Leadership 101: Bystanders and Upstanders

Updated: Feb 10, 2019

It was shortly after 8:45am on the morning of Black Tuesday; Jamie was wrapping up a conference call at his commodities trading office a few blocks south of the World Trade Center when he and his colleagues heard a bang followed by a flickering of the lights. From the back windows of his company's office, he saw a fire emerging from the top part of one of the Twin Towers. A breaking news report announced that a small commuter plane had struck the World Trade Center. From Jamie's vantage point, the hole that he was looking at seemed a lot bigger than a commuter plane. Here is what happened next in Jamie's own words:

One could have tried to walk home as most people did. But that moment, I responded to a citywide call for emergency personnel to help. I was told by the Hatzolah dispatcher to head to City Hall - about 8 blocks north of my office - just North East of the Towers.  I ran up Broadway.  But, before I had time to think, I witnessed what seemed like a scene straight out of a movie.  I saw and heard a plane on full throttle dip its wing and pummel into the second tower. This is a scene that we have all witnessed over and over on TV.  Despite viewing it so many times it is hard for me to register it as the reality it was.

Jamie was assisting injured victims in the area when the first tower collapsed, and continued to help as many as he could despite the trauma and utter shock of the moment.

This is the story of 9/11 first responder Jamie Lassner, long-time EMT and Hatzalahmember who was at the scene of the chaos on September 11, 2001. During the rescue efforts, Jamie incurred a serious injury and subsequently suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder in the months that followed.

Past participants on Forum for Jewish Leadership's USA Internship had the opportunity to interact with Jamie through a photo expose and walking tour of the 9/11 Memorial. Jamie's message centered around devoting his life in fulfillment of the imperative of what he calls, "serving as my brother’s and sister’s keeper".

What motivated Jamie to run toward the danger as opposed to away from it? His answer was simple yet profound: living your life as an expansive person enables you to more readily do for others. "We all have the ability to seize the moment".

Jamie's leadership message of being an upstander as opposed to a bystander, echoes ancient wisdom from the Talmud:

From where is it derived that one who sees another drowning in a river, or being dragged away by a wild animal, or being attacked by bandits, is obligated to save him... The verse states: “And you shall restore it to him” (Deuteronomy 22:2)

The verse speaks of the requirement to return a found lost object to its rightful owner; an alternative interpretation can also be read, "And you shall restore him to him", i.e. by saving the physical life of the other, you are giving them back to themselves; this happens byway of choosing to live the life an upstander.

Living in New York City during the years of the construction and completion of the magnificent Freedom Tower, I was often struck by the powerful symbols of resolve, fight, and resilience that emanated from the project. Jamie's leadership 101 lesson is to be an upstander; to seizing the opportunities in our day to day professional and personal lives to make a difference and get involved.

In the words of Jeryko, a dear friend of Forum for Jewish Leadership and talented musician: "What are you fighting for?"

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