3,000 miles away, but too close to home

  • EDITOR’S NOTE: On the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some people will take a moment to reflect and to recount memories of that day. The following people shared their memories and thoughts on how that tragic day affected their lives.
  • Alice Seltzer has gotten into the habit of chanting a prayer to herself before leaving on a trip, either out of state or out of the country.

    The Huntington Beach resident began saying the Jewish prayer after she learned she was supposed to be aboard Flight 11, one of two airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

    Flight 11, which crashed into the north tower, was one of four airplanes that were hijacked by terrorists that day.

    Days before Sept. 11, while vacationing in Vienna with her daughter, Doris, she asked her to change her Sept. 11 morning flight from Boston to Los Angeles for a flight on Sept. 10. Seltzer decided not to spend a night in Boston before taking the Sept. 11 flight to Los Angeles.

    “I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to unpack my luggage and then pack it again at the hotel,” Seltzer said.

    On Sept. 10, Seltzer said she and her daughter took separate flights from Vienna. Seltzer flew from Vienna to Atlanta, and then to Los Angeles. And her daughter took a flight to Boston, then Kansas.

    Seltzer, a member of Temple Isaiah of Newport Beach, said she didn’t learn how close she came to death until a week later, when her daughter told her about Flight 11, the flight she decided not to take.

    “She called me up and said ‘You were very lucky. You were supposed to be on that plane,’ ” Seltzer said. “When my daughter told me, I asked for a prayer for being alive.”

    Radia Husain said Sept. 11 made her question her Muslim faith.

    The Huntington Beach resident said the event forced her to decide whether she was going to get serious about practicing her religion.

    Before Sept. 11, Husain did not wear the Hijab, the head scarf devout Muslim women wear. She began wearing it in 2003 after much study and contemplation of Islam.

    “As I became more spiritual, I began to wear it,” said Husain, 23, who earned has two bachelor’s degrees — in political science, and in law, criminology and society — from UC Irvine.

    Reflecting five years later, Husain said she loves being an American and a Muslim.

    “I don’t think those two identities have to conflict. I know many other young Muslims here who have created a new American Muslim identity,” Husain said. “And just like any other American, I care about the safety of myself and my fellow citizens. I participate in normal things. I go to the beach. I vote.”

    She has been able to practice her faith despite stereotypes some have of Muslims.

    “I still have faith in Americans that recognize that Muslims are their neighbors, and that we want to have the freedom to practice our religion, and we don’t want to be associated with terrorists. We ourselves condemn them,” she said.

    As for politics, Husain said more people need to be aware of America’s foreign policy.

    “I don’t think I should be labeled as unpatriotic because I don’t agree with U.S. foreign policy, in terms of Israel and Iraq,” she said. “We do need to be aware about foreign policy and just don’t act blindly in support of our government.”

    Since Sept. 11, Costa Mesa resident Frank Custer says he has more appreciation of the work police and firefighters do daily.

    “There is a keen awareness that I have now for what they do,” said Custer, executive pastor at the Lighthouse Community Church in Costa Mesa, a Christian church. “I think from the standpoint of a citizen of Costa Mesa, we have to respect what our civil servants do each day.”

    Like most Americans, Custer said he was in shock the day of the terrorist attacks.

    Custer was at a bible study that morning before he turned the TV on in time to see the second airplane fly into the World Trade Center.

    “As a pastor, a father and a husband, I was devastated over the things that were taking place,” he said. “Being a retired military person myself, my thought was we need to respond as a country, and soon.”

    Custer — who served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force — has a son and a son-in-law in the military who have served in the Middle East. For now, both are back in military bases in Washington state.

    “My hope is that we would just continue to seek God’s direction as we deal with the war on terrorism. We should seek God’s faith and continue to ask the hard questions, and stay focused on what is important and that is our families. We should continue to show unity, even though we may disagree on details,” he said.

    “My prayer is that God continues to place an umbrella of protection over our city, our coast, our police and fire departments and the citizenry of our city.”