Monday, September 11, 2006
A Tribute to Karen Klitzman
It seems presumptuous to attempt to write a tribute to a woman I never met. How will I do her justice? What gives me the right to even try? My only hope is to write something that will begin to live up to the task, and hopefully not distress those who knew her.
I felt very fortunate to receive a Karen to honor. Karen was the name of one of my sisters, who died in infancy. Karen is the name of my youngest daughter (a twin like Karen Klitzman). And, Karen is the name of my coworker. Doesn't that begin to reflect the sort of web of interconnections that we each weave during our lifetimes?
Karen and her twin sister Donna (whom Karen nicknamed Babinga) have always been close. They, naturally, shared a room together growing up, and later co-captained their high school tennis team. Donna told the New York Times that her twin sister was “Like having a built-in best friend.” This is not to say that she was not close with her brother Robert and sister Susan – everyone seems to agree that Karen was fiercely loyal and devoted to those she loved.
Karen is remembered by one of her schoolmates as a young woman who was always friendly and sought to excel in anything she did. And boy did she. She graduated from Princeton with a B.A. in Russian studies and sociology. After Princeton she taught English in Macao, then Beijing. She later graduated from the Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in 1988, then began working as an intern at the New York Mercantile Exchange. She rose to the position of vice president of research, and is credited with the design of several new trading instruments – which included electricity futures and options. As a respected energy specialist she gave talks on weather futures and environmental data in financial markets, and participated in conferences on scientific and technical data. “Karen worked for me for 12 years,” said Robert Levin, senior vice president of planning and development at NYMEX. “Karen absolutely loved work, and she showed that with a commitment that may not have been matched by anyone else. She was bright and energetic and incurably curious, which probably is what motivated her to work so hard.” In 2000 Karen joined eSpeed (a division of Cantor Fitzgerald) as vice president of product development.
Lest you get the idea that Karen was all work and no adventure, just look at her Hebrew name, Chaya, which means “life”. Chaya seems to have been an inspired name; Karen led an exciting life by anyone’s standards! During her time teaching in Macao, she lived in a house located between a pig farm and a brothel and visited Hong Kong on weekends. Later while teaching in Beijing, she lived with a suspicious landlady and counted bike rides to the public bathhouse as a luxury. Her brother Robert was able to visit her in Beijing and remembers her sleeping on a beanbag bed in a dorm room with gray concrete walls, and having her mail read by government censors. He also recalls the two of them travelling to the Great wall, seeing Chinese opera and eating at restaurants that served nothing but mushrooms. After returning home, she continued to travel with business trips and vacations to places such as Siberia, the Middle East, Greece and Turkey. On such trips her friends remember her as having “ants in her pants", as she would be the first one up in the morning, dragging them out to sight-see and explore. As her one of her former classmates put it, “Whenever we were together, there was always much laughter and adventure.”
At home, family continued to mean a great deal to her, and each year she hosted Chanukah and “break the fast” after Yom Kippur for her family at her home. Her brother remembers “For Chanukah, Karen would make potato latkes, piling colanders and bowls high with mounds of grated-up brown potatoes, as oil splattered, smoke billowed, and bits of potato covered everything.” She and her brother also drove to see their cousins in New Jersey each year for Thanksgiving and Passover. Robert wrote, “Holidays will never be the same without her.”
When the plane hit One World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, Karen was probably in her office on the 105th floor. Cantor Fitzgerald lost 685 employees that morning, many more than any other employer. Someone who watched the attack of the World Trade Center from his rooftop in Greenwich Village said that he envisioned a long stream of spirits flying off to a better place as the buildings collapsed. Robert Klitzman is sure that his sister was among them.
Karen’s family, determined to find a ray of hope in their sorrow, arranged the creation of a fellowship at Columbia, to support studies devoted to the elimination of terrorism and the resolution of conflict. According to her family and friends, Karen’s entire background of international travel and work, her interest in international affairs, and her commitment to understanding make this a meaningful tribute to her memory. The School for International and Public Affairs plans to award this fellowship to a student each year, who honors Karen’s values buy choosing a study which focuses on eradicating terrorism and resolving conflict peacefully.
Any act of murder rips a hole in the interconnected web of life that joins us. The murder of nearly 3,000 innocent souls surely left a hole that is there to this day. I can't imagine all the bright lives which were cut short, the dreams that will never be realized, the possibilities that were suddenly ended. The only thing we can do is honor them by keeping them alive in our hearts and memories.
Her mother, Joan Klitzman, her brother, Robert and her sisters Donna and Susan survive Karen. I’m certain they are very proud of her memory, as are we all.