Maybe it was the 50th news telecast about the Christmas tree at ground zero, or the fact that all the help agencies down in the trenches seem to be Christian: The Salvation Army, St. Paul's Church, The Trinity Church.
Maybe I'm just projecting my own feelings about being left out on the Christmas holiday season, but I woke up on the morning of December 8th with one blazing thought in my mind: What about Chanukah at ground zero?
I'd spent Rosh Hashanah volunteering down there and was shocked at the slew of soldiers and volunteers who clustered around the Jewish chaplain as he put together a make-shift service amidst the dust.
Why was I surprised to see so many Jews in uniform?
I suppose it just didn't fit the stereotype.
Being a soldier, a fireman or even a construction worker, for that matter, wasn't the profile I'd been taught since early childhood, (Jews were supposed to be doctors, lawyers, accountants or television producers). If we can't do that, we're at least supposed to go into the wholesale apparel business.
I did the next best thing; I became a caterer.
If you can't beat them ... feed them.
Anyway, as I said, I woke up with a mission.
It was a cold Saturday. Our record warm spell was over, rain was impending and the first night of Chanukah was in one day.
I dressed and started my trek to the closest thing Manhattan has to the holy land: The Lower East Side.
Past Yonah Shimmel's Knishes and Katz's delicatessen, I turned on Essex street and found the old Jewish-style candy store that will always remind me of fresh halvah and chocolate-covered matzoh: Economy Candy. I waited in a long line of impatient tourists from Long Island and finally purchased my bounty.
I now had ammunition: dreidels filled with fruit chews and jelly beans, milk chocolate gelt (Chanukah coins) in gold wrappers and dozens of tiny treats including chocolate racing cars.
With my Jewish Santa's sack slung over my shoulder I trudged crosstown into Tribeca, determined to get my parcel into ground zero.
The last time I'd been down there was the week after the towers collapsed, It was different then. If you looked like you belonged and said the right things, you could get in. You could help feed people or dole out water or socks … something. If you wanted to get in bad enough, amid the confusion and the despair, you could.
From Greenwich Street in Tribeca I could see the collapsed mass of wreckage. It was shocking to weave through restaurants and holiday shoppers and suddenly come upon this monument of death. I made my way through a hundred or so tourists pushing against the wooden barricade to take pictures of the pile.
They seemed excited … not happy, but jazzed up. Their cameras flashed furiously as they climbed up on police barricades and garbage cans to get a better view.
It made me a bit peevish.
I cut east and tried to walk around another block, but each time I found a street leading into ground zero it ended with hundreds of tourists with cameras and a police barricade that no one, not even the police, could get through.
Finally, on Broadway, I found myself back at St. Paul's church, the oasis of food, clothing and support, where I had volunteered in those days after the 11th. There were no more buffets set up outside, no socks or clothing or news crews. Instead possibly a thousand tourists pushed their way past the church taking photos. A tour bus drove by with its passengers pressed against the glass, snapping away.
It felt like madness.
I stared at the old brown church. The last time I'd been here, St. Paul's was covered in dust and burnt papers, now it was covered with a memorial made of drawings, t-shifts, teddy bears, letters, candles and police hats
I needed to get away from the cameras and forced my way to the front step. St. Paul's was closed to the general public, but the reverend recognized me and ushered me inside.
"Nice to see you again," he said.
"Hello, Lyndsey. Wow, it sure is different now."
"Yeah, but they're still coming in."
There in the warm cozy church, I saw volunteers doling out pharmaceutical supplies, chiropractors with their massage tables set up, priests ready to give counseling and two women doling out hot soup and cold cut sandwiches. It was a one-stop relief center for tired and beaten rescue crews.
Small groups of visitors sat on the pews and prayed silently as a young woman played the flute.
The moment struck me as oddly absurd: I was standing in a church filled with clergy, carting a sack full of Chanukah candy.
But I had a mission.
I left St. Paul's and tried to come around from the south side and then from the west, each time meeting a guard or cop who told me they never went into "the hole" and could not help me.
Finally, on a quiet, seemingly ignored street I saw a green wooden wall behind police barricades and two cops standing guard.
"It's Chanukah … and I need to bring these things to the guys in there that are Jewish," I said trying to look as small and demure as my black leather boots and jacket would allow. "I don't want them to feel left out."
I must have caught them on a sympathetic day. "Let her through."
I was allowed into what turned out to be the private observation deck overlooking the very center of the hole. This was the place I assumed was reserved for politicians and celebrities. A small group of official looking people made room for me. I felt a chill when I realized that I was also probably standing in the private deck used when family members of the deceased needed to visit the site.
I had been this close to the debris before, the week I volunteered, but never stood directly in the center of it all. It was so staggering, I almost forgot what I was doing there.
The ruins were massive; I began to feel insignificant. I felt small and lost and useless. Were it not for the aching in my shoulder bringing me back to reality, I wonder if I would still be standing there staring at the burnt steel.
As miracles would have it, a construction worker I asked to help me get my gifts to the crews turned out to be Jewish. Who woulda guessed? I would have bet the bank he was Italian, but then everyone says that about me, too.
He was going off shift, but he agreed to take my sack of goodies and distribute it to the tents where the crews took their breaks.
"They are going to have a menorah lighting tomorrow night," he said, as if to reassure me that I wasn't the only one who woke up thinking about Chanukah on ground zero.
"Thanks," I said, shaking his big hand. "I was worried that my guys wouldn't get anything for Chanukah this year." My guys?
As for my good Samaritan ways paying off (a little New Testament allusion never hurt anybody … ), well, minutes after I left, the rain started and it grew icy cold and windy. There were no cabs, and the one subway station I found was closed. So I wound up walking the 35 or so blocks to my home in the East Village.
I trudged through crowds of Christmas shoppers, honking traffic jams and icy rain muttering something to myself that at any time in my life before September 11th would have been "So this is the thanks I get," but in fact was "Man! I feel so amazing right now!"
I did ... feel amazing.
I do ... feel amazing.
I guess it seems silly talking about it now. Going on a ridiculous 100-block trek to and around downtown Manhattan trying to give Chanukah candies to some rescue workers.
But you've gotta do something, even if it's small, and that's what I love about New York right now, all the small things people are doing.
As I said, I always feel left out of the holiday season, but I've got a feeling that I'm not going to feel that way this year and maybe my guys (and girls) won't either.
Happy Chanukah to us all.