Jewish Americans Share Israel's Pain Jews in the Detroit area are watching events in the Middle East closely and reacting with a mixture of solidarity and anxiety.
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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

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Greater Detroit is one of the areas in this country where the conflict in the Middle East has hit ethnic communities hard. Yesterday we heard how Dearborn, Michigan's large Lebanese community is coping with the crisis. The conflict has also caused grave concern in the active Jewish community in the area around Detroit.

NPR's Guy Raz reports from West Bloomfield, Michigan.

GUY RAZ reporting:

With his right hand, Yossi Binyamin prepares a plate of humus. With his left, he flips over a few chicken breasts on the grill. In the five years since it opened, Yossi's Israeli restaurant has become a kind of unofficial snack bar for metro Detroit's small and active Jewish community, especially now.

Schell Pasteur sits on a stool at the counter thumbing through the latest issue of Time Magazine. Like everyone I will speak to in this restaurant, Pasteur believes Israel is fighting for its long-term survival.

Mr. SCHELL PASTEUR (Jewish Resident, Detroit): The realities are that Israel has to get Hezbollah out of the terror business, period. It's the only way any peace is going to really happen.

RAZ: This war hits close to home for many people here. Detroit's Jewish Federation supports three towns in northern Israel, all towns recently hit by Hezbollah rocket fire. Connie Farkas-Wood sits a few tables away from Schell Pasteur. Like the others at Yossi's, she's having a difficult time seeing images of civilian casualties in Lebanon. She believes Israel is defending itself.

Ms. CONNIE FARKAS-WOOD (Jewish Resident, Detroit): I think Israel was justified, but of course, it makes us feel very sad that we have to kill innocent civilians in order to progress in this war, which we know is a necessary war.

RAZ: Thursday morning exercises at the Jewish Home for the Aging in West Bloomfield. Wheelchairs and walkers outnumber actual chairs. This is Fleischman House, where many of metro Detroit's aging Holocaust survivors live. Dr. Charles Silow, a clinical psychologist, reports a recent spike in the number of patients coming to see him. He says most of his patients suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder in ordinary times.

Dr. CHARLES SILOW (Jewish Home for the Aging): And now, we see with world events, tragically the war that is going on now in the Middle East, it reawakens once again the fears of annihilation, facing catastrophe, facing tragedy. And they are scared.

RAZ: Silow says Holocaust survivors often react more viscerally to events in Israel than others do. But it's not just the Middle East crisis that's raising anxiety among members of metro Detroit's Jewish community. It's the recent outburst by Mel Gibson, the shooting attack by a Muslim American at a Jewish community center in Seattle and the constant pronouncements by the president of Iran pledging to wipe Israel off the map.

RAZ: Hi.

Mr. MICHAEL WEISS (Holocaust survivor): Hi.

RAZ: Are you Mr. Weiss?

RAZ: Michael Weiss is a small man with piercing blue eyes. He knows Dr. Silow and he agreed to meet. Weiss is 82 now, a survivor of both Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. He ran a small dry cleaning shop in Detroit for 50 years. In a way, for Michael Weiss, the world is now crashing in around him.

Mr. WEISS: During the years I was asked could another Holocaust happen? And I said I don't think so really. But what's happening in the last month, when you see a president of a state, of Iran, say openly that the state of Israel should be wiped off the map, the people of Israel should be wiped off - Hitler wanted the same thing.

(Soundbite of protest rally)

CROWD: (Chanting) Down, down Israel!

RAZ: In nearby Dearborn, home to a large community of Lebanese immigrants, protest rallies against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon happen daily. Many demonstrators hold signs with swastikas and shout slogans comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. It's rhetoric like that that is straining long standing ties between Detroit's Jewish and Arab communities, says Alan Gale of the Jewish Community Council.

Mr. ALAN GALE (Jewish Community Council): I think one of the issues here is, is the Arab leadership in this community, 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.

RAZ: That rhetoric and the shooting incident at the Seattle Jewish center has prompted the two large Jewish community centers here to hire private security firms. So have several metro Detroit synagogues.

(Soundbite of Jewish ritual)

RAZ: It's Tisha B'Av, a Jewish fasting day marking the destruction of the two ancient temples in Jerusalem.

Rabbi DANIEL NEVINS (Shaarey Zedek Congregation): There's going to be war, there's going to be famine.

RAZ: Rabbi Daniel Nevins's 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 an immediacy as if it had happened yesterday.

Many in the congregation silently acknowledge the meaning of the message, and while Israel is thousands of miles away, for them, there is a sense of immediacy, even here in West Bloomfield, Michigan.

I'm Guy Raz, NPR News.

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