'I'll pray some and stay tuned' Jewish council flooded with inquiries on Israel

January 18, 1991|By Carl Schoettler and Jay Merwin | Carl Schoettler and Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

Art Abramson opened the Baltimore Jewish Council offices last night to telephones ringing in alarm. Jews, and some non-Jews, were calling to ask whether the council knew anything more than they did about the Iraqi missile attack on Israel.

Abramson, the council director, watched the same television news programs as his callers, augmented by a flow of telefaxed statements from the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He and his staff spent hours consoling worried callers, quelling rumors and offering the Israeli Embassy's interpretation of events.

That "authoritates it for them," Abramson said.

Many calls came from people with family or friends in Israel.

"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 Sunday after studying religion 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."

Friedman resolved to study and pray harder, and return to Israel TC as soon as he can. For now, 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 Israel's enemies.

"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."

Rabbi Seymour Essrog of Beth Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Randallstown, said he wouldn't leave the television set. 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 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 pressure Israel.' "

Rabbi Manuel M. Poliakoff, a longtime and outspoken supporter of Israel, praised Israel restrained response.

"I think they want to accommodate the United States . . . even though they expected this to happen," he said.

If the war 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."

Rabbi Chaim Landau, of Ner Tamid Congregation on Pimlico Road, said he believed the Israeli response to the Iraqi attack would remain restrained.

"As long as America gives the impression they know what they're doing," he said, "Israel, I'm sure, will stay out of the war.

"But if Israel is attacked again, Israel will respond and respond in kind."

But the American-Arab coalition fighting Iraq might survive such an Israeli strike.

"I think Egypt will tolerate an Israeli response following a second attack by Iraq," Landau said, provided the response is swift and in proportion to the Iraqi attack.

7+ "Syria can go either way," Landau said.

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