Co-Founder of the World Tikkun Center
By Leah Larson and Dahlia Gruen
Reprinted from the Fall 2005 issue of YALDAH
Dovi and Esty Scheiner were married on September 11th, 2001, the same day that terrorists attacked the United States. Although September 11th seemed to be a day of death and darkness, the Scheiners decided to go ahead with the wedding and bring more goodness into the world through the special mitzvah of marriage. Shortly after, they moved to Tribeca (Lower Manhattan), the neighborhood most affected by the attacks on the twin towers. The Scheiners founded the World Tikkun Center which is dedicated to bringing more goodness and light into the world.
What exactly is the World Tikkun Center?
World Tikkun Center is an organization started as a response to the devastation and horror of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Our goals are to foster community in Lower Manhattan, the neighborhood most affected by 9/11, and to give people the chance to have a positive Jewish experience.
What programs does the World Tikkun Center offer?
We offer many programs but here are a few of them: ‘flying challah’, where we randomly distribute fresh, homemade challah, shabbat dinners, and fun Torah classes which are held out of art galleries. They are split between social mingling, an interesting personality/celebrity and some good Jewish thought. We have a Yiddish club we run for a senior residence nearby and a women’s dinner club where we cook dinner together then discuss a Jewish woman from our history… the list goes on!
What was your first reaction when you heard about the terrorist attacks?
At first I did not believe it to be true. Later, when I realized the scope of what had occurred I cried and cried. I still shudder at the thought of people who had to choose between jumping hundreds of feet to death, or being burnt alive, as so many did on that day.
Dovi had a different reaction, he actually saw the burning towers early in the day of our wedding and he was distraught. He could not reconcile dancing and rejoicing with the horror he’d experienced and the thought of thousands of people dying just a short distance away. He sought advice from everyone he saw and couldn’t be comforted.
Finally he called his Rabbi who told him that its not a matter of dancing while people are dying, rather he should realize that a wedding is a great mitzvah, and what had occurred was a terrible evil. By going on with the wedding, we would be fighting back evil with goodness. If we were to stop the wedding, the Rabbi explained, it would be one more victory for those that want to spread evil in this world.
How did you decide to start the World Tikkun Center?
After our wedding, the pain didn’t go away, we had to live with the horror of the day. With every passing anniversary, one week, two weeks, one month, etc. we were constantly reminded that our wedding day wasn’t just any day, but a day of true sadness. We wanted to do something to continue to fight against evil by spreading goodness in the world.
Then someone told us about Tribeca, the neighborhood closest to Ground Zero, and we were intrigued. We used to go on the train and get off in Tribeca and just walk around the streets in the shadow of the two beams of light that had replaced the towers. We decided to move there. We didn’t really have a focus or a plan; we didn’t even know anyone who lived there. We just felt that we needed to be close by.
On Fridays, I would bake challah and randomly knock on my neighbors’ doors to give them a small loaf. This was my way of giving something, doing a little act of good. It was also our way of meeting our neighbors. I started inviting people over for a Shabbos meal.
Tribeca is a neighborhood that has almost no religious people and nearly everyone I met had never before been to a Shabbos dinner. It took a while for people to join us. Every week I invited some people and hoped that they would come. I would cook a meal and then end up giving it all to my doormen. After many weeks, we finally had our first guest and we were thrilled.
Slowly people began joining us for a Shabbos meal. Soon, they were meeting people from the neighborhood that they had never known at our table. They also told their friends about an awesome Jewish experience they had and their friends were intrigued. We felt the seeds of a Jewish neighborhood take root. We decided to establish an organization whose goals would be to foster community life Downtown and to give people a positive Jewish experience.
What was the main inspiration throughout the process of starting and running the World Tikkun Center?
Doing any act of goodness as a response to the evil that was perpetrated on September 11, 2001. We’re dedicated to bringing more light into the world and kept this mission in mind.
Have you ever looked back and wished that either the terrorist attacks were on a different day or your wedding was?
That’s a difficult question. I never really thought about going back and changing what was. I guess we both just dealt with what was given to us and asked ‘what can we do’? We felt that we could bring ‘tikkun’, healing, to a community that was affected by the attacks.
Are you able to overcome the sadness and mourning that come on September 11th and celebrate your anniversary?
We commemorate the day in some way to honor the victims and their families. Last year, we held a Yartzeit memorial, overlooking Ground Zero. It was on the Hebrew anniversary for relatives of the Jewish victims because 9/11 came out on a Saturday.
We also were invited to attend the 9/11 memorial that was on Ground Zero with the Mayor. This year we will hold the finishing ceremony of our 9/11 Unity Torah on the Hebrew Yartzeit at Ground Zero. The Torah is a project of the Soho Synagogue. The Soho Synagogue is the first ever synagogue in Soho which my husband, myself and our dear friends Katrin and Tony Sosnick have started. Our first services will be Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur of this year.
What has been the most rewarding part of this whole experience?
Meeting so many wonderful people and getting them excited about their community and about their Judaism.
What are your plans/goals for the future of WTC?
The more distant future (10+ years)… To have a thriving Jewish Community downtown, complete with a Mikvah, Shul, Jewish Preschool, Day School, kosher stores and restaurants. With the goal that Jewish life downtown will be open, warm, accepting, very positive for everyone involved. A place that will show the terrorists that they may have succeeded in taking innocent lives and destroying loving families, yet they also succeeded in bringing so many people together; that from the ashes a Jewish community was born and that their evil act has spurned thousands of random acts of goodness and kindness.