The story first appeared on September 11, 2002 on Jewish website jewsweek.com, under the name “The Miracle Minyan.” Although that story no longer appears to be available, the same article resurfaced later under the title “Waiting for the Tenth Man.”
The following includes the entire text of that article (which can also still be found on beliefnet.com HERE ):
“Waiting for the Tenth Man”
A strange old man’s slowness inadvertently saves nine others on September 11th
Excerpted with permission from “Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart” by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal
In a small, makeshift synagogue not far from the Twin Towers, Orthodox Jewish professionals regularly meet early each morning for daily prayer services. Usually there is no problem rounding up a minyan (quorum of ten men required to pray) and the cramped quarters often overflow with worshipers.
But on the morning of September 11th, there was an uncommon dearth of available men. Perhaps they had decided to remain that morning at their resident shuls for the important selichos services that precede the High Holidays. Or, perhaps, they were participating in the shloshim (one month anniversary) memorial services for the Jews who had been killed in the Grand Canyon helicopter crash.
Two hundred men who worked in the World Trade Center, were, in fact, late to work that morning because of their participation in the shloshim service. But whatever the reason, the congregants were faced with a problem: only nine men were present, and time was marching on. These were serious men, professionals, and all had to be at their desks at the World Trade Center well before 9:00 a.m.
“What should we do?” they asked each other, impatiently tapping their wrist watches, as they paced the floors. “This situation hasn’t happened in ages! Where is everybody?”
“I’m sure a tenth man will come along soon,” someone else soothed. “We have to be patient.”
The men waited, restless and tense. Some of them were already running late. Finally, when they had all but given up and were going to resort to individual prayer (instead of the preferred communal one), an old man whom nobody had ever seen before shuffled in the door.
“Did you daven (pray) yet?” he asked, looking at he group.
“No, sir!” one shouted jubilantly. “We’ve been waiting for you!”
“Wonderful,” the elderly man responded. “I have to say kaddish (a special prayer recited on the yahrzeit, the anniversary of a close family member’s death) for my father and I have to daven before the omed (lead the prayer services). I’m so glad that you didn’t start yet.”
Under normal circumstances, the men would have asked the gentleman polite questions: what was his name, where was he from, how did he come to their obscure shul? By now, however, they were frantic to start and decided to bypass protocol. They hastily handed the man a siddur (prayer book), hoping he would prove himself to be the Speedy Gonzales of daveners (prayers).
The old man proved to be anything but.
He seemed to rifle the pages of the siddur in agonizingly slow motion. Indeed, every gesture and movement that the man made seemed deliberately unhurried, protracted, and prolonged. The worshipers were respectful but definitely on shpilkes (pins and needles) to get to work.
“Oy!” someone smacked his forehead in frustration. “Are we going to be late!”
That’s when they heard the first explosion: the horrible blast that would forever shake their souls. They ran outside and saw the smoke, the chaos, the screaming crowds, the apocalypse that lay before them.
It should have been us. After the initial shock and horror, consciousness dawned on them quickly. They realized they had been rescued from the jaws of death. Each and every one of them worked in the Twin Towers. Each and every one of them was supposed to be there before nine. Had it not been for the elderly man and his slow-motion schacharis (morning services), they probably would have been killed.
They turned to thank him, this mystery man who had saved their lives. They wanted to hug him in effusive gratitude and find out his name and where he had come from on that fateful morning.
But they’ll never know the answers to these questions that nag at them to this day-when they turned around to embrace him, the man was gone, his identity forever a mystery.
Copyright (c) 2002 by Yitta Halberstam Mendlebaum and Judith Leventhal. Used with permission of Adams Media Corporation.
An extract of the same story can also still be found on Jewish news website Shmais News Service HERE [LINK], although the complete article appears to be unavailable.
Notably, the Grand Canyon helicopter crash referred to in the article’s second paragraph — which happened exactly one month prior to 9/11 and reportedly claimed the lives of five prominent Jewish New York residents — was heavily covered in the media at the time.
Here’s the LA Times story on the crash from August 11, 2002 (which can be found here ):
Helicopter Crash Kills 6 After Grand Canyon Tour
By Eric Malnic and Tom Gorman
August 11, 2001
The pilot and five passengers were killed Friday afternoon when a helicopter crashed while returning from a tourist flight over the Grand Canyon.
A 23-year-old woman survived the crash. She was listed in critical condition after being airlifted to the University Medical Center in Las Vegas with burns over 80% of her body.
The passengers were family members from the New York City area vacationing here together, according to sources close to the investigation.
They were staying at an upscale Las Vegas Strip hotel, sources said, and had signed on for a three-hour, $317-per-person tour featuring a champagne picnic along the Colorado River.
The helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350, crashed at 2:30 p.m. into a ridgeline above the Arizona high desert, about 60 miles east of Las Vegas.
Little remained of the aircraft. Some wreckage was strewn more than 50 feet across the rise, on land governed by the federal Bureau of Land Management outside the Grand Canyon National Park.
The first helicopters to reach the scene were from the same tour company, following the same flight pattern. They were ordered away so emergency aircraft could approach, said Bert Byers, spokesman for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Friday evening, the National Transportation Safety Board was preparing to send crash investigators to the scene from Los Angeles. They are expected to take over the investigation today, an NTSB spokesman said.
There were no immediate clues to the cause of the crash, one of several in and around the Grand Canyon in recent years.
“We have no idea what went wrong,” said Laura Brown, public relations chief for the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington.
The helicopter was operated by Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, which is headquartered in Arizona but flies more than a dozen tours daily from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
Company officials declined comment Friday afternoon. Family and friends of the victims were sequestered inside the company’s airport offices, at the south end of the Strip, and were comforted later in the day by an Orthodox rabbi.
“They are in an incredible state of shock,” Rabbi Felipe Goodman, of Temple Beth Sholom of Las Vegas, told Associated Press. “They’re trying to put together and see what’s next.”
Five helicopter companies operate tours out of McCarran airport, collectively offering about 90 tours daily over the Grand Canyon, said airport spokeswoman Hilarie Grey.
The Grand Canyon and the desert around it have been the site of multiple helicopter and fixed-wing plane crashes over the years.
Because of the danger of flying below or at the level of the canyon rim, and because of protests from environmentalists about disruptions to the canyon’s quiet, the federal government in 1987 banned flights below the rim and restricted planes to certain corridors. Restrictions have been added since then.
In 1986, a sightseeing airplane and a helicopter collided several hundred feet below the canyon’s lower north rim, killing all 20 on board the plane and the five in the helicopter.
Most of the deadly accidents have involved small sightseeing airplanes. Among them: one in 1995 that killed eight of 10 people aboard, a 1992 crash that killed all 10 aboard, one in 1991 that killed all seven on board and one in 1989 that killed 10 and injured 11.
The most recent helicopter crash occurred in 1999, killing the pilot and injuring a second person, also a pilot. There were no tourists aboard.
About 750,000 tourists take about 50,000 flights over the park each year, officials estimate. Travel experts consider the Grand Canyon the helicopter tour capital of the country, feeding a $100-million-plus industry.
On its Web site, Papillon boasts it is the world’s largest helicopter sightseeing company. Its largest helicopter, the one that crashed Friday, has a glass floor. The Web site notes, too, that should a helicopter engine fail, “the rotor blades will continue to turn at normal operating speeds, allowing the pilot to make a fully controlled landing.”
Gorman reported from Las Vegas and Malnic from Los Angeles. Times researcher John Jackson also contributed to this story.
Coverage of the same story by the New York Times can be found here