LIVINGSTON, NJ – Every year since Sept. 11, 2001, Livingston officials and residents have come together on the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks to join in community and remembrance.
As a town dedicated to standing alongside one another as neighbors in times of both celebration and during dark days, the annual Ceremony of Remembrance is a time reserved to pay tribute to the lives of the seven Livingston residents who lost their lives that day. The Township of Livingston continues to honor its silent vow to never to forget the lives of Luke Dudek, Jeffrey Brian Gardner, Donald Thomas Jones II, Ming-Hao Liu, Joseph McDonald, John Pocher and Kenneth Albert Zelman, as well as the thousands of others who perished with them on that fateful day.
The weather, reminiscent of that idyllic Indian Summer day sixteen years before, cooperated, as the Livingston Boy Scouts, serving as honor guard, opened the Ceremony of Remembrance for an emotional, hour-long tribute on Monday.
Under the direction of Livingston High School (LHS) choral director, Joshua Salzman, the LHS Vocal Chamber Chorus set the tone for the evening, reminding attendees of the resiliency of the American spirit through its nuanced rendition of the “National Anthem.” Other selections performed during the tribute included “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “God Bless America,” which closed the ceremony on a hopeful note.
During the event, remarks were offered by Mayor Shawn Klein, former New Jersey Governor Richard Codey, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Temple B’nai Abraham Rabbi Clifford Kulwin, Presbyterian Church of Livingston Pastor Daniel Martian, LHS history teacher Ernie Cuneo and his student, Zoe Packel, Garden and Ceremony Chairperson Bunnie Ratner, family members and survivor Joel Katz.
The mayor shared his personal remembrances from that day.
“This is a world that too easily sees things as ‘us vs. them,’” he said in his reflection. “Race, religion and political parties provide convenient fault lines for us to identify a ‘them.’ If we cannot get past the ‘us vs. them’ mentality, there may not be a future for any of us.”
Klein continued, posing these thought-provoking questions to the crowd: “Will we face these issues together? Does leadership provide the way forward?”
In describing the Living Memorial Garden’s structure and significance, Klein said it had been designed to create an atmosphere of quiet contemplation, reflection and remembrance. Laid out in an octagon, each side represents one of the seven Livingston lives lost that day with the eighth side signifying all others who perished on 9/11.
Klein pointed out the sundial in the center, which was constructed from steel collected from the rubble of the site. Beneath it lies a vault containing dirt from Ground Zero, and around it appears four markers set in stone memorializing the time and locations targeted.
Zoe Packel, winner of Cuneo’s contest designed for those who were newborns at the time of the attacks to describe the impact 9/11 has had on this generation’s lives, read her award-winning essay.
“The attacks on September 11th rocked America and the world. More important, however, is our response to them,” Packel read. “We stand together as a community on evenings like this. We refuse to submit to terrorism and fear and continue to demonstrate strength and cooperation in times of crisis.”
Event chairperson Bunnie Rutner read the poem, “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep,” followed by the recitation of the individual victims’ names. Accompanying the memorial reading, Vietnam War Veteran Brian Boyle, trustee, VFW Post 2856, tolled the bell while the Livingston Girl Scouts and Daisies laid memorial roses on the sundial.
One of the evening’s most powerful highlights came in the form of a retelling of the events of 9/11 from Joel Katz’s perspective. Katz, an employee of the investment banking firm Sandler O’Neill and Partners, located on the 104th floor of Tower Two, detailed his harrowing first-hand experience of being in the Towers that day and recounted his miraculous escape from tragedy, vividly depicting the sights, sounds and moments he witnessed.
Following a rendition of Taps, performed by father and daughter trumpeters Tim and Gabrielle Griffin, the ceremony came to a close with the singing of God Bless America.
“Many other towns have stopped having 9/11 remembrances, but here in Livingston, people still care about this ceremony,” said Klein. “As long as people come here and want to be here, Livingston is going to do this. This town has something to say about who we are, what kind of country we want to be and what world we want to live in. We want Livingston to help set the example and we encourage others to join us.”