November 15, 2001
Crises of Faith
What is most striking about all the photographs of lost souls that still line the streets of lower Manhattan, says Chaplain Gila Katz, is how many of those faces are young.
"There's a real crisis of faith, but also a crisis of wondering what is going to happen in the future," says Katz, director of Klein Chaplaincy Service of the South Bay, which services 500 patients. "People are just trying to figure out a way to deal with this. How do they go on with hope for the future; how do young women and men bring up children on their own?"
Katz spent three weeks in New York soon after Sept. 11, offering both spiritual comfort and technical coordination to victims' families and the organizations servicing them.
Klein was one of 30 chaplains from around the country summoned by the American Red Cross' Spiritual Care Aviation Incidents Response Team (SAIR), a group mandated by Congress in 1996 to coordinate the resources of the federal government and charitable organizations to meet the needs of aviation disaster victims and their families.
Katz, who is also an LAPD chaplain and the only Jewish Californian on the SAIR team, had just completed her SAIR training in June, and the Sept. 11 attacks were the first incident for which she was called.
Just after Yom Kippur she went to New York, where she helped to recruit and coordinate chaplains and worked directly with families of all religions.
Katz hopes the chaplains' visits comforted families by allowing them to pour out their grief and ask questions about God and faith.
"I don't know that there are really good answers to these questions, except that God will give us strength to walk through this very difficult time, and the best we can do is continue this outpouring of love and generosity and togetherness that makes us all feel like family," Katz says.
Katz accompanied families on boat trips to view Ground Zero. "All they want is a hug. You can't give them enough hugs," she says.
Katz, who was certified as a chaplain five years ago after two and a half years in a clinical pastoral education program, also made herself available to the New York Jewish community.
She says that while Jews responded in droves during the first days after the attack, many were turned away by the Red Cross and other organizations, which were not yet equipped to handle the flood of volunteers. After that, the community seemed paralyzed, unsure of how to help, she says.
Katz stepped in and helped organize the efforts of the New York Jewish Federation, recruiting rabbis and offering concrete suggestions about how people could help. Some of those ideas are still applicable to Jews in California.
Aside from cash donations, the Red Cross needs teddy bears, she says, since each family who visits the site is given a stuffed animal.
"We should adopt a family and support them throughout the year," she suggests. "Where kids have lost parents, we should adopt them and take care of those kids; write to those who have been affected, letting them know someone here in L.A. cares about them. We can find a way to feed and house and support a family that has been dislodged, or the many undocumented people who lost their homes or their jobs," she says.
Thanksgiving and the holidays will be an especially important time to let families of all faiths know they have not been forgotten.
"I think they are all asking for comfort and saying that nobody has an answer to how this could have happened or why it happened," Katz says, "but as long as we hold each other and help each other, maybe we can get through this."
For information on how to help, call the New York Jewish Community Relations Council at (212) 983-4800, ext. 124, or call Gila Katz at (310) 372-5141.