Remembering Jeffrey B. Gardner on 9/11

Since 2007, I’ve taken a break from Charlotte’s story to remember my friend Jeffrey who perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001.

This is the first year that President Bush will mourn the victims as a private citizen. As President Obama gets ready to lead a moment of national silence in 45 minutes, I wonder what the passing of the torch will mean in terms of our memories. 9/11 is becoming “history” as have so many excruciating (and exhilarating moments in our nation’s history. Right now, Charlotte is obsessesed with a book called Moon over Star, a picture book about a little girl’s dreams as she watched the moon landing on television. Though 9/11 cannot make a lovely bedtime tale, I believe it is equally important that our children who were too young to understand, or those born after 9/11, be taught not only the international significance of the date and how these horrible acts have changed our world forever, but also the human cost.

I think I like President Obama’s idea of a day of service. In a time of mourning, nothing seems more imporant than tikkun olam, healing the world, and what better way to do it than to help others. I can’t participate this year, but will look forward to next year.

My posts about Jeffrey have put me in contact with lost friends and elicited responses from strangers. One of those strangers is Jeannette, who will remember Jeffrey on her blog as part of the 2,996 Project. I’ll link to her post when I see it.

In the meantime here’s my essay again. Please take the time to read it and remember that while “America [was] under attack,” as Andrew Card famously told President Bush 7 years ago, very real people were being injured and murdered. The ripple effect of their loss cannot ever be forgotten.

(Originally written on 9/11/2006)
Jeffrey B. Gardner died [7] years ago today when the World Trade Towers collapsed. I had known Jeffrey for as long as I can remember, growing up in the same town (Livingston, NJ) and attending religious school at B’nai Jeshurun together.

More than a boy I grew up with, Jeffrey was a dear friend throughout my high school and college years. We were both socially conscious teenagers and active in our temple youth group and in JFTY, the Jersey Federation of Temple Youth. Like all of the people who have signed his guestbook, I can attest to Jeffrey’s special qualities–his goodness, kindness, wisdom, and sense of fun. I can also recall his pride as he listened to his father sing in the temple choir on the high holy days, his clear affection for his siblings, and his love for his mother.

Jeffrey and I, along with 20 other Jewish teens, spent a special summer together in 1982. As part of the JFTY Urban Mitzvah Corps, we lived in a fraternity house at Rutgers (later Jeffrey’s alma mater) and volunteered for various organizations in the New Brunswick area. We worked with the elderly, disadvantaged children, and the disabled. In the evenings we studied and played, enriching our Judaism and bonding as a group in a way that is immeasurable. Jeffrey lived his Jewish values and he taught us how much fun (and mischief) we could have within the limits of a moral, thoughtful life.

My father had a special place in his heart for Jeffrey. Not just because they were in the same business, but because Jeffrey was respectful, forthcoming, and friendly. In business, my father could count on Jeffrey, just as I could count on him as a friend.

Since Jeffrey’s death, I’ve learned that he continued to live those values for the rest of his far-too-short life. He read the Christian Bible and the Koran in order to understand other people’s belief systems. He volunteered with Habitat for Humanity throughout the hemisphere. He worked hard at his career and prospered. In his obituary, his sister Amy noted that he had a sun tatooed on his ankle because “a good day was as bad as it got. ” Jeffrey shone like that sun. Even when we weren’t in touch for a long time (we hadn’t spoken for about 3 years before his death), I felt his presence and the mark that he made on my life. On that perfect sunny September morning, a day eerily like today in Chicago, hatred killed Jeffrey. The irony that intolerance killed a soul who embodied tolerance is not lost on me. I dedicate today to Jeffrey–as sad as I am for his loss, I strive to live a life of which he would have been proud, to be tolerant and kind and strong as a tribute to his memory.

Rest in peace, dear friend. You are indeed Z”L (Zichrono Livracha), of blessed memory.