Remembering My Sister 15 Years After 9-11

By Yaakov Morgenstern, whose sister Nancy was killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

nancy-portraitFifteen years ago today my whole life was changed. My dear sister Nancy, Chana Perel, was killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. My sister was a woman who loved living life to the fullest with a smile while keeping to her roots of being a proud orthodox Jewish woman.

Nancy was 32 years old at the time and I cannot believe that today I’m 40 years old. She seemed so much older, experienced and wise.  Nancy was an avid skier and a top notch cyclist. She traveled all over the world to cycle in different types of settings. Places like Colorado, the Grand Canyon, Spain and Italy. All that time, no matter how difficult it would be, she ate kosher and kept shabbos without batting an eye.

During the summer when she would race out of town on a Sunday morning, she would begin to travel after shabbos for 3-4 hours and arrive at the motel 2-3 in morning and only sleep only 4 -5 hours that night just because keeping shabbos was more important. The other racers would make sure to arrive earlier, traveling on Saturday in order to be well rested for the race. For this reason, all her non-Jewish friends respected her so much. They respected her for holding onto her faith as the most important thing in her life even above her greatest passion, which was cycling.

nancy-on-bike

“Sometimes I wondered what her life outside of cycling was like, because all she seemed to do was cycle. I do know that your daughter was deeply admired and loved by her friends and we will miss her greatly. Perhaps the greatest contribution someone can make to their friends, family and colleagues is to inspire others to be great. Nancy was such an inspiration.” – Geoff DiGirolamo

Sunday September 16 2001, we went to her apartment and found her prayer book which was sitting on her table still opened up to the end of the daily prayer. She must have prayed right before she ran out to work and had forgotten to close it. She may have been running late but she would always take the time to pray daily. This is just one example of what exemplified my sister, Nancy. I now use the same prayer book.

Throughout the first few months after my sister was killed, my parents were overwhelmed with letters from her friends, Jew and non-Jew, friends we knew about and those that we didn’t know about. They took the time to write to us about their experiences with Nancy that brought such joy and happiness to us. Most of them are filled with stories about how Nancy kept strongly to her faith and of what a loyal friend she was. They commented about how whenever she walked into to a room she brought so much positive energy with her . These letters were all compiled into a book that my parents published.

The anniversary of 9-11 reminds us that we are faced with evil on a daily basis that never seems to abate. We constantly hear of new terror attacks all over the world.  That is why we must love one another.  She had this uncanny ability to always find the good in people. It is not uncommon to meet people who, by virtue of what they have accomplished or by the way they conduct themselves on a continuing basis, have earned the admiration, approbation and love of those they associate with.

nancy-bike

What is very uncommon, however, is to meet somebody evoking these feelings across such a broad spectrum of society, as Nancy did. She earned the admiration, approbation and love of all those who knew her by being a devoted friend and family member and by doing the little things that matter on a daily basis. She was true to herself and to her ideals. She was there when she was needed, and she made a difference in people’s lives, even casual acquaintances’.

In a phrase, Nancy was, quite simply, a beacon of light for the many of us who knew her. We hope she will be a source of inspiration when you find yourself in a difficult situation or when you see somebody who can use some help. We like to think that although Nancy is no longer with us in body, her spirit lives on. The example she set by just being herself will continue to guide us, and as a result she will forever be a part of our lives.

This is her legacy.

I wish I had an organization like OneFamily 15 years ago to help deal with the unimaginable loss.

4 Comments

  1. Debbie Blatt

    Beautifully written. I was in Lori’s class in Shulamith. Unlike other big sisters, Nancy always acknowledged Lori and her friends. She made me wish that I had a big sister. May her neshama have an aliyah.

    September 11, 2016 Reply
  2. Chayim Lando

    I knew several people who knew her. My grandmother , Shirley Fensterheim, a neighbor of your grandmother on AveN. Also your cousin Moish Goldberg. They had such nice things to say about her.

    September 11, 2016 Reply
  3. What a wonderful woman Nancy was. Was really moved to read this. I wish all members of her family nechama. I’m sure her soul flies high in shomayim.

    September 12, 2016 Reply
  4. Irene Eisdorfer

    I think of Nancy often. I knew her from Shulamith. I remember you Yaacov as well.
    Very nice letter. A big loss. RIP. Simchas in Future by all. IRENE ( Leah’s- Lisa Mom )

    September 12, 2016 Reply

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