Rabbi Meir Berger of the New Synagogue in Fort Lee believes the parallels between the tragedies on 9/11 and the Holocaust during World War II are not so different.
After applying to the Port Authority (PA) of New York and New Jersey to receive steel from one of the Twin Towers that fell at the World Trade Center (WTC) after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, the PA obliged Berger based on several common goals: to educate the youth and ensure they never forget 9/11.
A ceremony was held Thursday, attended by Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, Fort Lee Councilwoman Ila Kasofsky and Fort Lee Councilman Harvey Sohmer, a member and former president of the synagogue.
"As a member, we're enthralled with the Port Authority, and we're all intertwined," said Sohmer. "It doesn't necessarily mean we're Jewish, and someone else is Christian. We're all together."
Berger made a reference from the Book of Deuteronomy in the Bible.
“Remember what Malachi did to the women and children on their way out of Egypt,” Berger said. “This [steel] commemorates the lost of 3,000 innocent people.”
As long as the dialogue continues through artifacts such as the 9/11 steel and the Holocaust artifacts in the museum, the spirit of those who lost their lives live on, according to Berger, even if that dialogue produces rage.
“This is the way we identify with that historical moment,” Berger said after the ceremony. “This is what enrages us. And this rage is good for us because we will never let anyone start again.”
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After members of the New Synagogue were invited to receive steel at the PA’s Hangar 17 at John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport on April 4, Ronnie Streichler, the museum curator, developed a design that would create the best possible impact for museum visitors as they traverse the staircase leading up to the Holocaust museum on the second floor.
The six-foot steel section, which was welded to a base, courtesy of TRU MFG Corp in Norwood, and lifted into position by her husband, Alan Streichler, was installed on the staircase because of its high ceiling. The steel was positioned at an angle to give viewers the impression of the towers falling.
"I wanted the height for the majestic-ness,” said Streichler. “I think it is extraordinary.”
Streichler kept the tags and wrapping that came with the steel and she had it encased in a glass frame along with the steel’s identification number, G-0074, which separates it from the thousands of 9/11 artifacts stored at JFK.
Sokolich visited Hangar 17 in 2010 and witnessed the twisted metal, tattered clothing and melted bicycle racks that made up just some of the personal items retrieved from Ground Zero.
After a through interview process, the Borough received several sections of steel that were eventually installed at four fire department houses, police headquarters, the ambulance corps building, and Constitution Park, where a large ceremony was held on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 to unveil a steel girder from the North Tower that stood where the airliner made impact.
“It is testament to the fact that the Port Authority recognizes that this community [Fort Lee] played an integral role on that infamous day and the days that followed,” said Sokolich.
“And to be blessed with these artifacts is a compliment to all the whole community because the Port Authority does not just provide these artifacts to anyone,” Sokolich added. “There’s a vetting process, and they want to make sure everything is done tastefully, respectfully, and that as much attention and care is provided to the display as they are at Ground Zero.”
Baroni, who is responsible for overseeing the re-building of the new WTC, as well as the steel distribution program of 9/11 artifacts throughout the country, reflected on PA employees and police officers who lost their lives and the directive bestowed upon him by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie when he first accepted the position two years ago - to ensure future generations remember 9/11.
“It is so profound to have a piece of World Trade Center steel in a museum of the Holocaust where school kids come to learn about the greatest human tragedy in the history of the world – the Holocaust,” said Baroni, who witnessed the second tower get hit followed shortly by both towers falling, never imagining he would be connected directly to the restoration and educational effort a decade later.
“And to be part of that teaching, it is our responsibility to make sure people always tell the story of the Holocaust and September 11,” Baroni added. “So we were honored to go to [federal] court and get that steel to come to the New Synagogue here in Fort Lee.”
Sixth graders from the Fort Lee School district visited the Holocaust museum earlier in the week and received a preview of the steel before the general public. Berger said children were enthralled with the ability to see and feel a piece of history.
“They touched it and some cried. I touched it and I cried with them,” Berger said. “You can see it with your own eyes, and now we’re going to show it to the world.”
To visit the new 9/11 steel installation, call to make an appointment: 201-947-1555. The New Synagogue Holocaust Museum is located at 1585 Center Avenue, Fort Lee, New Jersey.