Jews all too familiar with pain of atrocities

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Chicago-area Jews on Tuesday declared high security alerts at synagogues and schools and said they felt some of the terror their Israeli brothers and sisters have known for years.

Although Jews emphasized these were attacks on all Americans, for the community it was a powerful reminder of losses endured in the Mideast conflict.

"Today all Americans feel like Israelis," said Rabbi Ira Youdovin, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis.

"This is a frightening opportunity to live with what people in Israel live with every day of the week," said Avrom Fox, owner of Rosenblum's Judaica store in Chicago. "We in America feel this is a safe haven. This is a wake-up call."

Fox said he received calls from a son in Israel, who said he could hear Palestinians celebrating in the streets, and a daughter in New York, who described people rushing from the World Trade Center.

"I talked to all my children, and, thank God, they're OK," said Fox.

Youdovin said it would be a mistake to characterize the day's atrocities as a Jewish issue--no matter who carried them out.

"It's an attack on the United States," he said. "These are American buildings. They're not targeting Jewish buildings."

Still, for many Jews the scenes of smoking destruction triggered memories of violence at home and abroad.

"We identify as Chicagoans and Americans," said Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/Jewish United Fund.

"But Jewish history and Jewish experience have given [the events] a particular resonance," he said. It would be the same, he thinks, for the people of Oklahoma City.

"I'm crying as a Jew, as an American and as a human being," said Rabbi Asher Lopatin of the Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation, who gathered with congregants around a television as the news unfolded.

Such fears became acute for employees at Congregation Bnei Ruven near Devon Avenue when an anonymous caller told police a suspicious black plastic bag was on the sidewalk next to the building.

Across the street, 180 girls were evacuated from the Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov High School, some crying as they left the building on senior picture day.

The bag did not contain explosives, police said.

"This is a common occurrence in Israel," said state Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago), who was working nearby. "But Americans have never experienced terrorism like this. This whole country is shaken."

The principal of Yeshivas Brisk High School on Devon said he got a threatening phone call that warned him to keep students inside the building. Temple Sholom of Chicago also received a threat and evacuated, officials said.

Despite the threats, synagogues throughout the city said they would hold services this week and during the High Holidays beginning Monday.

About 50 people attended an evening service Tuesday at Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel, where prayers and psalms were offered in memory of those who died.

Attendees said they expect Americans to become more security-conscious as a result of the attacks, but the rabbi warned against "a backlash against the Arab-American community."

"We're all Americans," Lopatin said. "We all have to work together to keep America safe."

At Hashalom restaurant on Devon, Nadine Tangy, 46, said her 3-year-old son was supposed to fly to Israel on Wednesday with his father. She doesn't think their flight will leave but said she will not worry if it does.

"I have to look at it this way," she said, "it can happen anywhere."

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