Where Were You When The Unthinkable Happened? Assemblyman Cymbrowitz Reflects On That Fateful Day

An emotional Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz speaks at a Holocaust memorial ceremony. Photo by Erica Sherman

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, a second generation Holocaust survivor and an unyielding denouncer of hatred, shared his reflections with us on the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attack that shook our nation and resulted in the greatest single loss of American life in a single day since the Battle of Antietam.

Read his touching words, and his memories of where he was on the day nearly 3,000 innocent New Yorkers died for the crime of showing up to work that day.

Like many of you, I remember [9/11] like it was yesterday and will never forget where I was on that fateful day. I stood at Cunningham Junior High School, giving out palm cards on Primary Day, and like countless New Yorkers, in disbelief at what was happening. As the ash, smoke and debris littered the street, falling from above, a surreal landscape coated lower Manhattan. The confusion, shock and fear were overwhelming and filled the streets. How could this happen to our home?
We lost nearly 3,000 innocent New Yorkers on Sept. 11, 2001, to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. When the towers fell, it shook the ground at our feet.
I’ve always known that New York City first responders are the toughest and finest around, but the courage and dedication that was shown on that day, and for the weeks and months of clean up that followed, proved how brave and selfless our firefighters, police and medical personnel are.
In honor of the victims of 9/11, a memorial has been built where the twin towers once stood. There are two reflecting pools, lined with massive waterfalls and the engraved names of those who were lost on that day, with more than 400 trees set to surround the area. It will make its debut this year, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, opening first to the victims’ families. It will be open to the public the following day, Sept. 12. It will serve as a space for families and friends who lost someone to gather and pay their respect. I encourage all New Yorkers to visit the memorial if you have the opportunity, as I plan to do with my family.
The Memorial Museum, which is still in its construction phase, will house countless artifacts and personal memories from the tragedy. The museum — set to open in September 2012 — will also stand as a tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims and the people who risked their lives to save them.
The Assembly has worked tirelessly to honor the many heroes — those who were lost as well as those who continue to aid in the recovery process to this day — in the 10 years following Sept. 11. In 2005, we passed a law to extend and ensure benefits in the retirement system to firefighters who incurred lung-related disabilities and deaths, especially important for any firefighter present on Sept. 11 (Ch. 89 of 2005). Throughout the next three years, we passed laws that made it easier for the brave relief workers present during the terrorist attacks to be eligible for and receive accidental death and disability benefits (Ch. 445 of 2006, Ch. 5 of 2007 and Ch. 489 of 2008). These laws helped to ensure that those facing a grim medical prognosis in relation to Sept. 11 would have support for their financial future and security for their family.
There are no words that can do justice to describe what Sept. 11, 2001, looked or felt like. It’s something that those living and working in New York City understand on a different level. Our world was flipped upside down and our security was stolen from us in the blink of an eye. But we are New Yorkers and we are resilient. We will always remember. All gave some, while some gave all — but none will be forgotten.

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Who were you with? Did you know anyone who perished in the attacks? Do you or did you know any first responders? Share your thoughts and reflections with us in the comments.