about the attack. Shortly thereafter, he saw low-flying military jets overhead.
Another patron entered the store, shell-shocked. He told Butler he would have been in the Twin Towers had he not stopped in the Judaica store to pick up a copy of Rashi’s Torah commentary for his son.
When Butler heard the news of bin Laden’s death, his first thought was a verse from Proverbs, translating to, “When your enemies fall, don’t be so happy,” he said.
“Looking back historically, Jews do celebrate the fact that we were delivered or saved from an enemy,” he said. “But we don’t celebrate the fall of our enemies.”
Butler, though feeling “a certain element of pride in being an American,” is cautious in feeling relief about the death of the mastermind of 9/11.
“It is a muted victory,” he said. “He (bin Laden) is not the inventor of terrorism. This is a limited kind of celebration. It’s another enemy we had to take care of. I don’t know what the retaliation is going to be. No matter how impressive our victory is, this is by no means over. Let’s hope and pray that things turn out well.”
Processing the killing of bin Laden is a “tough pull between our emotions and our beliefs,” according to Rabbi Scott Aaron, community scholar for the Agency for Jewish Learning.
“Emotionally we may want to ‘celebrate his death’ but intellectually, celebration is not an appropriate Jewish response to anyone’s death, no matter how hated they were,” Aaron wrote in an e-mail to the Chronicle. “This is because G-d is the ultimate judge of life and death, and our texts are full of quotes admonishing us for being presumptuous by celebrating those actual decisions. Even in the case of Purim, we celebrate the miracle of salvation rather than the actual death of Haman and his sons.”
Still, there are Jews who did celebrate Sunday’s news.
At Monday’s Yom Hashoa service at the Jewish Community Center, no mention was made of the attack. But Rabbi Eli Seidman walked into Levinson Hall proudly sporting a red, white and blue necktie.
“I personally am jubilant and joyful,” he said, not because of a loss of life, but because of something more spiritual — realization of faith.
“We always say God will destroy evil,” Seidman said. “Then, when we see it happen, it reinfoirces our faith; it’s all going to work out.”
Aaron believes people should be grateful to God for those who risked their lives to pursue bin Laden, and who “brought him to justice under law.”
“We also should be thankful that they were not harmed themselves in doing so, and we should be thankful for the solace this act of justice gives to the survivors of his terrorist acts and the families of his victims,” Aaron continued. “Justice was pursued and meted out, and that is what we as Jews celebrate rather than his actual death.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)