June 10, 2024
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East Brunswick ‘Miracle’ Twins Help Save Dad on 9/11

Max and Eden Schechter are known in their community as the miracle twins.

The East Brunswick siblings gained their reputation through what could only be described as a miraculous stroke of luck or divine intervention, or perhaps both. They will celebrate their 20th birthday on September 11 on a day most Americans will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history.

It was also on that day that their father, Barry, took the day off from his job at 7 World Trade Center for their birth, possibly saving him from being one of the approximately 3,000 victims of the attack.

The extraordinary confluence of lucky coincidences included their mother, Allison, delivering them early via emergency C-section.

“It’s been a very interesting experience going through life with that,” said Max, a sophomore at Rutgers Business School. “On one hand it’s amazing and wonderful and makes a very interesting icebreaker. But it was awkward to have that birthday once I got into middle school and high school.”

Where other youngsters in the lower grades got to bring ice cream and cupcakes to celebrate their birthdays at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison, his birthday passed without any festivities. By middle school, the day was marked with commemorative assemblies. Afterward Max’s friends would come up to him and say, “Oh, and happy birthday.”

Eden, an exercise science major at Rutgers University, said the circumstances of her birth weren’t a big deal within her family. “We just talked about it and it made me feel great appreciation and gratitude,” she said, adding that like her brother, she gets a stunned reaction from those outside the family.

“When I tell them my birthday is 9/11/ 2001 they say, ‘Oh really, 9/11/2001?’ and then when I explain they are usually just taken aback.”

As Eden got older and began to understand the gravity of the day and the family’s good fortune surrounding her birth, her parents always stressed that the entire family had to thank God for its blessings.

Those miraculous circumstances came with perks, said Barry. As small children at the Young Israel of East Brunswick, when they would fuss and make noise in shul he would apologize for the disturbance. However, the universal reaction of others always was, “That’s all right. They saved your life.”

On that fateful day Barry, then vice president for internal communications at CitiGroup Asset Management, simply believes, “I had mazel.”

A speechwriter, he had been preparing on September 10 for an important business meeting the next day, when Allison called with the news her doctor wanted her to deliver several days early because of her rising blood pressure.

Barry’s first thought was, “Allison, are you kidding? I need to be here at the World Trade Center.”

Although his coworkers on the 40th floor of 7 World Trade all survived, some suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had horrifying stories of the terror as glass and debris rained down on them as they fled. Another group of coworkers, who were at a breakfast meeting at Windows on the World—the restaurant near the top of the North Tower—were not so lucky.

“I still have an old business card that I had laminated,” said Barry.

On that September 11, Barry remembers arriving at Mercer Medical Center in Trenton at 8 a.m. to find everybody running around. Just after 9 a.m. someone came in and inquired why the couple wasn’t watching television. When they tuned in, they saw one tower standing and assumed it was just the camera angle until they realized it was a terror attack.

The day was surreal as staff kept coming in to tell doctors, nurses and others that their spouse, son, daughter and other loved ones were fine. Others were told that their spouses, mainly police officers, were on their way into New York to offer assistance.

“It was very bittersweet because on one hand we were ecstatic we had our babies, but on the other side was death and destruction,” said Barry. “I forgot my cell phone at home and many friends and family called. When I didn’t answer they assumed I was dead.”

The miracles didn’t stop there for Barry, who regularly attended afternoon mincha services at Chabad of Wall Street. When he finally called the rabbi to let him know he survived, he was informed that all the members of his minyan had also miraculously survived by unexpected twists of fate, such as one who took the day off because his son had broken his arm or another who had missed his train.

The hashgacha pratis, or divine providence, that day seems to have followed Barry, who, exactly a year later on September 11, 2002, was working for a real estate company when he went to look at a property, parking under a large tree. Realizing he was a half-block from his destination, he decided to move his car closer. Not more than 20 seconds later, a huge limb that would have crushed his vehicle with him standing beside it came crashing down. Barry still keeps a photo of that giant branch on his work desk as a reminder.

In January 2020, Barry, Allison and their other daughter, Dora—two years older than the twins and also a Rutgers student—were on an El Al flight from Newark Liberty Airport to Israel to visit Max and Eden, who were taking a gap year at a yeshiva and seminary, when the cabin began to fill with smoke.

The plane, which lost an engine, was forced to make an emergency landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada, where they and the rest of the passengers spent Shabbat with the local Chabad.

Today when others find out about his “near-death experiences,” Barry said their response is often, “Dude, how many lives do you have?”

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