Five Towns residents packed the Village Court in Cedarhurst to remember the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Rows of people stood while seats were full. More than 100 people attended.

Residents talked about the hundreds of people at the 20th anniversary last year. A gray, drizzly sky forced the remembrance indoors this year.

The Lawrence High School String Ensemble started with a melancholic violin-and-cello instrumental song called, “America,” written by Michael Francis Smith.

The Orthodox Jewish mayor of Cedarhurst, Benjamin Weinstock, welcomed the many firefighters, police officers, clergy, and politicians, including Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman; Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, Dean of the Rambam Mesivta High School in Lawrence; and Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Woodmere.

The Pledge of Allegiance was followed by a soaring rendition of the National Anthem by the Lawrence High School Vocal Ensemble.

“We lift to you in prayer all those who died in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and on United Airlines Flight 93,” said Deacon Dan Otton of the Roman Catholic Parish of the Five Towns during his invocation, “and for all those who have died subsequently from their illness caused by that day.”

“We pray for those who courageously responded to provide aid and comfort to the afflicted.” The Deacon resolved “not to fall into the trap of blaming entire groups, races, or religions in response to acts of hostility… We will be voices of hope and creators of new dreams.”

Mayor Weinstock opened his remarks by saying 9/11 “is a day when all good people of every race and gender pause to remember and reflect on the tragic events on that day.”

The Mayor said that the number of people with cancer from working “on the pile” after the attacks has doubled in the last three years.

The attacks “evoked an international outpouring of support.” Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom had the American national anthem played at the changing of the guard ceremony in front of Buckingham Palace on September 12, 2001. It was the only time that was done.

The Queen “embodied virtues and values” of courage, faith, service, patriotism, and self-confidence” – seemingly lost today, said the Mayor.

Today’s “Generation Z” is “self-absorbed, screen-obsessed, windy, and entitled. Its ultra-Liberal character is responsible for many of the ills that we face today.”

Don’t give up on Generation Z, though. “We have a responsibility to teach them by setting an example of virtues and values that we admire.”

On 9/11, ordinary people living ordinary lives “reacted with extraordinary heroism… We witnessed the best of America” on 9/11. We need to pass that down to our children and grandchildren, said Mayor Weinstock.

New York State Assemblyman Ari Brown noted how “the attacks were fueled by hate and jealousy of our American freedoms and way of life.”

Matthew Beckwith was in attendance. President George W. Bush had his arm around his grandfather, New York City Firefighter Bob Beckwith, at Ground Zero when President Bush said, through a megaphone: “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

“These are the people whom we’re proud of, who brought us together,” said Assemblyman Brown to loud applause. “We need a lot more of what Matt’s grandfather brought us.”

Assemblyman Brown said it’s “when we bond together as a country, and within our communities, that we truly show the world our American spirit.”

The reading of the time frames when each plane crashed was followed by the names of people who lived in the Lawrence school district and who died on 9/11:

NYC Firefighter Kevin O’Rourke, 44 years old; Neil Levin, 47, Executive Director of the Port Authority NY & NJ; Thomas Jurgens, 26, a Senior Court Officer at the NYS Supreme Court; NYC Firefighter Joseph Rivelli, Jr., 43; Ira Zaslow, 57, Assistant VP at Lehman Brothers; Bettina Browne-Radburn, 49, Asst. VP of Mergers & Acquisitions, AON; and a Hewlett resident, Howard Selwyn, 47, who worked at Eurobrokers.

A moment of silence followed by the heart-rending “Taps” played by Brian Stabile. Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” was sung by the Lawrence High School Vocal Ensemble.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman remembered his nephew, Jurgens, an Army veteran and a volunteer firefighter who died on 9/11. “Speaking today, not as the County Executive but as a family member,” Blakeman empathized with those who lost loved ones. “It doesn’t get any easier. If anything, it gets a little worse. As the years go by, you think about what could have been or would have been had they survived.”

Blakeman takes comfort because “there would be a lot more casualties had it not been for the brave and courageous first responders.”

“We have a tremendous debt of gratitude to all those who sacrifice their lives and volunteer: fire, EMT, police, and the like,” said Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, Dean of the Rambam Mesivta High School in Lawrence.

“I want to end with a prayer for the well-being, certainly the souls of the departed, the health and well-being of the families, and hopefully we can re-develop a sense of unity, camaraderie, and peace.”

The audience sang “G-d Bless America” along with the Lawrence High School Vocal Ensemble to close the program.

By David Schneier