Community, Latest News

‘Have you heard? Have you heard?’

There were no guilt-by-association overtures delivered by Rabbi Joe Hample on Sept. 11, 2001.

Back then, the leader of Morgantown’s Tree of Life Congregation was just “Joe,” as he had yet to launch his rabbinical training.

He was a guy with an esoteric college education — he had been a Russian scholar at Harvard — who was working pretty far from home, in a job pretty far from his degree.

Hample had grown up in Larchmont, N.Y., on Long Island, not that far from the tall towers of midtown Manhattan, really.

On this day 20 years ago, he was living on the edge of that other ocean, in San Francisco, where he was employed as a systems analyst at Wells Fargo Bank.

“Three hours behind the East Coast,” he said.

“On my morning bus, I heard some chaff and chatter about a big disaster somewhere, but I never could catch the details.”

Then, at work, he remembered, everyone was yelling the question, “Have you heard? Have you heard?”

The systems analyst got there just in time to be told he and his office-mates were being sent back home for the day.

“Televisions were on and everyone was watching in shock,” he said.

San Francisco is a vibrant city with lots of diversity, and Hample was happy to report that he didn’t see any rancor displayed at his co-workers of different nationalities.

“Wells Fargo had staff of all races and religions,” he said.

“I remember a colleague of South Asian heritage whose surname was ‘Islam.’ But I think we were all supportive of our Muslim team members. Obviously, it wasn’t their fault.”

The once-and-future rabbi may have been looking ahead at the country roads that would eventually take him to a synagogue on South High Street.

Hample remembered that now-infamous Sept. 11 arriving on the calendar just a few days before the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah.

“Every rabbi in America rewrote their High Holiday sermons at the last minute that year.”

TWEET @DominionPostWV