Art Abramson opened the Baltimore Jewish Council last night to office telephones ringing in alarm. Jews, and some non-Jews, were calling to ask if the council knew anything more than they did about the Iraqi missile attack on Israel.
Abramson, the council director, settled into the conference room to watch the same television news programs as his callers, but augmented by a flow of statements from the Israeli embassy in Washington over the office fax. He and the rest of the staff spent much of the night on the phone consoling worried callers, quelling rumors and offering the Israeli Embassy's interpretation of events.
That, the Baltimore Jewish Council is saying, "authoritates it for them," Abramson said.
Many of the calls came from people with family or friends in Israel, which many American Jews have. Some felt guilty about being here instead of there.
"I feel somewhat guilty about being in the United States. I have friends there in Israel," said Ken Friedman, 17, who came home to Randallstown on Sunday after studying at a religion school in Jerusalem since the summer. He felt he had stayed in Israel only to suit his own purposes. "I wouldn't stay in hard times. I feel bad it looks like that to the Israelis," he said.
Friedman resolved to study and pray harder at home and to return to Israel as soon as he could. Last night, as a new chapter of Israeli history rolled through his television set, he said, "I'll pray some and stay tuned."
Iraq launched its Scud missile attack on Israel just as many of the shuls and temples along Park Heights Avenue began the Maariv evening service. The rabbis and cantors leading the services added prayers and psalms that called on the Lord to smite the enemies of Israel.
"O my God, make them like a wheel; as stubble before the wind.
"As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;
"So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm."
Psalm 83 resounded in the tremorous wail of Mideastern Jews and in moaning Ashkenazi Hebrew of Middle Europe. The congregants recited the kaddish, the prayer for the dead, and left for their homes girded for what the next day would bring, or fearful of the dawn.
Rabbi Seymour Essrog of Beth Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Randallstown, said he wouldn't leave the television. His assistant handled the evening prayer service.
At least one rabbi preparing for evening prayers declined to have his synagogue center named in a newspaper. He feared what he believed was a very real possibility of terrorism.
Other rabbis were far from reticent.
"I've always said before today that Israel stood to lose no matter what," said Rabbi Marcel Blitz of Beth Isaac-Adath Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in Millbrook.
If Israel doesn't retaliate for the Iraqi missile attack on its cities, and the war is prolonged, public sentiment may eventually turn against Israel for failing to join forces against Iraq, he said, so that people might say, "because of Israel, more Americans get killed."
If Israel does retaliate, Israel may be blamed for widening the war, Blitz said.
And if the international coalition holds together in victory over Iraq, he fears that America's Arab allies will demand a forced settlement of the Palestinian question. He predicted, "the Arab parties will come to America and say, 'Look, we fought against our brothers. You've got to do something. You've got to pressure Israel.'"
Rabbi Manuel M. Poliakoff, a longtime and outspoken conservative supporter of Israel, praised Israel's so far restrained response.
"I think they want to accommodate the United States and they do not want to throw a monkey wrench into the works -- even though they expected this to happen," he said.
If the gulf operation establishes the principle that the world will not tolerate big nations swallowing up small ones, Poliakoff said, "there will be a real chance for a real peace.
"As long as Arabs are under the illusion they can destroy Israel, there's no chance of peace."