Remembering a Son
By Lisa Keys (Sept. 6, 2002 Issue of Forward.com)
At 6 p.m. last September 11, Alex Braginsky, a 38-year-old emigre from Odessa, was scheduled to give a lecture on job education at the New York Association for New Americans, which offers assistance to new immigrants and refugees.
"It's time to give back to the country," Alex had said, explaining to his mother why he added another commitment to his already busy schedule. "The country has given me everything. I have to give back."
Indeed, friends say Alex had a lot to give: He was generous, hard-working and as dependable as a Swiss watch. So dependable, in fact, that Alex, a manager at Reuters news agency, was happy to fill in for a colleague who was unable to attend a breakfast meeting scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at Windows on the World, the posh restaurant atop the World Trade Center.
Alex never made it to his lecture. His remains were never identified by Ground Zero clean-up crews. And now his mother, Nelly Braginsky, who came to this country from Odessa 23 years ago as a single mother, is left with the unenviable task of facing every morning with a deep and profound sense of loss, a pain she says "cannot compare" with anything else.
"On September 11, I died with Alex," Braginsky said. "The rest of my life is only memories about Alex."
Braginsky, blond hair piled high upon her head, ushered the Forward into Alex's former bedroom in the Forest Hills section of Queens, with the instructions to sit at his expansive desk. "Everything belongs to him," she said, opening her arms wide to the canary-yellow walls, covered with pictures of her son- Alex as a baby, Alex on vacation in London, a large profile of Alex superimposed on
an American flag- and "God Bless America" paraphernalia. She
pointed to gifts she had given her son a wooden picture from Indonesia, a chess set, a stock bar, a toy monkey — and said, "Now I take it back."
In her mourning, Braginsky is not one to sit idly and cry. "Alex would have been unhappy if I had spent $10,000 on a stupid stone," she said. So instead, she has taken the money from his life insurance and established the Alexander Braginsky Foundation.
First, Braginsky trained her efforts on Queens College, where Alex had graduated with an honors degree in finance. She established two scholarships in her son's name. "If someone can get an education, he will be happy," she said. "When he started his education, we had no money and he had to have a scholarship." She also created the Alex Braginsky Conference Room, which is attached to the library and has 1,000 books and is inscribed with a memorial to her son.
Braginsky has also focused on Israel, where she established a memorial park in Haifa, known as "Alex Park." "I like Haifa," she said. "There's a lot of young people; there's a university. Alex was born in Odessa, on the Black Sea. Haifa is on the Mediterranean. Alex liked to swim. I feel about Alex, would he agree with me or not? But I loved this place, and I feel like he would love this place, too."
Braginsky has also planted a memorial tree in the southern port of Ashkelon and has dedicated a balcony to her son at the headquarters of the Aish HaTorah Orthodox outreach group near the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Maybe it's smart that I did everything in Israel," Braginsky said. It's already there I don't have to wait for [Mayor Michael]Bloomberg."
After an emotional interview, Braginsky shed angry tears over the govemment's plans for the former World Trade Center site, which in addition to a memorial may include 12 million square feet of office space, retail and hotel space within the boundaries of the 16-acre site. "They want to build office buildings," she said. "I cannot believe this. Now people will work there? So many bodies they couldn't find, and now people will work on top of them?"
"It can only be trees," she continued. "Trees with the names of people who died. Mr. Bloomberg says it can't be a cemetery. But is the Washington monument a cemetery?"
The September 11 attack was a global tragedy, she said. "It's not only our children," she said. "It's New York, It's America, it's the whole world."
"Alex was not bad looking. He was bright, intelligent, successful, and one day he went to work...," Ms. Braginsky said, her voice trailing off.
Nelly and Alex Braginsky arrived in New York in 1979 "to live in freedom," Braginsky said — when Alex was 16 years old. The New York Association for New Americans helped Braginsky find work in a boutique; Alex helped make ends meet by working odd jobs as a security guard, a counselor at a Jewish summer camp and vacuum cleaner salesman. He pursued finance at Queens College and worked for a variety of banks and Wall Street firms before landing his position at Reuters, a job Braginsky said her son had loved.
The two were very close, she said, and they spoke on the phone every day. "He was a person who liked to work; he was very responsible," Braginsky said of her son, who was living in Stamford Conn., at the time of his death. "I blame myself. Maybe if he had been less responsible.... He was always early. If I say 12 o'clock. A minute before, I open the door and he's there."
Now Braginsky is adjusting to a life in which she'll never open the door for her son again. Instead, every room in her cozy apartment is adorned with photographs of Alex and electric yahrzeit candles. "I have light nonstop,everywhere," she said.
When or if Braginsky receives money from the government, she plans to enlarge the park in Haifa, help Israeli children who were orphaned by terrorist attacks and possibly build a playground in Queens. "I can do a lot," she said. "I just have to stay alive. And I don't really care if I do."