Area Muslims, Jews fear backlashes Crisis hits close for those with ties to Israel

January 16, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

Moshe and Chaya Herskovitz came home to Baltimore from Israel on Monday at the urging of their parents. But both said they wished they could have stayed in Jerusalem as war approached in the Middle East.

Moshe, 20, had been in Israel since last August, studying at a religious school. His plans changed last Friday when the State Department advised against travel to the Middle East, Israelis began to stock canned food and more people walked the streets carrying their gas masks. His sister Chaya, 18, decided to leave when her school closed. She had been studying since last September to be a teacher.

At the suggestion of Orthodox rabbis in many parts of the world, including the Rabbinical Council of Greater Baltimore, Moshe and Chaya fasted yesterday at their parents' home in Northwest Baltimore as the deadline approached authorizing military force against Iraq in a war that could engulf Israel as well.

Moshe hoped his fast would "help allay that feeling of guilt about leaving."

Chaya said, "Israel is like a responsibility of ours."

Both had felt safe enough in Israel because Israelis have lived for decades in preparedness for attack. But, Moshe said, "I figured, why worry my parents unnecessarily?"

Among the many Americans brooding about war yesterday and its terrible consequences, many Jews worried also about the fate of Israel in such a war and whether Israel would be blamed for it.

"That's a real apprehension -- the emergence of crazies in our society who are going to be blaming Israel for the war," said Rabbi Murray Saltzman of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, a Reform synagogue. Saltzman sees such tendencies forming already in "over-simplification" of the military deployment as a potential war just for oil or for Israel.

Art Abramson, director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said that in the event of war, "a major concern" of his agency would be to try to dispel any attempted linkage of peace in Kuwait with a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. "There are American and world interests at stake," he said.

But Jerome M. Segal, a resident scholar at the University of Maryland at College Park and head of the Jewish Peace Lobby, said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could threaten Israel with war partly because "no progress has been made in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

At the lunch counter of Fields Pharmacy in Pikesville, a predominantly Jewish community in Baltimore County, some diners said they were ready for war.

"My biggest worry is the United States won't do what has to be done to win it or end it," said Ruth Albert, a regular at Fields. And she worried that too much news about everything from possible battle strategies to weapons that malfunction could harm the war effort.

Reports of anti-war demonstrations disturb her. "I have this feeling that all these people who protest the war have been waiting in the closet for the chance to run out. And I'm not talking about mothers with their sons" deployed to Saudi Arabia, Albert said. "It just bothers me, this lack of togetherness."

At a nearby table, Sylvia Cohen proclaimed herself to be "with the president" in the momentum toward war because if Saddam's threat is not dealt with now, "the next time it pops up, it might be worse. We're all upset. There's no doubt about it."

Members of Parents in North America with Children Living in Israel, an international group started 14 years ago to support family members who have settled in Israel, face a deep, personal apprehension of war. But Arnold Blumberg, a group member from Baltimore, said he would never ask his son, a book translator, or his daughter, a schoolteacher, to leave their homes in Israel for safety in the U.S.

"A religious Jew prays for the restoration of Zion. To suggest to your children they should abandon this ideal just because of danger is hypocrisy," Blumberg said. "The consequences for your self-respect are greater if you run away."

Edith Brusowankin, the president of the group, recently got a call from her son in Jerusalem, who assured her, "Mother, it's more dangerous to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue."

Among the parents in her support group, "the consensus is they're better prepared for anything there [in Israel] than we would be here," Brusowankin said, adding that "it's not going to help anything for me to go to pieces here."

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