Survivors of tragedy share their stories of resilience, adversity

Zak Ebrahim has made an award-winning career of talking about his Egyptian-born, American citizen father, El-Sayyid Nosair who also orchestrated from prison the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, along with some associates Ebrahim had met when he was 7 at a shooting range where he literally shot the light off the target.

“My uncle turned to the other men and said in Arabic, ‘like father, like son.’ They all seemed to get a really big laugh out of that comment, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I fully understood what they thought was so funny. They thought they saw in me the same destruction that my father was capable of,” Ebrahim said.

Ebrahim came to Lazar Middle School in Montville for its Living Lessons Day, held every two years. Fifty victims and survivors of tragedies and adversities come to share their stories and journeys and resilience.

How did Ebrahim overcome that early exposure to extremism? Through friendships. Through being bullied — and bullying a gay coworker.

“I had shown disdain toward a particular young man because of what I perceived as his choice, and in the face of my hatred he showed me kindness,” said Ebrahim.

Later, his mother told him something profound.

“She looked at me with the weary eyes of someone who had experienced enough hatred to last a lifetime and said, ‘I’m tired of hating people,'” Ebrahim said.

One student bluntly asked, “What did your father think was wrong with America?”

“Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt, was a murderous, torturous dictator who disappeared tens of thousands of Egyptian people, and he did so with the financial and military backing of the United States government,” Ebrahim said.

Ebrahim said he felt hopeful about the future of the country and offered some advice about those who sow divisions.

“It becomes incumbent upon each one of us to make some effort to reduce that division,” he said.

“Removing hate from our society, that these children are hearing these messages, gives me hope for the future of our country,” said Pam Friedman, a teacher at Roosevelt Intermediate School.

Students say they get the messages of acceptance, of tolerance and, most importantly, resilience.

“It wasn’t right what his father did, and it’s nice to see that he’s speaking out for the opposite of what his father did,” said Lazar Middle School student Jake Martinez.

Spectator Adrianne Haslet lost her leg but survived the Boston Marathon bombing. She still dances ballroom and impresses students.

“I was third in the world when I lost my leg and it was the most devastating thing ever, but finding running and finding something else that I can do alongside dancing has really helped me pull through,” Haslet said.

“Nothing can stop you,” said Christina Issa, another Lazar Middle School student.

A teacher describes the survival stories’ impact on these sixth, seventh and eighth graders:

“They’re more self-absorbed and they’re think about, ‘How I look,’ and, ‘What’s more important to me.’ The fact that they’re listening to these stories that these people have lived and have suffered through, I think it’s just eye-opening for them,” said Joanna Machetti, a math teacher at Lazar Middle School.

Invaluable lessons to live by.