Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

A God’s-eye view at Ground Zero

A view of the entire city made the Freedom Tower a beacon of hope, as humanity reclaims a corner of the blue, blue sky

This summer I made pilgrimage to the 9/11 Memorial Museum — my first such visit since it was completed — to re-live that tragic day, now nearly 15 years ago. Part of the museum is dedicated to tracing the roots of the hatred that would drive normal human beings to such rabid insanity as to murder thousands of innocents in cold blood.

The recent death of Elie Wiesel is a reminder that we are all witnesses to such infamous events, and the passage of time should only intensify our resolve to keep alive the memory of those who perished. To stand at that subterranean spot, deep within the footprint of the Towers, inhaling the sacred dust bearing the pulverized bones of 2,753 victims, is a shattering experience. But it is only the beginning of the journey.


After visiting the memorial, I ascended to the top of the Freedom Tower, and there took in a view that I hadn’t seen since a year before 9/11, when I performed a wedding at “Windows on the World,” the swanky restaurant that stood atop the North Tower. There was no view like it back then, and now we’ve reclaimed our corner of the sky.

As I looked out from my Freedom Tower perch in mid August, it occurred to me that the heavens were as deep-blue as on that fateful September day, 15 years ago. Or at least as I recall it. An entire wall of the 9/11 Museum is filled with ceramic tiles in various shades of blue, the color of that sky as conjured through the dusty memory of those who saw it. No one can recall the exact shade, and shade itself shifted, but it is simply remembered as the bluest blue people had ever seen; a blue that was soon eclipsed by billows of black smoke and ash funneling through the canyons.

The midrashic collection Sifrei Numbers, in describing the elusive blue fringe designed to help Jews remember the commandments, explains the symbolism of that color: “A thread of blue: blue like the sky, blue like the sea, blue like the divine throne.”

Centuries ago, Jews stopped trying to recall that exact shade and abandoned the blue thread altogether — though now some have revived the custom — but for 9/11 survivors, which to a degree all of us are, that deep blue sky remains an important touchstone, something to help us raise our eyes heavenward again, to hope, to climb and to envision the kind of harmony that only God can imagine, something to remind us of the peacefulness and order that existed at the dawn of that day.

As I looked out, a hundred floors above the pulverized dust of memory, death and reconstruction, it occurred to me that the blue has returned.

The city lay there before me, a unified patchwork of neighborhoods and jagged skyscrapers, nurtured by bridges and waterways, this enormous living organism, guarded by a lady with a lamp. It took my breath away. The city as one organic, unified whole, greater than the sum of its extraordinary and unique parts.

In his novel Winter’s Tale, which describes similar vistas as viewed from the back of a magical, flying horse, Mark Helprin writes, “In the eyes of God, all things are interlinked.” This view from the Freedom Tower, as the one from the departed Twin Towers, is truly a God’s eye view. While we see the same view all the time on TV, courtesy of helicopters and blimps and some planes descending to JFK and La Guardia, it’s been 15 years since I was able to stand on that elevated terra firma and, with my own eyes, look out from the tallest building in a city of towers, standing in the spot where the city began and where it nearly ended, from where you can look north and take in the entirety of this enchanted island.

A decade and a half later, we’ve dared to climb again. And we’ve reclaimed our corner of the sky.






A plane flies innocently past the Freedom Tower



This final photo brings to mind verses from this week’s Haftarah:

O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will set thy stones in fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy pinnacles of rubies, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy border of precious stones. And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.   – Isaiah 54

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously." His Substack column, One One Foot: A Rabbi's Journal, can be found at Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2019, he received first-prize from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Cobie, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: (203) 322-6901 x 307
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