September 11th, 2001 ….or my first contact with Mark, long before we met.

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On October 28 2016  my film EYE FOR AN EYE  the story of my relationship with serial Killer Mark Stroman  ( who was executed in 2011) is finally arriving on the big screen.  The film ,released  in several cities in the US and Canada  tells the amazing  story of Revenge, Change and forgiveness . It is a film that carries such a poignant message in the times of hate, division ,Islamophobia  that live in. In the coming weeks  I will publish a series  of blogs detailing  the history of my relationship with Mark , the first serial killer I met and over the years grew to call  my friend.

To learn more about the film and news about the upcoming release  please go to our Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/aneyeforaneye.film/

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“How are you Ilan?” The voice sounded faint and far away. The connection was full of static. It was my mother calling from Israel. “I tried you on your cell, but the lines are busy.” “Yes,” I told her, “the cell lines are crushed.” It was September 11th, 2001, she just watched the collapse of the two World Trade Center towers on TV in Israel. I tried to explain to her that I watched them too…sort of. If anyone could have understood my bizarre behavior that morning, I thought, she could.

I was in my office on 20th Street “pretending” to work. We had two productions going and lots to do. All my colleagues and employees were on the roof paralyzed by shock watching the burning towers. But without realizing, I reverted to an old Israeli survival mechanism in times of emergency: pretending that life is normal not letting anything interrupt my routine. On that day I perfected that old “trick” to the absurd. For a few minutes, I watched the first tower in flames and then went downstairs to “work” thus missing the sight of the second plane hitting. Screams of “Oh my God” and the noise of people in the stairways lured me back to the roof, gazing at the two burning towers. Then, again after few minutes, I went to the office, trying to concentrate on working. Yelling, screaming and the sound of feet in the stair ways lured me to the roof yet again. By then I already missed the collapse of the first tower and later the collapse of the second tower. My mother’s call put an end to this silly routine.

“Are Alice and the kids safe?” she asked. “Yes,” I told her. My kids went  to school uptown and were already at home and so was Alice, my wife. She too used to work uptown. As I recounted what had happened to my mother, thousands of miles away, I realized how I had essentially missed seeing all the key moments of the event. Then I saw from the window of our empty office (everyone but me was on the roof) a sight I have never seen before in NY.

From my office window you could see the Empire State Building and suddenly I saw two roaring F16 combat jets flying low over the Empire State building disappearing into the sky, only to return few minutes later as if encircling the building.

It is a sight I remember very well as a child and young adult in Israel. Long before the announcement of the breakout of a war or hostilities, we could watch combat fighter planes flying over Tel Aviv towards the North or the South of the country. They were on a combat mission and their roaring engines, shook our windows rattling our nerves, and caused car alarms to get off.

“It is like in Israel,” I said to my mom after the planes had disappeared. I suddenly realized the meaning of the moment. I left Israel after the 1973 October War, tired of fighting, conflict and violence, seeking the relative peace of NY. Now the Middle East came chasing after me in my new “Safe Haven.” The audacity of the attack, and the fighter planes over my office building, told me that a new war had just begun. The hate that was expressed by the hijackers trying to cause as many civilian deaths as possible was too profound, the attack too cold blooded, not to trigger something much bigger. For me, more than the collapse of the towers, it was the two lone F16 planes roaring over my office that signaled that something ominous was in the making.

As my mind was racing to digest and seek meaning in this act of meaningless mass murder the line went dead and my mother’s voice disappeared.

It was this search for the meaning from this event and its impact that led me three years later to the Polunsky Death Row unit, sitting across the glass from a murderer… a serial killer. He too claimed that September 11 had thrown his world apart. He too was taken aback by the “statement of hate” of the hijackers and by the audacity of their attack that he called “revenge killing.”

It took close to two hours to walk the seventy odd blocks separating my office from my house. Years later I recalled this walk to Mark Stroman during my prison visit. He begged me to describe to him “my” September 11th in New York after talking so much about “his” September 11th in Dallas, Texas.

I described the eerie sight of seeing hundreds of thousands of people packing the sidewalks and the roads. All public transportation was shut down. I told him about the sight of hundreds of exhausted businessmen in suits near Pen Station sitting and lying on the sidewalks. They could not make it home to the suburbs that night. All commuter trains were shut down. Resigned to their fate, they were just sitting, leaning against their bags and suitcases. “It sounds like Hollywood disaster movie,” Mark commented. Indeed, it seemed like one. Life as we knew it ceased to exit.

Mark Stroman told me that he too felt the “apocalypse” approaching. In some mysterious ways, I felt we were connecting by the memory of what, at the time, was an unexplained threat.

Yet, while I responded by seeking the company of friends and family, all coming together seeking solace by being together, Mark went home alone, drunk and high on drugs, seized by rage and dreams of vengeance.

The murders that he committed in the days after September 11th would bring us together, sitting across the dividing glass, in the interview room. Yet it was the memory of September 11th, and of Israel and the wars I fought (my own killings) that would help to transform this professional relationship of a journalist filmmaker and an interviewee into something far deeper than I could ever have imagined, changing in the process his life and mine. Though I met Mark for the first time in the late fall of 2004, unknown to both of us we were introduced on September 11th, 2001.

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