By: Shmuli Singer and Kevin Cyrulnik  | 

From the Commie Archives (September 12, 2001; Volume 67, Issue 2) — “Shocked Students Respond to Devastation”

Editor’s Note: Given that the nation is commemorating the 22nd anniversary of 9/11, and since only a small proportion of the student body was even alive at the time, The Commentator thought it prudent to reprint how 9/11 was experienced on campus, right here in Manhattan, on that dark day.

"I feel like I'm watching a sick movie come to reality," remarked Yeshiva College Sophomore Joey Averbrook. His sentiment summed up the general reaction of Yeshiva's student body to yesterday's horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The disbelief that characterized initial feeling on campus soon shifted to shock, as students congregated in front of the Morgenstern and Rubin lounge televisions, where they watched the tableau of devastation unfold. Intermittent bursts of frenetic campus activity punctuated the day, as students organized tehillim rallies, blood drives and even a kumsitz.

As more students learned of the developing disaster, they trickled into the lounges from their dorm rooms and the beis medrash. More than 150 viewers were present in the Morgenstern lounge when the second of the Twin Towers collapsed to a sick groan from the crowd, which soon broke into a spontaneous emotional recitation of tehillim.

"I didn't see the first tower go, but when I watched the second one implode, everything hit me at once," recalled YC senior Avi Soroka. "When my whole conception of America as the place where this kind of thing just doesn't happen fell apart, I broke down and cried. I'm only happy that I was in YU surrounded by friends, which made it easier."

Mirroring what has taken place in Israel following the terror attacks of the past year, many students all across campus spent Tuesday morning on their cell phones, frenetically calling friends and relatives in the Wall Street area to find out if they were safe.

Some Yeshiva students heard of the worsening situation in the Main Beis Medrash, where Mashgiach Ruchani Rabbi Yosef Blau brought in students from the smaller batei medrash for a 15-minute tehillim session.

"I have never seen the bais medrash this full," remarked YC senior Yair Sturm. "It was packed. At one point, Rabbi Blau had to stop the tehillim to ask the crowd to move further in to make space for the large crowd still outside waiting to get in."

By 10:45, the crowd in the bais medrash had thinned, as many students exited to get more details about the attack. Groups of people wandered around the campus discussing the day's events, while some remained in the lounges numbly watching CNN. Student leaders tried to galvanize the crowd in various ways. Some, like YC senior David Fishman attempted to organize a blood drive, while others planned a massive tehillim and Mincha prayer for the entire university.

The blood drive fizzled, as New York Blood Bank was unable to send a donation staff uptown. Enterprising students, led by Sy Syms Student Council President Mikey Davis, and Syms senior David Ratzker, headed down to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in an attempt to donate blood, but were turned away by the understaffed medical facility.

"We organized 20 people with the universal donor blood type, even though we had over a hundred volunteers," said Davis. "They couldn't handle us, but they told us to come back the next day. A blood drive may come to campus on Thursday."

The tehillim rally, in contrast, was an unqualified success, as the vast majority of uptown students and Roshei Hayeshiva gathered at 2:30 on Danciger Quadrangle to daven. Yeshiva President Rabbi Norman Lamm addressed the crowd, as did Yeshiva College Student Council President Lou Shapp. The crowd soon dispersed, though, and with many Yeshiva College and all Syms classes cancelled, students remained on the pedestrian mall beside an eerily empty Amsterdam Avenue, which had been closed to traffic by New York City police.

With students effectively stuck on campus, Shapp and other student leaders organized an evening hour-long "kumsitz" in the Rubin Lounge, led by Mikey Davis playing the guitar. The crowd sang slow, somber Carlebach and D'veykus tunes appropriate to the day's mood. While Shapp admitted that he could not gauge attendance, since participants continually drifted in and out of the room, Davis characterized the turnout as "a healthy crowd." Organizers also hasted to point out that Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter had made a brief appearance at the kumsitz.

"People couldn't handle watching this stuff on TV all day," said Shapp, explaining the rationale behind the event. "We wanted something that would get their minds off of the tragedy."

Dean of Students David Himber praised the student reactions to the disaster. "Although students felt anxiety about not being able to do more," he commented, "I'm very impressed with our students' demeanor and cooperation. They certainly rose to the occasion."

Some students' anxiety stemmed from more than an inability to help, however. Throughout the day, students criticized the university's relatively tight-lipped policy about class cancellations in Yeshiva College. "I had lots of students asking me about classes on Wednesday," complained one student leader, "and I could not answer them with any definite information other than the vague news written on the notices posted around campus." Other students complained about the lack of readily available constant security information. While disbelief and horror marked the catastrophe's start, confusion seemed to herald its entry into the second day.

Josh Strauss contributed to this article


Photo Caption: The Commentator Archives

Photo Credit: The Commentator