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Jewish Americans Share Israel's Pain

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Jewish Americans Share Israel's Pain

Jewish Americans Share Israel's Pain

Jewish Americans Share Israel's Pain

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Shaarey Zedek, Metro Detroit's largest synagogue. i

For the members of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, one of metro Detroit's largest synagogues, events in Israel and Lebanon carry a sense of immediacy. Guy Raz, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Guy Raz, NPR
Shaarey Zedek, Metro Detroit's largest synagogue.

For the members of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, one of metro Detroit's largest synagogues, events in Israel and Lebanon carry a sense of immediacy.

Guy Raz, NPR

ABOUT THIS SERIES

This is the second of a two-part series about Metro Detroit's response to the Middle East crisis. The first story focuses on the Lebanese-American community of Dearborn, Mich.

Pro-Israel Rally in West Bloomfield, Mich.

About 5,000 people showed up for a recent rally in support of Israel in West Bloomfield, Mich. Guy Raz, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Guy Raz, NPR
Michael Weiss, Holocaust survivor

Michael Weiss is an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor who ran a dry cleaning shop in Detroit for much of his life. For him, events in the Mideast -- and the worrisome specter of anti-Semitism around the world -- are ominously familiar. Guy Raz, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Guy Raz, NPR

In the five years since it opened, Yossi Binyamin's Israeli restaurant has become an unofficial snack bar of sorts for metropolitan Detroit's small and active Jewish community. That's even more true now, as the war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas passes the four-week mark.

Schell Pasteur sits on a stool at the counter, thumbing through the latest issue of Time. Pasteur believes Israel is fighting for its long-term survival.

"The realities are that Israel has to get Hezbollah out of the terror business, period. It's the only way peace will ever come," Pasteur says.

The war hits close to home for many people here. Detroit's Jewish Federation supports three towns in northern Israel; all were recently hit by Hezbollah rocket fire.

Connie Farkas-Wood sits a few tables away from Pasteur. Like the others at Yossi's, she's having a difficult time seeing images of civilian casualties in Lebanon, but she believes Israel is defending itself.

"I think Israel is justified," says Farkas-Wood. "But of course it makes us sad that we have to kill innocent civilians in order to progress in this war, which we know is a necessary war."

Events Open Old Wounds

At the Fleischman House, a Jewish home for the aging in the greater Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield, Mich., wheelchairs and walkers outnumber actual chairs. The residents of the home include many of metro Detroit's aging Holocaust survivors. Dr. Charles Silow, a clinical psychologist, says most of his patients suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, even in ordinary times.

"Now, we see with world events, it reawakens once again the fears of the Jewish people facing annihilation, catastrophe, tragedy. They are scared," Silow says.

He says Holocaust survivors often react more viscerally to wars involving Israel.

Many in the community feel the mounting international criticism of Israel is unfair; some of it raises the worrisome specter of anti-Semitism. Anti-Israel protest rallies in Europe and the Middle East often feature Nazi imagery. Outside events have further raised the community's anxiety levels: Actor Mel Gibson's recent anti-Semitic outburst; the shooting attack by a Muslim-American at a Jewish community center in Seattle; Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls to wipe Israel off the map.

Holocaust survivor Michael Weiss, 82, is a small man with piercing, blue eyes. He is a survivor of both the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. For years, he ran a small dry-cleaning shop in Detroit. He says the world is now crashing in around him.

"During the years I was asked, 'Could another Holocaust happen?' and I said, 'I don't think so,'" Weiss says. "But what's happening in the last month, when you see a president of a state, Iran, say openly that the state of Israel should be wiped off the map, the people of Israel should be wiped off the map — Hitler wanted to do the same thing."

Tensions with Arab Neighbors

In nearby Dearborn, home to a large community of Lebanese immigrants, protest rallies against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon happen daily. Weiss was watching the local news last week when he saw a sea of placards showing the Israeli star of David replaced with a Nazi swastika. He found that comparison deeply troubling.

So does Alan Gale of the Jewish Community Council. He says such rhetoric has strained long-standing ties between Detroit's Jewish and Arab communities.

"I think one of the issues here is, is the Arab community here moderate in a sense that they embrace democracy and civility? And I think that the rhetoric of recent weeks has caused some in our community to question that," Gale says.

Tensions are high. Two large Jewish community centers in the area have hired private security firms; so have several metro Detroit synagogues.

Temple Silence

At Congregation B'Nei Moshe, worshippers observe Tisha B'Av, a Jewish fasting day marking the destruction of the two ancient temples in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Daniel Nevins' sermon is mostly theological, but the message isn't entirely disguised. He reminds his congregants that Jews are commanded to mourn the ancient destruction of Jerusalem, and that it should be felt with the same immediacy as if it had happened yesterday.

Many in the congregation nod their heads, silently acknowledging the meaning of the message. Though Israel is thousands of miles away, for them, there is a sense of immediacy, even in West Bloomfield.

In the first part of this series, which aired Tuesday on All Things Considered, we heard from Metro Detroit's Lebanese-American community.

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