‘If my son hadn’t forgotten his book order form, I would be dead’

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

‘If my son hadn’t forgotten his book order form, I would be dead’

Jewish survivors of the attacks on New York’s Twin Towers recount a disaster zone of biblical proportions

Michael Daventry is Jewish News’s foreign and broadcast editor

Ari Schonbrum worked on the 101st floor of Tower 1 at the World Trade Center
Ari Schonbrum worked on the 101st floor of Tower 1 at the World Trade Center

Jewish survivors of the attacks on New York’s Twin Towers have used this week’s 20th anniversary to recount a disaster zone of biblical proportions.

“It was the biggest ball of fire I’d ever seen, the biggest column of smoke,” said Ben Diamond, who was only in his seventh month as a volunteer for the Hatzalah emergency medical response service.

“I’d seen auto accidents, I’d seen people hit by cars, I had seen some things that
I thought were fairly serious incidents, even with multiple patients. But this was something of unfathomable proportions.”

Ari Schonbrun, who usually worked in the 101st floor of the first World Trade Centre tower, was held up on his way to work by his son.

The eight-year-old had forgotten to return a book order form to his class and needed help.

“If he would have brought that book order home on Friday, I would have done it with him on Sunday, and I would have been in my office at 8am on Tuesday and you’d be interviewing somebody else because I would have been dead.”

Schonbrun was mere paces away from the lifts that would take him up to the office when the first plane struck his building.

“I must have been about eight feet from that bank of elevators when as best as I can describe there was an explosion,” he said. “I thought a bomb had gone off in the elevator in front of me. The entire building shook, violently shook, the lights went out, the place filled with smoke and I was literally thrown off my feet. I was on the floor.”

Diamond was metres from the Towers as they began to collapse. One of the first patients he treated was a bystander who had been knocked unconscious by a shoe that hurtled out of the tower and plummeted to the street below.

Soon it was more than mere clothing: he described the darkness brought on by dust and falling debris conjured images of how the Jewish sages described the bondage under the ancient Egyptians.

“If you read Chazal about the various aspects of what Hoshek was like in Mitzrayim, that it was so dark and so thick that you couldn’t move, it was almost completely glued you into the place. That was the level of the thickness of the cloud that descended.”

He said he remembers “very vividly” the moment he thought he was going to die: “My mother was leaving me a voicemail, because she was working in midtown at the time, telling me that she’s okay – at the same time as I was saying the Shema because I didn’t think I would ever see my family again or anyone else again.”

Schonbrun assisted a colleague suffering from severe burns down 78 flights of stairs to reach the safety of the street, but it was not until he was outside that he realised a plane strike had caused the fire.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: