It was a day like any other, bright, heading into autumn. And then it wasn’t.
Going into work that morning, I mulled over plans for the Sept. 14 Jewish Standard. Rosh Hashanah would fall on sundown Sept. 17, and the issue was to reflect that – but then the Twin Towers fell, and Flight 93 came down from the sky, and the Pentagon burned.
We – at the newspaper – were in disarray. We were scarcely able to react as human beings, as individuals. We were stunned, as were our families, friends, and neighbors, but we had a paper to get out, in two days. And as a weekly newspaper, we would be behind the news, not at the forefront. How could we get around that built-in problem?
We were hampered by logistics. For much of that day, as I recall, and I think the day after, we could not get through to New York. (My husband, then a columnist for The Daily Record in Morris County, was scheduled to go there for an interview – he had heard only snippets of the news, and I managed to head him off.)
Our lead story for that issue, just ahead of Rosh Hashanah, was to have been “the rabbi-go-round” – about the different rabbis (and a few cantors) coming and going in the community. Clearly that would have to be rethought. We made it a special feature instead and confronted how we and the community could respond to the carnage.
“Respond” was the operative word. We called every local rabbi we could find and asked how he or she planned to respond to the attacks.
One rabbi, whose name fortunately has slipped my mind and who is long gone from the community, asked me in turn why he should bother doing anything at all. It was almost as if he were quoting the Wicked Son in the Haggadah: What does this have to do with me?
But the others were holding special services and saying prayers. They were calling for blood donations. They were gearing up their social action committees to raise money for food and other necessities for families suddenly convulsed by horror.
We let readers know that UJA Federation of Bergen County & North Hudson, a forerunner to the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, had set up an open mailbox for relief donations, as well as a hotline, and listed where to donate blood.
We took what we could from JTA, our wire service (then always referred to as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency) – an overview called “Surreal attacks spark anger, prayer” and stories about Israeli and world reaction – added time-lapse photos that showed the towers coming down, and thought we were done. Or almost.
Just as we were working on the front page, our photo service, then Religion News Service, went down and we could not get a single fresh photo.
I said to Jerry Szubin, production manager extraordinaire, “We’ll have to go with what we’ve got,” and handed him a photo.
“But Rebecca,” he said, “how am I going to make a front page out of this? There’s no World Trade Center here.”
We realized what he said and just looked at each other.
Later, as I was struggling for a headline for that smoky, empty shot of rubble, I told Jerry, “Try ‘The morning after.'”
“Spell it with a ‘u,'” he suggested.
And so the Sept. 14 issue of the Standard won the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists top prize for cover design, for “The mourning after.”
We and all of America are still mourning.
Rebecca Kaplan Boroson is editor emerita of this newspaper.