Jewish leaders and members of the small Israeli community in the Conejo Valley expressed fear and outrage Thursday at the threat of an attack on Israel by Iraq if war breaks out with the United States.
“There’s great concern from everyone here, especially from everyone who has relatives from Israel,” said Rabbi Moshe Bryski of the Chabad of the Conejo in Westlake.
That fear was echoed by Rabbi Shimon Paskow, who said that even Israelis visiting members of his congregation at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks “are terrified of going back.”
Leaders said they have lived uneasily with the threat of Arab aggression, but Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz’s promise that Iraq would broaden any conflict by attacking Israel has heightened tension in the Jewish community.
About 1,000 Israeli nationals live in the Conejo Valley, according to Jewish leaders. About 20,000 Ventura County Jews have relatives in Israel.
Ties between Jewish synagogues and Israel are strong. Members of synagogues in the county raise money for Operation Exodus, an international program that has helped Soviet Jews settle in Israel, Paskow said.
Members of the congregation also frequently visit Israel to aid in military and non-military programs, Paskow said.
Israeli emigre Jacob Goren, 41, a Thousand Oaks businessman, has lived in the United States since he was 24. But his mother, sister and brother still live outside Tel Aviv.
“I was born there. It was my homeland. I have roots there. I have family there,” Goren said. “Everybody should be concerned when you’re dealing with crazy men. We don’t know where it’s coming, and we don’t know where it’s going.”
Goren said he was concerned that his family may be doused with deadly chemicals if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein decides to wage chemical warfare on civilians.
When Goren telephoned his mother three days ago, she expressed no interest in talking about the potential conflict, but “I’m sure she’s concerned, though,” he said. “My brother is in the army. Everybody’s in the army.”
A naturalized U.S. citizen, Goren said he would feel compelled to help defend his homeland if war broke out. “If they need me over there, I will be there tomorrow,” he said.
Paskow said a Westlake woman recently received a call from her mother in Israel. The mother “had survived the Holocaust, and she was hysterical with the threat of once again being gassed,” he said.
For Paskow, the threat of war carries an immediate concern: He and his daughter are in the U.S. Army Reserve. His daughter is expected to receive her rabbinical degree in May.
“I could be called any time,” he said.
Another Israeli immigrant, Danny Kedem, 39, of Agoura, said he left behind about 150 relatives, most of them in Jerusalem.
“We’re kind of worried,” said Kedem, who owns a moving and storage business in Northridge. “I have brothers in Israel. I know the army has been put on alert.”
On Sunday, Kedem called his mother to talk about the crisis and she admitted that she was terrified, he said. The family has been issued gas masks and received training in defending against chemical attack.
“We don’t think it will be a ground war. But the chemical threat, that’s the real threat,” he said. Kedem said he also was ready to defend his homeland.
“If I felt there was a threat on the existence of Israel, I would go back to see if I can help,” he said. “But I hope we’re not going to get to that point.”
Rabbi Gary Johnson of Temple Beth Haverim in Agoura Hills said some members of his congregation are Ventura County residents with relatives in Israel.
The threat of attack on Israel “is on all of our minds,” Johnson said. “We’re continuously talking about it.”
A Jewish community center course Johnson teaches involving Judaism and the Middle East crisis has been well attended since it began in the fall, he said. One Iraqi student who attends the class felt “that Hussein is a one-man government,” Johnson said.
“He needs to be done away with not only for the good of Israel, but for the good of the region,” Johnson said.