Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider

Archive for September, 2012


My younger son just called to ask me if I know of any 9/11 commemorations in the area today. He was dismayed that there were none on his college campus. I looked on-line and couldn’t find any listed. The only suggestions I found for Patriot Day (not the same as Patriots’ Day in MA, commemorating the Battles of Concord and Lexington and observed through the running of the Boston Marathon) were to lower flags to half-staff and have a moment of silence at 8:46 AM.

This futile search reminded me of another column I had written in the aftermath of 9/11. It was published in the Burlington County Times, on March 18, 2002. Although the examples cited are dated, the sentiments remain the same.


It’s now just over six months since the terrorist attacks of September 11. Shortly after the horrific events of that day, President Bush called for a return to normalcy. Of course, for the families and friends of the victims, life will never again be normal, but for the rest of us, it’s business as usual. Unfortunately.

The Republicans, led by Vice President Cheney, have blamed former President Clinton for the attacks, saying that he did not do enough to curb terrorism. The Democrats, of course, blame the Republicans for not having acted on tips that such an attack was imminent. It’s politics as usual.

The residents of New York City are at odds with each other about how to use the former World Trade Center site. Should the Towers be rebuilt? Should there be a complex of smaller buildings? Should the site be developed into a park dedicated to the victims? It’s urban development as usual.

The survivors of the attacks are at loggerheads about the compensation that has been offered to them. Should they accept the government’s offer and forfeit the right to sue? Or should they take their chances on the court system? It’s the litigious society as usual.

Kenneth Feinberg, who is in charge of the reimbursement fund authorized by Congress, is in the unenviable position of having to decide who gets what. Should Social Security survivor benefits be deducted? Should life insurance policies? Is a 26-year-old single man or woman who earned a six-figure salary worth less than a 26-year-old married man or woman with two children who earned a six-figure salary? What about the 26-year-old single mother who barely made minimum wage? Or the 62-year-old grandfather approaching retirement? How can a value be put onto a human life? It’s moral dilemmas as usual.

And then there are those who believe that no amount of money could ever compensate the families for the loss of loved ones, so we shouldn’t cheapen their memories with money. And there are those who agree that no money should be given, but for a different reason: why compensate the families of people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? It’s resentment as usual.

Some families who lost loved ones at different places are angry. Those whose relatives were killed at the Pentagon or on Flight 93 feel that those stories are being lost in all the attention being paid to the World Trade Center victims. Those whose relatives were on the airplanes that hit the Towers and the Pentagon feel that the media, by focusing on the heroics of those on Flight 93, are by implication calling the others cowards for not resisting. Those whose family members were lost in the Pentagon feel that their memories are being slighted because they were military personnel not civilians. It’s publicity as usual.

The same airline passengers who refused to fly after September 11, driving some airlines to the brink of bankruptcy and others over the edge, are now complaining that they have to arrive at the airports early to go through security checks. They’re complaining when flights are delayed or airports closed because of terrorist threats or security breaches. They’re even complaining about the cutback in food service. It’s “don’t inconvenience me” as usual.

Right after September 11, Americans opened their wallets – and their pantries and garages – as never before. Dog kibble, bottled water, blankets, latex gloves, and other materials were donated in such quantities that warehouses are still filled with thousands of items that weren’t needed. And we gave an estimated $1.2 billion to the American Red Cross and other relief organizations large and small, local and national. But the distribution of the monies has been mired in controversy – how should it be spent? Who should coordinate the efforts? Should the donations be used only to help victims of September 11, or can they be used to help victims of other disasters, both natural and war-related, as well? It’s money-grubbing as usual.

And there are the problems that are now facing non-profit organizations, who have seen their donations shrink after the largesse of September 11. Is it really charity if you give to an emergency fund and then do not contribute to a different fund at your usual level? Yes, those who had never given before and did make contributions after September 11 were generous. But those who deducted their September 11 donations from the amounts they generally give to other groups were not. It’s selfishness as usual.

It’s true that we cannot live at the same level of alertness, stress, and sadness as we did right after September 11. But, somehow, I don’t think this is what President Bush meant by “normalcy.”

Reflection on 9/11

The following column was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on September 11, 2003. I could have written it today.

On Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, I was driving to work as usual. Around 8:30, after hearing that all the routes to my office were clear, I switched from KWY to a music station. I kept switching back and forth between two classic rock stations trying to find something I liked, preferably from 1968. In the meantime, my brain was in its classic stream-of-consciousness overdrive, part of it paying attention to the road while the rest of it was engaged in random ramblings. “Next Wednesday’s Rosh Hashanah, so I better make sure I’m caught up at the office ….

“…. What should I make for all our guests for lunch? Chicken? Whole? Cutlets? Apricots or mushrooms? Nuggets for the kids ….

“…. Kids… Better get the invites for my son’s birthday party in the mail ….

“ …. Mail … wonder if the order from Amazon will come today? ….

“…. When are my library books due? I’d better call ….

“…. Phone calls … call and find out when I can pick up the key for the classroom ….

“…. Better email the instructor and find out when he wants me to visit his class ….

“….Why does my ABS warning light keep going on? Why does it keep going off? Where’s the manual? ….

“….Better clean out the glove compartment ….

“…. When can I get to a car wash? The car’s filthy ….

“…. Filthy, better get the house cleaned before the company next week. Gotta get the dining room table cleared off ….

“…. Where to put the unfinished jigsaw puzzle? Under the couch?….

“…. How many people? 8-9-10… oh, 12. Do we need a booster? Better plan to open the extra table ….

“…. Should I get cut flowers or a plant for a center piece? ….

“…. Maybe I should put some new flowers in the flower boxes on the front porch ….

“…. But something keeps digging them up ….

“…. Cat was in the backyard this morning, stalking the birds….

“…. Too sleek and healthy looking to be feral ….

“…. Why do people let their cats roam freely? They wouldn’t let their dogs out unleashed ….

“…. Or would they? ….

“…. Cats are my favorite animal, but not when they trespass in my back yard with murderous intent ….

“…. Check ‘net for statistics on numbers of birds killed by cats, life expectancy of outdoor vs. indoor cats ….

“…. Statistics … have to remember to compile the registration figures for the dean ….

“…. When’s the faculty meeting?….

“…. What time’s the back-to-school night? ….

“…. Where’s my Palm Pilot? Stop groping in your bag while driving ….

“…. Driving …. this traffic’s driving me crazy ….

“…. When are they planning to start the Rte. 73 overpass?….

“…. Rte. 73…. wonder when L. L. Bean is opening? ….

“….. Oops, here I am at the office. Oh, good, there’s actually a parking spot near the door.”

I walked into the lobby, said a casual “good morning” to the receptionist, who snapped back, “What’s so good about it?” Two hours later, our building was closed, and my thoughts on the drive home were very different. I was embarrassed by the banality of my earlier ones.

On the drive home, I kept hearing the voice of an Israeli student berating her classmates: “You Americans are so complacent. Now you know what we Israelis go through every day of our lives!”

I kept seeing the second plane slam into the side of the building, with the resultant fire ball.

I kept seeing the towers tumbling.

I kept switching from station to station, searching for the latest news, not Janis Joplin.

I worried about my friends who work in Lower Manhattan. “Is Carol, who is a deputy commissioner for New York City, okay? Is she helping with the rescue efforts? Do Phyllis and Henry, who are financial analysts, work near there? I know Paula, who lives on the Upper East Side, is on maternity leave, but where does her husband Drew work?….

“….And my kids. Have they heard? Is school canceled? How is my 8-year-old reacting? He must be terrified. How can I make sense of this for them when I can’t understand it myself?”

All truisms are trite because they are repeated time and again. But life does go on. I am back to my trivial thoughts. I’m planning this year’s Rosh Hashanah The traffic on Rte. 73 is still heavy, and L. L. Bean opened on schedule. Something is still digging up the flowers in my boxes.

But I’ve never again used the phrase “trespassers with murderous intent” about cats.


Thanks to the NJ Authors Network, I will be on several panels at libraries in NJ over the next few months. If you’re in the area, stop by. (And, yes, books will be for sale.)

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 7pm, EAST BRUNSWICK LIBRARY (2 Jean Walling Civic Center, East Brunswick):

Getting Published in the 21st Century: Writing Nonfiction
Meet five authors, John Grant (moderator), Randy M. Dannenfelser, Jasha Levi, and Ilene Schneider. Each has taken a different approach to publishing nonfiction. Discover how they did it and learn their tricks of the trade—from the importance of networking to what to put into a proposal. Enjoy this informative free program, then perhaps you’ll be inspired to go out and write that first book!

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER. 27, 7:00 PM, MOORESTOWN LIBRARY (111 West 2nd Street, Moorestown):

I’ve Finished My First Draft. Now What? Local authors share tips and information on getting published in today’s market
So you’ve finished the writing your book/story, or have you? What (if any) revision work needs doing? Where can you go for feedback? How will you know when it’s ready to send out, and where should you try first? Join New Jersey Authors, Jon Gibbs (moderator); Danielle Ackley-McPhail; Kristin Battestella; Jim ‘JJ’ Lair; Melinda Leigh and Ilene Schneider, for a fun, informative discussion on getting published in today’s market, and find out why typing ‘THE END’ is really just the beginning.

I will be on panels presenting the same topic, I’ve Finished My First Draft. Now What?, but with different participants on the following dates and places:

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER. 14, 6:00 PM, PRINCETON LIBRARY (65 Witherspoon St., Princeton)

TUESDAY, DEC. 4, 7:00 PM, OCEAN COUNTY LIBRARY (101 Washington St., Toms River)

In addition, I’ll be at the MEET THE AUTHORS NIGHT at the VOORHEES BRANCH OF THE CAMDEN COUNTY LIBRARY (203 Laurel Rd., Voorhees) on WEDNESDAY, OCT. 10, 7:00 PM.

I’m hoping to be even busier after the release of Unleavened Dead. If you would like to book me for your library, synagogue, church, mosque, temple, book club, JCC, social or charitable organization, whatever, please email me at