Jewish Home residents turn 9/11 shock into artwork

"All of us were watching it on TV and none of us could believe it," said resident Miriam Blaustein, 89. "It was just so horrifying. … I was shocked that something like that could happen here. And then I was horrified when I realized what kind of hatred and dedication it took to ram into a building and kill yourself."

Blaustein was not alone in her sentiments. Many of the other residents expressed fear, anger and regret. For many at the Jewish Home, the attacks triggered an emotional response based on other events that occurred during their lifetime.

"The American-born residents talked about Pearl Harbor, and the foreign-born residents talked about the Holocaust," said Gary Tanner, the Jewish Home's director of creative arts.

But the residents and directors of the Jewish Home decided to mold their grief into something more positive — literally. A tile-quilt collage of clay figures, six months in the making, was unveiled on Monday, the six-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks, at a ceremony featuring live music and television crews. The 80 figurines represented a gamut of emotions. There were signs saying "shalom," and "peace," and wishing wells and American flags.

Two of the most poignant figurines were positioned side by side; one depicted a person on a bench with a broken limb, and the adjacent bench was eerily empty.

"We are a community here at the Jewish Home, and I think the work reflects that," said Sherie Koshover, the home's community relations director. "This project allowed people who weren't able to respond in traditional ways, such as financially or physically, an opportunity to create something positive."

The magnitude of the project and the emotions it engendered transformed its creation into a unique event. Typically, residents are encouraged to come to the Jewish Home's art center and participate in creative activities. For this project, however, Tanner and Jennifer Cutler, who coordinated the Jewish Home's activities, decided to bring the collage door to door to more than 400 residents.

"It was really a project driven by the residents," said Cutler. "They were the ones that set the tone and decided how to come together as a community."

For Mollie Spirn, 80, the terrorist attacks hit home in several ways. Spirn is New York-born and bred, and her daughter worked for several years in the Twin Towers.

Spirn, whose contribution to the project was called a "bowl of optimism," said the lingering sounds from the events was the not the sharp rumble of a jumbo jet hurling toward the towers but the voice of a president — Franklin Roosevelt.

"After Pearl Harbor, everyone was gathered around their radio, and that's when he gave his famous speech about a 'day that will live in infamy.' That's the line I kept on hearing in my head," said Spirn.

Blaustein agreed, but phrased it a little differently.

"Peace and togetherness is really central to our lives, but no one talks about it, because it's not as dramatic as war. I think that's one of the great things about this project. We turned a horrible event into a celebration of togetherness."

The Sept. 11 collage is on display at the Jewish Home, 302 Silver Ave., S.F. Information: (415) 334-4375.