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Published by Brandon Shockley

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Published by: Brandon Shockley on May 08, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Gil Ortale could teach you a thing or two in the kitchen. His humility and laid back Philly swaggerdisguises the fact he is an expert chef and baker, so much so that one reviewer claimed he held
“religious views” on a particular French pastry, but Gil has
another expertise that is altogether different,
one he’d rather not have.
 Over the years Gil has acquired the dubious distinction of being a first-hand expert in the life of a 9/11
family. Gil’s brother Peter
--a superlative athlete, scholar and business man--was murdered at the WorldTrade Center on September 11th. He worked on the 82nd floor as a securities broker for the firm EuroBrokers. Peter Ortale was known for being remarkably charismatic, intelligent, and principled, values
that inspired Gil’s fa
mily to create a high school and college scholarship in his honor that has raisednearly one million dollars. With the tenth anniversary of September 11th approaching I had the privilegeto sit down with Gil to discuss the meaning of 9/11 memorials and community service.Gil and I (joined by his girlfriend Nem and his son Shane) sat next to each other at the kitchen table in his
South Philadelphia home with two books on September 11th open in front of us. “Today, when I went to
yank this stuff out, my God
, it got me right in my heart.” Gil motions to a pile of assorted 9/11 books and
photos. One book is open to a black and white photo of his sister-in-law. She is waiting in a line withtears streaming down her face while holding a wedding photo of her late husband, Peter. The line she isstanding in, Gil explained, led to the armory where she would give a DNA sample in the hopes of 
identifying her husband’s remains.
“Do you want to see something crazy sad?”
Gil asks.Gil gets up from the table to retrieve an additional artifact upstairs. When he returns he lays down amemorial from the Philadelphia Inquirer which honored the victims. Gil carefully turns the pages of the
now faded newspaper as he looks over the faces of each victim, faces he’s grown to kn
ow well in the tenyears since the attack.He looks over the images with a fondness usually reserved for high school yearbooks. This trip downmemory lane, however, is a more sobering one. As he scans through the photos he mentions thefamilies of the victims. Some of his recollections praise the kindness and support that the familiesshowed him in the years following the attack; other faces bring back to mind the particular
circumstances of the victim’s death. Gil turns the last page and closes the
newspaper with a tear in hiseye.
What’s your connection been like with the other families?
I was friends with all of those families. I got to know them all; they started participating in all of ourevents. It was pretty intimate because you share something so unique. It was an intense and verymeaningful connection to have.It was hugely useful [and] facilitated by donations from Americans by the Red Cross which should neverbe lost. It is
significant. If you’re on your own, dealing with somethin
g like that would make you
crazy. Sad
Angry. Instead, you
ve got people who care about you, donatingmoney, facilitating a professional to take care of that, meeting other people to work through stuff 
sgigantically significant.
Did you go through each of those phases you mentioned? Was it ever difficult dealing with anger?
I never got super angry, but on the sadness level, I was at a place in sadness where . . . I don’t even know
if sadness is the word. It was just a feeling of animal pain
the most guttural level of anguish where you
can’t even believe that loss has occurred and you’re processing it on a really visceral level. It’s just pure
raw anguish. That went on for a long time . . . I was pretty destroyed inside.
How did you go from such a dark place to wanting to give back to others? You created a reallyimpressive scholarship fund over the last ten years.
Part of it is about responding to it in a way that’s healing yet sends the right message. In our family it
was hugely disruptive. There were five of us and you lose one . . . you lose one in that way, someone
getting murdered. There’s no way to overemphasize the degree of destructiveness. It’s just so shockingbut then you take that energy and do something with it. I think that’s how t
he scholarship was started, ithad to do with the idea of turning something horrendous into something positive and something thatgives back to other people.
After coming to that realization, what do you feel is the role for the scholarship fund and forcommunity service?
It’s important to mention that part of the idea behind the scholarship is that Peter himself got ascholarship to William Penn Charter. If it weren’t for that our family wouldn’t have been able to afford
it. It enables someone with good ways about them to further their cause.There are rules around the scholarship
you have to be an athlete, a scholar, as well as some of the
other values that Peter reflected in his life. The people who have received the scholarships, I’ve heard
about them, met many of them, and heard what they have to say. When you read about what they
believe in and hear what they’re saying it’s, ‘I got this because this person died, here’s what he believedin, here’s what he did and I have the privilege of carrying that for
 –here’s what I’m doing with it’. Sothat is planting the seed. It just spreads out or creates a ripple effect and you can’t ask for anythingmore than that. I mean, you can’t bewitch everybody. You have to do something practical and real. Let a
person with skills get a gift, help them believe in their ability and then they can transfer the core value of that gift out into the world to create a larger ripple effect.
Yeah, the ripple effect seems like a key idea in what your family is doing. What’s your
thinking onthat?
If you see me do something selflessly it makes you ask yourself what it means to you. It flies in the faceof any kind of politics, ideology or violence. That was how it all came together, that was our originalidea. As a matter of fact, nearly all of the people who were directly involved did something like that.
That’s how you respond when you really have a stake in it.

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