Rabbi Paul Swerdlow

When I heard the news of the Sept. 11 attacks, I went to the chapel where I found a veteran on his knees.

“Why did all of those people who had so much to live for die when my life is worthless,” he asked.

“We can’t bring back those who died but you can create a worthwhile life — your own,” I replied.

Living on Long Island, the attacks became very personal for me. I knew the woman whose nephew put on his fire gear and ran through the tunnel to get to Ground Zero and ran into the twin towers to fight the fire, only to lose his life. One of my most active volunteers lost his son-in-law. When I requested names for our own memorial service of the family and friends of our employees at the Northport VA Medical Center, more than 60 names were submitted. When a police officer who had served at Ground Zero joined our police force, he added 10 names.

Each year we hold two memorial observances — one for our employees and one for the residents of our community living center. I invite police and fire fighters because of the sacrifices their comrades made at Ground Zero. A special relationship has developed with those who suffered a loss that day. It’s as if we have become family.

Swerdlow is lead chaplain at Northport VA Medical Center, New York.