As Scud missiles and sorties become part of everyday vocabulary, reports of recent shellings in Israel are striking deep into local Jewish communities and the fallout heightened tensions throughout Orange County on Saturday.
Anguished by news reports of a second Iraqi bombing attack on Israel on Saturday, Jews angrily denounced the unprovoked assaults.
“Israel is under Saddam Hussein’s design, just as Hitler used anti-Semitism to bind his conspiracy,” said Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
Schindler, who is based in New York, made his remarks prior to a speech Saturday at a meeting of the union’s Pacific Southwest Council in Costa Mesa. “How many blows is it to take before there is a response?” he asked. “How many victims do we have to see? My head says this (restraint) is the right way to go, but the emotions say something else.”
Meanwhile, Orange County police agencies reported that more than a dozen bomb scares had been received since Friday, some targeted at synagogues and other public gathering places. Demonstrators also returned to the streets this weekend, their cries growing louder in dueling expressions of support of and protest against the nation’s involvement in war.
So great is concern that war in the Persian Gulf may spill into local streets that the Sheriff’s Department bomb squad was called to the John Wayne Airport parking lot Saturday morning to investigate an abandoned car battery.
Investigators arrived on the scene to find no threats to safety, but authorities say they are leaving nothing to chance.
“We have increased awareness about anything that appears out of the ordinary,” said Lt. Jay Mendez. “These would be things that we would normally pass over.”
While military families here were anxious about relatives in the Persian Gulf, Jews were reeling from watching nightly reports of Israelis donning gas masks and running for cover in sealed rooms.
“War is like opening a door beyond which lies deep darkness and unforeseeable danger. . . . And so we do not rejoice,” said Rabbi Schindler in his speech to the congregation of Hebrews. “We could not, even if victory were assured. We Jews are forbidden to do so even then, for war is a butchery without a soul. Human lives are at risk on both sides of the conflict. God’s children are drowning in a crimson sea. It is a time to mourn, and we may never jubilate.”
Throughout his speech, Schindler was supportive of both Israel’s restraint and the U.S. military action.
“It is a just cause and force was required to advance it. The cost of war is immense, that is true, but at times the cost of compromise can be greater still. . . . Saddam Hussein began his climb to power as a chillingly professional assassin. He never flinched from violence. Indeed, he seems to thirst for it. . . . We have good reason then to thank President Bush for his effective leadership, and we give him our fullest support.”
During breaks in the meeting, rabbis and guests rushed to find televisions and radios to learn of the latest news developments. At the same time, plainclothes security guards were clearly visible patrolling the hallways with two-way radios.
“Everybody is very deeply concerned,” said Rabbi Richard Ettelson of Fountain Valley, who was attending the conference. “There are very few people here who don’t know people or have relatives living in Israel. It’s something that’s always in the back of your mind.”
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell of Irvine said the series of weekend meetings allowed Jews from throughout the region to be together at a difficult time.
“This is touching our community deeply,” Elwell said. “When Israelis are attacked, we are attacked. We are feeling the pain, not only of the Israelis but also of the families here who have relatives on the front lines.”
Meir Yoffe, an Israeli representative to the meeting, also serves as a major in a Israeli military reserve airborne unit.
“What’s happening in Israel now is one of the hardest times,” Yoffe said. “In my heart and my mind, I am there. The U.S. is handling it in a great way. Israel will find a way to make Saddam Hussein pay for what he is doing.”
At much different kinds of gatherings in Anaheim, Mission Viejo and Yorba Linda, demonstrators took to the streets and recited what have now become familiar chants.
In Anaheim, just south of Disneyland, more than 100 people gathered to voice their opposition to war.
Motorists honked their horns and shouted as they drove by Harbor Boulevard and Katella Avenue.
Jim Gibson, 42, of Anaheim accused the Bush Administration and the media of glossing over the horrors of war.
“I’m concerned over the way that war has been sanitized so far,” said Gibson, a Vietnam War veteran. “The Administration has employed some Madison Avenue marketing techniques for this war. . . . Iraqi soldiers have died, but you don’t see that personal side.”
At a Westwood anti-war protest, Iraqi-American Sami Jacob of Irvine expressed disdain for the U.S.-led forces.
“My country is being bombarded for what reason?” Jacob asked. “What’s happening there is they are looking for total destruction of the country. Bush wants to destroy Iraq.”
But just as many, if not more, rallied outside the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda and on Crown Valley Parkway in Mission Viejo in vocal demonstrations of support for U.S. troops.
At the Mission Viejo rally, people sang patriotic songs and chanted, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” A vendor reported selling about 100 T-shirts emblazoned with the image of Saddam Hussein in the cross hairs of a sharpshooter’s rifle. In Yorba Linda, people held red, white and blue balloons, waved American flags and hoisted placards, some carrying the slogan: “Kick butt & hurry home.”
Elsewhere, a dozen people gathered outside the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro, waving flags and holding placards that read, “Our troops need support, not protest.”
“The majority of us support them,” said Greg Sequin, 57, a Tustin lawyer who was there with his wife and two daughters. “I’m not pro-war but once your elected representatives commit the troops, you should stand behind them.”
The UC Irvine campus, which was the site of some demonstrations last week, was quiet Saturday. Some leaflets were being distributed that called on students to “Please support your troops by boycotting all classes on Tuesday, Jan. 22.”
Times staff writers Tammerlin Drummond, Sonni Efron, James M. Gomez and Henry Chu and Anita M. Cal contributed to this story.