By Betsy Scheinbart
Hundreds of Queens residents came to the Hollis Hills Jewish Center last Thursday to share stories of survival and pray for the missing two days after the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists.
The interfaith community prayer and memorial service was attended by members of the Jewish center and religious leaders representing the Catholic, Methodist, Islamic and Sikh faiths.
The religious leaders were joined by Borough President Claire Shulman, city Comptroller Alan Hevesi and several other Queens politicians.
Shulman praised rescue workers, volunteers and blood donors from Queens who have helped out in the wake of Tuesday’s attack on America.
“I am very, very proud of people in Queens — they have really come forward,” the borough president said. “This is a great city, a great borough and we have to stick together in times of great tragedy.”
Men and women gasped in shock and cried during Hevesi’s speech, in which he recounted what the owner of the World Trade Center had told him: “It will be a miracle if only 10,000 are dead.”
Hevesi spoke of the firemen and other uniformed workers who died trying to rescue people from the towers, including Fire Department Chaplain Mychal Judge, whom he called “one of the most saintly people imaginable.”
Hevesi raced from Borough Park in Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan Tuesday morning when he saw the towers burning.
“It is a scene beyond your imagination,” Hevesi said of the destruction site. “It is as if you are on another planet.”
The comptroller, who is running for mayor, warned: “We are at war … and it will go on for a long time.”
He urged New Yorkers to maintain a level of zero tolerance for racism and hatred toward the Arab-American people in the city and to support the federal government in all its future endeavors.
President George Bush has named Saudi exile Osama bin Laden as the “prime suspect” in the terrorist attack. Bin Laden is currently believed to be living in Afghanistan, which is controlled by a Muslim fundamentalist group called the Taliban.
The U.S. government has demanded that the Taliban turn bin Laden over to American authorities or face the full force of the American military.
Two survivors of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, Diane Landau and Karen Krieger, spoke briefly about their escapes from the towers.
“I don’t know if it was fear that made my feet go faster down 37 flights or grief for my fellow workers,” Landau said, recalling how she escaped from Tower One.
Krieger was on the 48th floor of Tower Two when Tower One was hit.
“We just started running. On the 13th floor, they told us we were fine, our building was stable, and people got out of the staircase and went back to their offices,” said Krieger, breaking down in tears.
Krieger kept running out of the building. Soon after she made her way to safety, Tower Two was hit by a plane and collapsed an hour later, killing thousands of people.
Students from Stuyvesant HS, located just a few blocks from the disaster site, gave their eyewitness accounts of the day’s events.
As they watched the towers collapse from their school’s windows, the students found themselves in harm’s way.
“Smoke rushed into the school and soon I was choking,” said Philip Fogel, who was evacuated from Stuyvesant along with his classmate Lauren Cohen and the rest of the school. No students were seriously injured.
Cohen called for her fellow New Yorkers not to lash out against their Arab and Muslim-American neighbors in the wake of the terrorism attack.
“Those people are being victimized by racism,” Cohen said of Arab and Muslim-Americans. “They are among the victims, among the people I evacuated my school with.”
Several dozen police officers stood guard outside the Jewish center on Utopia Parkway in Hollis Hills. Police officers, firefighters and emergency service workers were honored for their rescue efforts during the ceremony.
When the borough president told the crowd “the police have been extraordinary and the Fire Department is unbelievable,” she received a standing ovation.
Representatives from the 111th Precinct, which covers Hollis Hills, and from Queensborough Patrols North and South were honored in a “salute to heroes” by Manny Behar, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council.
“They are people just like us, but when the situation calls for it, boy can they rise to great heights,” Behar said of the rescue workers.
Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.