“I remember being worried at the outset that someone in the community would be directly affected,” said Rabbi Jim Rosen, recalling his initial thoughts in the wake of 9/11.
Rosen, the spiritual leader of in West Hartford, knew that many in his congregation often traveled to or worked in New York as well as in Washington, D.C.
“Another member of our community had been a victim of terror in 1996. He and his fiancé had been victims of a bus bombing in Jerusalem. It was a horrible parallel that this type of thing could be taking place on our shores.”
It was still early in the day on Sept. 11, 2001, when Rosen learned that congregation member and Avon resident Amy Toyen had been at the World Trade Center that morning. Her whereabouts were unknown.
“I remember we had a spontaneous gathering of more than 200 people that night. We needed as a community to come together in prayer. By then, we already had a strong sense that [Amy] had been in that place at that time.”
A memorial service for Amy Toyen was held at Beth El Temple on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2001, just 11 days after the tragedy. There were no physical remains to be buried at the time, and none were ever found.
“The idea [behind the memorial service] was to try to bring alive her essential character, the promise of life, the person behind the reality. There’s always a real person behind a victim’s number,” Rosen said.
The words in Rosen’s eulogy still resonate as true today as they were 10 years ago. “Never in our imaginations, never in the most bizarre twilight machinations of our souls could we have pictured it – of a life seized from its gentle unfolding into goodness and love and blessing, violently snuffed out. No one within hearing distance of our words and heartbeats this day could be so callused as to not dissolve in tears… Far more than any words we might muster is the face of that unadulterated evil that seized Amy from our midst. They had an address but they cared not for who dwelled within the abode. To them Amy was a non-being.”
Rosen said that the Beth El community had already been sensitized to terror, so the concept was not new. However, he said, “Having this brought close to home made it clear that we are so much more vulnerable and need to respond in ways that are dignified – confronting outright evil with goodness and respect for the sanctity of life.”
"I try to give encourangement to our community that we will not be defined by fear." In our actions today, Rosen said, “We try to promote the opposite of what terror will try to take away from us.”