20 years later, remembering 9/11

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By Eleanor Linafelt

In September 2001, Karen Paul was home in Takoma Park on parental leave with her third child. On the 11th she planned take her newborn out of the house for the first time.


Then she turned on the television and saw the inconceivable: Terrorists had crashed two airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. One after the other, the towers collapsed.

Paul didn’t leave the house that day.

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When her husband came home from his job in Rockville, he told her about the smoke he saw, from where a third airplane had crashed into the Pentagon. Paul told him that she was quitting her job. She decided to become a self-employed consultant in order to have the flexibility to work from home and spend more time with her children, a career she maintains today.

“I knew I could not leave these babies in the world now and be so far away from them,” Paul said. “It completely changed my life.”


The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, changed many lives. The Islamist hijackers who carried out the plot killed some 3,000 people. The United States responded by raising internal security and launching two wars. In Washington, the attack was followed by an anthrax scare and the D.C. sniper shootings, which killed 17 people.

Joel Rubin was outside the Pentagon on the day of the attack. He was in his third year working in government as a civil servant and was preparing to give a speech on solar energy and environmental issues when the plane hit the building.

“We heard a loud sound over our heads and then went into lockdown,” said Rubin, now the executive director of the American Jewish Congress and councilmember for the Town of Chevy Chase.

That day also shifted his career path. He decided to start working for the State Department on counterterrorism efforts. “That was where I could contribute most effectively and quickly,” said Rubin, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration. “I was part of a broader community that worked hard to prevent another 9/11.”

After hearing news of the attack, Julie Greenwald of Gaithersburg kept her scheduled appointment with her obstetrician. The visit confirmed that Greenwald was pregnant with her third child. She described sitting in the obstetrician’s office as “a very interesting dichotomy of emotions.”

“Everyone in the office was somber, yet wanting to acknowledge and celebrate the new life,” Greenwald said. “Everyone was treating me with kid gloves because we had the fragility of life staring at us. We were confirming a new life while there was so much devastation and horrific loss of life around us.”

While she was experiencing “immense joy” at her personal news, “It was difficult to be happy when there was such tragedy happening,” she said. Meredith Jacobs, the CEO of Jewish Women International, was also a young mother at the time of 9/11. She had just returned to her home in Rockville after dropping her young children off at school when she heard the news.

She scrambled to pick up her kids, and then turned off the television in order not to scare them.

Jacobs was chair of the parents’ committee at her synagogue, where many people discussed being scared for the safety of their families after 9/11.

“Fears also turned into what would happen in the Jewish community and how we protect the children,” Jacobs said. “We had always felt so safe in our little bubble.”

She said her daughter later wrote an article about growing up in the wake of 9/11. “Every year of her generation’s life was punctuated by some kind of tragedy from the D.C.-area sniper attacks to school shootings,” Jacobs said. “It truly shaped my children’s generation.”

Many people felt the emotional effects of 9/11 well beyond that day. Sherri Landau Hammerman was at her new job in the publications department at American University at the time of the attacks. She and her colleagues watched the news on the television, which she described as “shocking and terrifying.”

“I was very shaken and scared for a long time,” said Hammerman, who lives in Chevy Chase. “The world definitely felt profoundly altered after that day.”

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