This is a week where historical memory, personal reflection, and profound sadness merge as I remember my cousin, Alisha Levin. Alisha was one of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Like many of you I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was at school in the middle of a class when one of my colleagues pulled me aside to give me the news. For some reason I went back into my classroom and continued with the lesson. After a few minutes I stopped in my tracks and tried to convey to my students what I had just been told. Once the class was dismissed I walked into a classroom with a television and sat transfixed as I watched the re-runs of the initial impact an then the live coverage of the second plane hitting the South Tower. I should have known immediately what the impact of the second plane meant for my family. Once the first plane hit Alisha left a message on her parent’s phone to let them know that she was unharmed. That was the last that anyone heard from her. [Alisha’s library card was eventually returned to her parents.] I am almost ashamed to admit that I did not make the connection between the collapse of the towers and my cousin until late afternoon even as I watched a continuous loop of those horrific images. It wasn’t until my parents called. My wife picked up the phone and for some reason just from the look on her face I finally realized what I had inexplicably overlooked. The next few days were incredibly difficult as family and friends posted messages on various internet message boards and posters around Lower Manhattan. I went back to school and tried to place the day’s events into some context. My students had plenty of questions, but unfortunately I had no answers.
Alisha was 33 and worked as a vice-president of human resources for Fuji Bank which was located on the 82nd floor of the South Tower. She absolutely loved living and working in New York City. Alisha was very close to her sister Mindy and her two sons, Jacob and Alex. Though Alisha worked very hard she regularly took the train home to Philadelphia on weekends to spend time with family. She also loved to travel and was planning a trip to Italy the following summer. Click here and here for articles about Alisha that appeared in the Northeast Times on the one-year anniversary of 9-11.
When I was younger I loved spending time with Alisha and her sister Mindy along with the rest of the family in Philadelphia over the holidays. Alisha and I were one year apart so we always had a great deal to talk about. We debated whether The Who or Led Zeppelin was the better Rock Band and we talked generally about what was going on in our lives. It was not uncommon for the two us to find a place on the steps overlooking the rest of the family to talk or make fun of my brother. What stands out in my memory is her laugh. Alisha had a laugh that simply filled up the room; it was one of those laughs that came from deep within.
Alisha attended Hofstra and Columbia University. I did my undergraduate work just outside the city and made it a point to meet up with Alisha on a few occasions. I remember one particular visit where we walked what seemed to be the entire downtown area around NYU and the Village. Alisha had a way of making you feel special so just sitting in a cafe was one of the most pleasant ways to pass the time with her. My only regret now is that I didn’t make it a point to spend more time with Alisha. She had a big heart and cared deeply about family and friends. [Click here for a memorial album that includes some very touching thoughts from friends and even strangers.]
Alisha’s death has left a deep hole in my family. At times it has been very difficult for the family to come together as there have been disagreements about the best way to remember Alisha. Fortunately those disagreements are in the past and my family seems to be coming back together. While I care deeply about the way New York city will choose to remember the victims and re-shape “Ground Zero” I find it difficult to think about the issue without becoming distracted by my personal connection to the event.