It had been a fairly quiet day in the Jerusalem Mayor’s Office when a Gur Hassid, grasping his black kippah, sidelocks flying out of the side of his head, came running in to the sixth floor of Safra Square, shouting, “Turn on the television, a plane just crashed into a building in New York.” We ran into the conference room and switched on CNN in time to see the second plane hit.
More and more people rushed in and stared at the small screen in shock. Within minutes the silence turned in to a loud discussion about what was going on and by the time Shula Zaken, the Chief of Staff, arrived to chastise us for making so much noise, we were all of one mind: New York was under a terror attack.
Zaken, who was always calm under pressure, turned to me and said calmly, but forcefully, “Where is the Mayor?”
It took me a second to digest her question. At the time I was serving as the Foreign Relations Coordinator in Ehud Olmert’s office, and his Chief of Staff was pale: the Mayor was on a trip to New York.
I scooted to my desk and with shaking hands, pulled out his travel itinerary. No, he was on a plane out of New York. Oh my goodness, a plane, New York! I quickly calculated time and distance: No, he should be well over the ocean by now, he should be safe. I stood relieved for a few seconds and then remembered, the Mayor’s eldest son. He was in New York.
We all returned to the conference room, listening intently to every word of the news, flicking channels, trying to understand what was going on.
“Rachael, your phone is ringing,” one of the secretaries called me out of my fixation and I rushed to answer it.
“Rachael, it’s Ehud.” The Mayor’s strong voice could be heard on the other end of the line.
“Where are you? Aren’t you on a plane?” How are you calling me? There is a huge terror attack in New York, what about your son?” The words came tumbling out.
“I know, the pilots updated me. I am calling from the plane. I have spoken to my son, he is ok but some of his friends still haven’t made contact. I will be home soon. What are they saying on the news?”
I told him what we knew, relieved that my Mayor and his son were safe. My thoughts turned to another Mayor, Rudy Giuliani of New York. Jerusalem and New York are sister cities and their Mayors at the time shared a close, personal relationship. I thought of his staff and where they could be at that moment, if they were safe.
The phone rang again. This time it was the Mayor’s son on the phone. “Thank God you are safe. I spoke to your Dad already. What’s going on?” “I can’t talk long, the lines are failing all the time,” he said hurriedly, “Write done this number. Call these people and tell them that their son is safe. He is with me. We can’t get through.” The phone cut out.
Again my hands shook as I dialed the number. “Hello, I am calling from the Mayor’s Office” “Which Mayor’s Office? In New York?” the lady’s voice on the other end of the line asked, my non-native accent confusing her, “No, in Jerusalem. I just got a call from our Mayor’s son, who is in New York. He is a friend of your son and they are together. He is alive. He is safe. He will try and call you soon. That is all I know.” She thanked me profusely for the information and I barely managed to replace the phone before I burst into tears.
The Mayor arrived back in Jerusalem and it was decided that in a show of solidarity with the people of New York, we would temporarily rename Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare, Jaffa Road, New York Street. A ceremony was quickly arranged and the Mayor wanted to do a live conversation with Rudy Giuliani. I had been less than a month on the job and now I had to do the impossible, get the Mayor of New York on the phone in the days after 911.
I had been in contact with Katy Anson, the Mayor of New York’s legendary assistant. She had described the chaos of the day and the efforts to restore calm, saying that they had been inspired by us here in Jerusalem, that we always tried to get back to normal as soon as was possible, that we did not let terror overcome us. I encouraged her as much as I could, assuring her that New Yorkers were just as strong as Jerusalemites.
The ceremony was drawing to a close and no sign of how we could get Giuliani on the line. Then I had an idea. In Israel, you can always get ministers and senior officials through their bodyguards. The Mayor of New York was protected by the NYPD. I asked Katy who was with him that day. “Please give me their number, “I begged, “I will do the rest.”
And thus on that chilly Jerusalem afternoon, the clear voice of Rudy Giuliani echoed across the courtyard of City Hall facing Jaffa Gate, under the pockmarked walls that told stories of other wars.
Mayor Giuliani spoke of his solidarity visit to Jerusalem in 1996 and how he rode the No. 18 bus down that very road following the two bus bombings there. “I remember being amazed at the time at the spirit of the people of Israel and their determination and courage to go on, and I’m sensing that very same feeling right now here in New York,” he said.
The ceremony finished and I called Katy Anson back to thank her and let her know how special the ceremony was. “Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked. She replied, “Beth’s husband is still missing, can you pray that they will find him?” Beth Petrone-Hatton was the Mayor’s long-time executive assistant. Her husband, Terence Hatton, was the fire captain of Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan and on that fateful day, he had led his men into the north tower.
Tears welled in my eyes. “Katy, I am a few hundred meters from the holiest place for the Jewish people, the Western Wall. I am going to go there right now and pray that they will find Terry.” I promised her. I told the Chief of Staff that I had to go and I went straight to the Kotel, put my hand on its grand stones and prayed with all my heart that they would find Terry and that Beth would be comforted.
Sadly, Captain Terence Hatton did not survive. But his body was found and they were able to honor him with a hero’s burial. A few weeks after 911, Beth discovered that she was pregnant and she gave birth to a healthy baby girl whom she named Terri, after her father. She still works with Rudy Giuliani.
For years, whenever there was a terror attack in Jerusalem, Katy Anson was always one of the first to call to see if we were all OK. We remain in contact until this day.
Jerusalem and New York are two of the world’s great cities, beacons of light to the entire world. They now not only also share a terrible history of terror, but an honorable and inspiring history of populations who stand up after tragedy, resilient, strong and proud.