Iraqi Missile Attacks On Israel Worry Area Jews

Leaders Express Concern Over What Might Happen Next

January 21, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Come, my beloved, with chorus of praise,

Welcome Bride Sabbath, the Queen of the day.

-- from L'cha Dodi, a Jewish Sabbath prayer

*

They arrived with the setting sun, as Jews have for thousands of years, to celebrate the Sabbath.

But for the few dozen congregants at Knesseth Israel in Annapolis Friday, news of Iraqi missiles landing in Tel Aviv tempered the joy and thanks traditionally offered for the day of rest.

As always, men and women and children filed through separate doors into the sanctuary of the Orthodox synagogue. But their joint thoughts were dominated by televised images of Jewish families half a world away groping for gas masks and shoving wet towels under their doors to protect against potential chemical attack.

Rabbi Seth Gordon has several cousins and a great aunt who live in Israel, but his worries were much broader.

"I have 4 million family members there," he said while his 2 -year-old son, Joshua, sat on his lap in front of the television just before the Sabbath began. "When I was watching, I wasn't just focusing on my own relatives. I was concerned about an entire nation."

With no hyperbole, Gordon said during Friday night services, "It's a miracle that nobody was killed by the missiles," before leading the congregation in recitation of three special prayers of thanks.

*

Behold, He that keepeth Israel

Doth neither slumber nor sleep.

-- from Psalm 121

*

As Saddam Hussein defied the United Nations ultimatum to vacate Kuwait, local Jewish leaders were in a constant state of worry.

Worry about when the next Iraqi missiles would fall. Worry about when Israel would retaliate. Worry about what retaliation would do to the fragile Arab coalition that America and the United Nations have arrayed against Iraq.

Rabbi Robert Klensin, of Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold, sat up throughout the night Thursdaywith his wife, Francine, until they reached her sister, Sandra, in Raanana, a town about 15 miles north of the area bombed by Iraq early Friday and Saturday.

"The sirens woke them up when they went off and she wasn't sure what they were at first," he said. "But they heardthe sonic booms and they got the children into the rooms and sealed them off.

"I think everybody's been expecting it to happen," Klensin said of the bombing.

What people did not expect was Israel's restraint, which President Bush has urged to avoid a confrontation with Jordan and an Arab-Israeli war.

"I'm not at all convinced that it's still not going to happen and Israel won't get involved," Klensin said. "I think it's ridiculous for the United States to expect them to say they're not going to defend themselves."

Although supportiveof the president, Gordon criticized how events were allowed to develop so that Israel was left in the position of accepting Iraqi bombardment. Throughout the Persian Gulf crisis, Saddam has portrayed the U.S. and allied troop build-up as an extension of Israel's conflict with the Palestinians.

In notes for a sermon he prepared for Saturday morning services, Gordon reviewed how the United States failed to block Iraq while Saddam built a war machine capable of threatening Western oil supplies.

Drawing on Exodus, Gordon wrote that Saddam's fate first was sealed after "he hardened his heart" against God during his nine-year war with Iran. Then, by using chemical weapons against Iraq's own Kurdish minority, then by invading Kuwait, and finally by bombing Israel.

"One sin leads to another," and "God closed the door" on Saddam, Gordon wrote.

*

Come, let us sing to the Lord;

Let us acclaim our saving stronghold.

-- from Psalm 95

*

For Klensin, the situation in the Persian Gulf recalled when Israel was threatened during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, after Egyptian leader Gammel Abdul Nasser sent home a U.N. peacekeeping force.

"It's the same kind of concern, he said. "There was real concern that Israel was going to be destroyed."

Despite the threat to Isreal, Yehoshua Redfern, who leads Knesseth Israel in prayer as cantor, said Jews should not cancel plans to visit there. He and his wife, Rita, intend to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary in Israel late this fall.

"When there are wars in Israel or they're just over, tourism goes way down. People are scared," he said. "But if the war is over, I won't be afraid of going. That's why I want to go, to support Israel."

The peace remained unbroken through yesterday afternoon after American-manned anti-Scud Patriot missiles arrived in Israel, marking the first time the Jewish state has accepted foreign troops for its protection.

But Gordon had concern that Bush was building foreign policy by assuaging Arab leaders who fuel popular resentment of Israel.

"As long as they incite the people with hatred, that issue is not going to go away," he said. "What ultimate success will this mean for America if (Arab leaders) remain anti-U.S. and anti-Israel?"

Klensin askedthe same questions, but he held out hope that Israel's restraint might win enough international support to give its leaders the confidence to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians.

"Maybe there's some way something positive will come out of all this," he said. "Maybe Israel will be strong enough to take some risk in terms of the Palestinians."

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