The 2,996 project asked for volunteers to post about the victims of 9/11, so that we could remember, five years on, the people who lost their lives in the World Trade Center, in the Pentagon, and in the four hijacked planes. I specifically chose Abe Zelmanowitz, an Orthodox Jew who could have fled the towers and saved his own life, but instead, preferred to stay and wait with his friend, a paraplegic, who would not have been able to get down the stairs without help. From the Ha’aretz obituary (link has long since been broken):
The story of Zelmanowitz’s bravery had turned him into an American hero. Four days after the tragedy, President George W. Bush asked the American people to remember the extraordinary behavior of the Orthodox Jewish computer expert who had worked at an insurance agency on the 27th story of one of the towers.
Zelmanowitz never married. He lived in Brooklyn close to his brother, Yankel, and his family. He had worked at the same job for many years. A year before the tragedy, Zelmanowitz visited Israel and decided to buy himself a plot near the burial place of his parents. Both parents had been born in Jerusalem, but emigrated after World War I to the United States.
“A few days before the terrorist attack,” Yankel Zelmanowitz related Monday, “Avremel attended a Sabbath shiur [lesson]. The rabbi spoke about sacrificing oneself for the love of God. Avremel told the rabbi: ‘You speak of the great historical heroes, like Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, but how can a simple Jew like myself show his love of God?’ The rabbi made some suggestions, but Avremel was not satisfied, so he asked the same question once again. The second reply didn’t satisfy him either, nor did the third. But a few days later, he got the reply.”
A few minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center where Zelmanowitz was working, he rushed to see how his friend and colleague, Ed Beyea, a paraplegic, was managing. Beyea was left completely paralyzed by a diving accident 20 years earlier and was always accompanied by a nurse. Zelmanowitz urged her to leave the burning building immediately, promising to remain with his friend.
Zelmanowitz then called Beyea’s mother and held his cellular telephone up to Beyea’s mouth. Beyea assured his mother everything would be okay and said his friend, Abe, was taking care of him.
Havah Zelmanowitz said Monday that she and her husband had managed to speak to Avremel a short time before the end. “He told Yankel and I that everything was alright. He said he had enough air. We urged him to leave the building as soon as possible, but he said he had to remain behind to help some people. A few minutes later, the building collapsed.”
There is more at Aish.com:
Avremel had joined the office two years after Ed was hired, and the two became very close friends. They both loved books and music — often trading books and tapes, and they both served as the special uncle of their respective families. Like Avremel, Ed had no children of his own, but he was a father figure to his two nephews after their father died. Both friends had a great sense of humor, although Ed was robust and outgoing, while Avremel was the more quiet of the pair. One was a Christian; the other an Orthodox Jew.
Ed needed 24-hour nursing assistance, but otherwise led as normal a life as possible — taking the subway to work, using a mouthpiece to tap the keys on his computer, and keeping himself busy with books, movies, TV and dinners with friends. His most regular dining companion was Avremel, whom he called “Abe.”
One family member described how the different needs of the two men required some planning: “If Ed was going to make the arrangements, he’d make sure it was kosher, and if Abe was going to make the arrangements, he’d make sure it was wheelchair-accessible. They always had each other’s best interests at heart.”
On the morning of September 11, Ed’s health aide had gone to pick up breakfast on the 43rd floor when the plane struck the tower. She hurried back to the 27th floor and found the two friends waiting for help in the stairwell. The aide, age 69, was affected by smoke from the higher floors, so Avremel told her to go on ahead. Ed wanted to wait until he could be securely carried down by several rescue workers, as it was dangerous for someone with his disability to be moved.
Avremel wouldn’t allow his friend to wait alone when everyone else was fleeing the building, and he stayed with him. Both men called their families to let them know that they were okay, and it seems that with the help of some people, they were able to make it down to the 21st floor before the building collapsed.
Abe Zelmanowitz was buried in Israel in the spring of 2002, after his remains were identified. His grave is on the Mount of Olives.
Five years on, let us remember his name, and that of his friend Ed.