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EDITIONS
 Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 10:27 GMT
'My watch over WTC dead changed me'
Jessica Moore, Jessica Russak and Judith Kaplan
Jessica Russak (centre) with fellow watchers
Young women - unusually - took part in a Jewish ritual to watch over the World Trade Center dead in New York, as Jessica Russak told in our Real Time series. Here, a year on, she reflects on the experience.

The vigil ended in mid-May, a decision taken by the rabbis who first started the watch. That was a really hard day. It was then that we realised it had actually ended, or maybe that we had spent all this time watching over so many dead.

REAL TIME REVISITED
Workers at WTC site in 2001
Orthodox Jews believe the dead mustn't be left alone until burial
This ritual - sitting shmira - typically lasts 24 hours
As it took months to recover WTC dead, the vigil lasted eight months
Jessica and her friends took part at weekends
Since then, I've lost two friends to cancer. One was a woman with three young sons; the other my best friend's 16-year-old brother. I cried, but I couldn't help but feel better about it all.

Unlike those who died in the 11 September attacks, they had their whole bodies and knew they were going to die. After 24 hours of shmira, they were buried and their souls went straight to heaven - no delays.

The night this boy died, his friends came in to sit this vigil and recite psalms, just as we had at the New York City morgue. The day after the funeral, I spoke at his school and realised that the times are so strange. Here we are, young people, sharing stories about sitting vigil for the dead.

NYC tribute to rescue services
Firefighters were among those who died
On 11 September, I was among the watchers asked to come back to the morgue as religious counsellors. We said our psalms and spoke to some policemen and firemen who were there to remember their friends.

I saw a couple of them recently - they recognised my face but couldn't place who I was. I smiled and left. They looked relaxed and happy, I didn't want to remind them where they'd last seen me.

It just shocks me that this is the second Hanukkah since the attacks. Soon it will be three and then four and then five.

New light

Now I've graduated, and I'm getting married to a guy who I started dating around the same time I started the vigil.

Jessica Moore and Jessica Russak
Jessica (right) with fellow watcher Jessica Moore
He says that the shmira was what made him go, "Hmmm, there's more to her than I thought." That helps bring me back to it. Yes, it was depressing and soul-wrenching and spiritually uplifting (literally), but it felt great.

It stays with me. Even if I had only done it for one day, it would stay with me. But it always feels good because when you comfort someone's soul, they are grateful eternally - multiply that by 3,000.


This festive season we are getting updates from those who told their stories in our Real Time series. See the links on right for others' stories.



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See also:

28 Nov 01 | Americas
30 May 02 | Americas
06 Feb 02 | Americas
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