For Michele Kornbluth of Reisterstown, memories of the deadliest terrorist attacks in U.S. history hit particularly close to home.

“I’m from New Jersey, so 9/11 had a real impact on me,” said Kornbluth. “We could smell the smoke from where we were. My town was a commuting town, so every father growing up worked in New York City.”

Now a mother of a fourth-grade student who attends Krieger Schechter Day School in Pikesville, Kornbluth joined 75 dignitaries, religious leaders, community members, firefighters and fourth-grade students at the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company Station #32 this morning, Sept. 11, to observe the 16th anniversary of the attacks which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, including 343 first-responders.

“It was meaningful to be able to be part of today’s memorial,” said Kornbluth. “It was nice to be part of a ceremony as opposed to just watching one on TV.”

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Today’s commemoration, which was sponsored by the Jewish National Fund’s Maryland/Delaware chapter in partnership with the Embassy of Israel, was one of 11 events hosted by the JNF across the country. Each ceremony paired local first-responders with a local school.

“None of the participating students were alive at the time of 9/11,” said Anne Greenspoon, director of community engagement at JNF and the organizer of the event. “These ceremonies are a wonderful way for the community to commemorate the day and a great teaching opportunity for the students about a national tragedy that occurred. But more importantly, [it’s] about honoring our heroes who showed incredible acts of courage.”

The KSDS students — ages 9 and 10 — arrived at the fire station with homemade thank-you cards, which they presented to the firefighters and emergency medical technicians on hand.

“None of us do this for the recognition, but we do appreciate when people take time out of their lives to stop and remember the sacrifices our folks make because too often it goes unnoticed,” said Capt.Scott Goldstein of the PVFC and team leader of the Emergency Volunteers Project, which sends firefighters to Israel during emergency situations. “These children are the future and are the ones who will eventually be setting policy and funding and recognizing what’s important in the world.”

Goldstein is a third-generation firefighter and has been volunteering for 32 years. He remembers gathering at his firehouse immediately after the planes hit the World Trade Center and talked about the sacrifices firefighters make to keep everyone safe.

“There is something inside of us that allows us to put our fears off to the side and be able to do the jobs we do,” he said. “On this day, while thousands of people were running out of the buildings, our folks were running in just like any other day — just like any other fire. There was no thought as to what was going to happen next. And we do the same thing here.”

Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, KSDS’s head of school, opened the ceremony by thanking the first-responders from PVFC, Chestnut Ridge Fire Company Station 50 and Baltimore County Fire Company 2. Following his remarks, Rabbi Schwartz led a moment of silence before blowing the shofar.

“In ancient times, the sound of the shofar was served to alert the community of danger and was a ‘call to action,’” said Rabbi Schwartz. “So, too, in the weeks leading up to the Jewish New Year — Rosh Hashanah — these sirens summon our first-responders to answer the call.”

All three fire stations in attendance received a plaque from JNF honoring their commitment to the community. The commemoration plaques pictured JNF’s 9/11 Living Memorial in Jerusalem, the only 9/11 memorial outside of the United States to mention the names of all the victims killed on that tragic day.

In addition to thanking first-responders for their service in Baltimore, JNF and the Embassy of Israel presented four local firefighters with tree certificates. This was a token of appreciation for volunteering to go to Israel in November to help battle the worst fires the Jewish state has ever faced.

“I would like to thank members of the Emergency Volunteers Project for their show of support in Israel’s time of need,” said Oren Geron, counselor for academic affairs at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C. “Today, we are honored to be with you to commemorate this tragic event in your nation’s history and to remember the victims taken from us far too soon. The United States is Israel’s greatest ally and our unshakable bond perseveres not only in times of prosperity, but also in times of sorrow.”

The ceremony concluded with the students from KSDS leading the crowd in a prayer for peace and the national anthem. Wendy Gelber, head of the lower school, said the program allowed their students to learn how to put thoughts of gratitude into actions.

“We want our students to remember that it is our ongoing obligation to be on guard against evil,” said Gelber. “On the world stage, we share that obligation with Israel.”

Photos by Steve Ruark

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