15 Sep 2014
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Remembering our Friend Paul on September 11

Like teak, victims of 9/11 will live on, hard to blunt their memories.

Remembering our Friend Paul on September 11

Teak weathers well. Baked and watered in Asian tropical forests, more than 100 feet high, the hardwood can repel droves of burrowing insects. Cutting or shaping the wood can blunt metal tools.

Teak has been popular for the decks of ships, where it resists sea and salt. Park benches are also a good use for the resilient wood. In northern climates like New England, the wood can withstand temperatures in wide arcs between heat and cold, pelting snow and rain, and the assaults of ice and wind. Some teak benches have been around for a century.

The bench in the Beth El Temple Center playground on Concord Avenue is made of teak. It usually spends winters under snow and ice piled onto it by plows clearing the parking lot and walkways. By spring, the bench is freed by the melt and parents can once again sit and watch their children in the playground.

The bench was placed there in memory of Paul Friedman, murdered on September 11, 2001. Paul was on the same plane as Ted Hennessey and Carlos Montoya, also from Belmont, and Lisa Gordenstein, whose sister lives here. The 78 other passengers and 11 crew were on their way to California. Instead, terrorist Mohamed Atta flew Flight 11 into one of the Twin Towers.

Because of the attack on the World Trade Center, Paul never saw his adopted infant grow into the 11-year old he is today (Paul’s widow has remarried and lives in another state). One estimate is that on 9/11, more than 3,000 kids lost a parent that day.

The wood, stone and metal monuments to the dead of 9/11 have a purpose that belies human frailty; they have more solidity than the words of eulogies and epitaphs, more permanence than feelings like grief and even the people who suffer sorrowful loss. 

The extremists, who carried out or applauded 9/11, still want to injure and murder, even as we get better at destroying their leadership. They believe in their cause so much so that they’d sacrifice their lives and even their children’s lives.  

What if they had a weapon, we have to ask, to kill a city instead of two buildings – would they use it?

The Sunday New York Times carried a story about a suicide bomber in Kabul, a boy. He had entered the compound among other boys who sold trinkets to NATO soldiers and staff and were not checked so closely. He was perhaps 14 and maybe as young as 12.

When he reached a heavily-guarded area, he detonated and killed mostly children like himself. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack and put the age of the bomber at 28. Police on the scene checked his remains and are convinced that he was no more than a teenager. Children as young as six have been used to carry out attacks.

A woman leader of a country, at war with its neighbors for decades, was asked when the conflict would be over. She answered that it would happen when her adversaries loved their children more than they hated her country.

The teak bench in the playground, donated by Paul’s widow and the Temple Brotherhood, is there for those who love their children more than they hate their enemies. Across the world, parents like these are our allies in the struggle.

The haiku inscription on the bench says:

“Remember our friend Paul when we watch our children – free to play and grow.”

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