Saddle Rock’s 9/11 Memorial Bridge runs northwest to southeast. Its sides look out on a small inlet to the east, and a vast horizon of sights to the west. The very edge of that view provides a glimpse into New York City, who’s smoke-filled skyline on September 11, 2001 provided a chilling sign of tragedy to the Great Neck residents who gathered on the bridge to watch that horrific morning unfold.
Exactly 18 years later, Temple Israel led those same residents, along with members of both the Alert and Vigilant fire companies, in a ceremony dedicated to the memory of the fallen, several of whom came from the community. The number 18, Senior Rabbi Howard Stecker explained, carries with it a significance in the Hebrew language that affords this particular anniversary an uplifting subtext.
“In Jewish tradition, 18, chai, means life,” Stecker said. “So we, like all people, recognize the beauty and the sanctity of life. And when there are people who seek to demonstrate that life means nothing, we need to demonstrate that life is infinitely precious.”
Temple Israel cantor Raphael Frieder led the people gathered on the bridge in a series of prayers and songs; first in Hebrew, then many in their English-translated versions.
Once the prayers were finished, Stecker invited Alert Fire Company member and Great Neck South High School teacher John Motchkavitz to address the crowd. Most years, a member of the Vigilant Fire Company has spoken to the people gathered for the memorial, but Motchkavitz—himself a first responder, along with members of both companies—was selected in honor of the recently-passed Alert ex-chief Raymond Anthony Plakstis Jr., who succumbed to his battle with 9/11-related cancer on Nov. 30, 2018. Motchkavitz offered a spoken tribute to his colleagues, both alive and departed.
“They always talk about courage, and courage is hanging on just a little bit longer than everybody else,” Motchkavitz said. “There’s really no courage involved, everybody who
responded did so because it’s what we’re trained to do. We do that
because it’s something that we need to do and we want to do, and that’s something that makes us a little bit different.”
The best way to honor the sacrifice of the 343 firefighters who perished on September 11, Motchkavitz said, is to simply live a good life.
“What we have to do is just keep going and be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be,” he said.
“That not only helps move society forward, I think that also helps us pay tribute to those that do sacrifice, whether it’s in far away lands or right across those waters in Manhattan.”