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Reflecting on unity in Cedarhurst 18 years after 9/11

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“For many in the audience today this gathering is like attending a loved one’s funeral again and I’m sorry for that,” Village of Cedarhurst mayor Benjamin Weinstock said. “But it is our solemn duty as a nation and as a family that is America to be here and to remember at least one day a year that we are eternally grateful to those who showed the world on that day what it means to be an American.”

Exactly 18 years after the 9/11 attacks, Cedarhurst held its annual remembrance ceremony at Andrew J. Parise Cedarhurst Park on Sept. 11. Speakers reflected on the attacks at the World Trade Center that killed 2,997 people. Seven were Five Towns residents: Neil Levin, Thomas E. Jurgens, Joseph Rivelli Jr., Bettina Browne Radburn, Kevin O’Rourke, Howard Selwyn and Ira Zaslow.

From the 9/11 granite markers that line the walkway to the park’s memorial fountain at Cedarhurst Park, village Trustees Ari Brown and Israel Wasser read the day’s happenings from when the Twin Towers were hit to when they collapsed. Each description was punctuated with a single toll of a bell. Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department Chief James McHugh read the names of the residents who died in the attacks. Members of American Legion Lawrence-Cedarhurst Post 339 and the LCFD presented the colors of the flag.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky spoke about the silver lining he remembers in the aftermath of the attacks. “I prefer to focus on the feeling of togetherness and unity Americans displayed that day that still gives me chills when I think about it,” he said. “To know that men and women ran up the stairs into the fire for complete strangers because it was their duty represents the best of who we are as Americans.” 

Kaminsky added that he hopes the unity shown by Americans after the attacks can be displayed in the future. “In the days and months after the attacks, we stood together as one country,” he said. “Grievances and political alliances didn’t matter. All that mattered is that we were all Americans. To get any of that feeling back just for a day would be a herculean and miraculous effort.”  

Town of Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman noted his personal connection with two of the Five Towns residents that died in the attack. Jurgens, a nephew, was a senior court officer for the New York State Office of Court Administration and a volunteer firefighter for the Meadowmere Park Fire Department. Levin was a friend.

“Tommie raced to Tower Two that day to a scene of smoke, debris and bodies flying from the sky,” Blakeman said. “He was assisting a woman in the building’s lobby and he was crushed to death when the building collapsed. We never recovered a body as is the case with 40 percent of the people who perished that day.”

Those who lived through that tragic day — 125 were killed when a plane struck the Pentagon and 40 people died, not including the terrorists, in Shanksville, Pa. as passengers and crew thwarted the terrorists in a plane that was planned to hit the White House — have a responsibility to younger people, Weinstock said.

“We have a solemn obligation to those who died in the attacks to never forget what happened,” he said. “Eighteen years have passed and there is a whole generation that has no personal memory of the events of that day. We also have an obligation to inform them so it becomes a part of their lives.”