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Crowds face off at Ground Zero
"This mosque is a dagger in the heart of our nation," he cried. Someone blew on a shofar, a several-feet-long curled horn with a loud wail, which a group member said had been brought from Israel.
A few feet away, other opponents of the proposed Islamic center, or of Islam in general, invited cameramen to come closer as they expressed their views.
Jerry Hirsch, a 60-year old Manhattan accountant wearing a "Proud American" T-shirt and holding a U.S. flag, described the site of the proposed center as a victory for America's enemies.
"This building, in their view, was the battleground, they're claiming ownership of that now. By building it here it indicated their supremacy," Hisch said. "This demonstrates their victory over the rubble of 9-11."
Much earlier in the day--long before the throngs of politicians and protestors descended on Lower Manhattan--New Yorker Natasha Hardial had her own quiet moment across the street from Ground Zero.
Hardial, 33, a health-care specialist, works in the neighborhood and was there the day the towers fell. She comes every year. She snapped a photo of the site and placed a bouquet of daisies nearby. With work on the memorial underway and expected to be done next year, the World Trade Center site looms with cranes and the eerie sound of steel hammering - evoking the work that went on in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"It's still not the same. It's never going to be the same," Hardial said through tears. Saturday night, two twin beams of light will pierce the evening sky to memorialize the nearly 3,000 who died in the attacks in New York and Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.
Luminaries such as Vice President Biden and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gathered at the site Saturday morning for what has become the traditional memorial service - bells pealing at the moments the planes hit the two skyscrapers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
As the family members of the victims and construction workers solemnly read out the names of the victims, one by one, throughout the morning, a crowd gathered at Harry B. Helmsley Square nearby to listen. Some were tourists, some gawkers. Some listened solemnly, teary eyed. The carillon bells at nearby Trinity Church chimed.
Stephen Van Natten, 42, a district attorney from Allentown, Pa., clutched his fiancee Shelley Magan, 43, as she wiped away tears.
Sept. 11 is Magan's birthday, which she takes as a serious responsibility, celebrating other years at firehouses or with victims' families. This year they drove up to Ground Zero.
"This day is not just about celebrating life. We have a responsibility to remember these terrible tragedies and I chose to do that," Magan, a school principal, said.