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Where was God during the World Trade Center crisis?

That's the question Buffalo-area religious leaders attempted to answer Sunday as their congregations turned out in huge numbers, seeking solace from their churches.

"God was in the hands of the firefighters, the construction workers sifting through the rubble," said Temple Beth Am Cantor Barbara Ostfeld during a service in White Chapel Memorial Park, Amherst. The service preceded the Jewish High Holy Days that begin this week.

"We need to remember that God gave us free will -- which allows for the presence of evil," she said.

"The good we find in this terrible tragedy is the outpouring of 'good' between one person to another," said Ostfeld, who studied in New York City. "It is up to we Jews to stand up for (the Islamic people) who are being persecuted. We have to remember that it was only a handful of evil terrorists."

Ostfeld urged the faithful to "read loudly, sing out and greet strangers," when they gather for worship in the coming days.

"Let's fill two grocery bags for the needy instead of last year's one. If you are a parent, let your kids go through the aisles searching for the items on the Food Bank checklist."

One blessing for Rosh Hashana -- the Jewish New Year celebration that begins tonight at sunset -- gives thanks to God for sustaining "us to this day." Deeds of love and compassion are said to be avenues to God's grace.

Temple Beth Am's new rabbi, Ron Herstik, told the gathering of men, women and children Sunday afternoon that he is "fervently convinced each day will bring a measure of healing."

As the cantor chanted Psalm 23 in her powerful voice, an airplane crossed the blue sky.

Herstik pointed to the plane, commenting, "Life is everywhere," and wished peace "to all Americans in pain. There are many more good human beings than evil. Otherwise our world would have perished a long time ago."

Turning tragedy into "great good" was also the theme in St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, the national historic landmark, at Church and Pearl streets. The public was invited Sunday afternoon to hear the church's Girls Choir sing Evening Canticles, commissioned to honor the life of the late Robert Letchworth Wilson, a lifelong parishioner. After the brutal murder of his wife, Wilson founded EPIC, a national nonprofit organization for effective parenting skills, thus giving a compelling example of how to turn personal tragedy into good.

"We don't know when or how -- but things do turn around," said Phyllis M. Rudz, St. Paul's communications director. "People didn't die for no purpose."

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