Mideast war affects local residents

Published 6:56 pm Monday, December 29, 2008

The rumblings of rockets across the globe are beginning to be felt on Southeast Texas soil as members of the Jewish community are barraged by the media blitz concerning the turmoil in their homeland.

The news tickers on the 24-hour news channels were filled with updated statistics as the Associated Press began reporting the three-day death toll of the assaults and counter-assaults between Israel and Hamas rose to 364 Monday.

The rising smoke and blood being splashed across the headlines was enough to cause a well-intentioned stranger to call a local synagogue to express his concern for the safety of the congregation.

“I answered the phone and this gentlemen said, “Hello,” and he gave me his name,” Temple Emanuel Office Manager Yvonne Callison said Monday morning.

“He wanted me to know he was a non-Jewish individual, and concerned for our safety with all the turmoil going on.”

Callison said the man explained that because of his job, he traveled all over the world. His extensive travels, he said, once led him to an area high in Middle Eastern violence.

“He said that through his job, he once stayed in an area where a nearby building had been attacked and blown up,” Callison said.

“He just seemed very concerned for our well-being and he wanted to discuss it with Rabbi Metzinger. I assured him that people here were very much aware of what was going on and that our building is just as secure as any other business.”

One member of the temple, Michael Wolf, says there is always concern that arises when he hears news of new attacks, especially for family members in the region.

“My wife, Cynthia, has two first cousins over there right now,” Wolf said. “One lives there, and another one just went over there during the holidays to take his son to Israel for his first trip.”

“We’ve had friends and family over there off and on; They’re in Jerusalem and places like that, so hopefully they’re not going to be anywhere near the Gazan borders.”

A member of the Union for Reform Judaism’s national board, Wolf himself is kept up with many details on weekly, or if needed, daily basis by the president of the union.

He also says that though he keeps in contact with family members abroad via e-mail, many of their discussions don’t revolve around the bombing incidents as they occur.

“We’ve discussed it on a local basis and on a national basis,” Wolf said.

“But for them it’s an every day affair. They go to work like anybody else, but they’re always living in the fear when there’s a siren going off and they have to take shelter. It’s unfortunate that so much can happen and the human detonated bombs have to be the worst, the one where there’s suicide involved. Those are the ones that nobody can defend against.”

“Somebody just walks up to you and blows themself up and you’re gone.”

Israel, Wolf says, has a initial responsibility is to defend itself and its citizens. The Israeli campaign began, the Associated Press reported, Saturday in retaliation for rocket fire aimed at civilians in southern Israeli towns.

The campaign, now three full days long, has been the deadliest against the Palestinians in decades.

“It’s a shame and it’s horrible that Israel had to finally resort to retaliating, but they’ve been under rocket fire from Hamas in the Gaza for the last three years. There hasn’t been a day that hasn’t gone by without a rocket attack.”

Associated Press reports cite Israeli officials voicing their reasoning behind the attacks — more than 300 since midday Saturday — saying they are not targeting Gaza, the people of Gaza or Palestinians themselves, but rather targeting Hamas, and members of the Hamas security forces.

“It’s all Hamas,” Wolf said. “They’ve chosen to use the Palestinian people as their cover for their military operation.”

“And Hamas has openly declared their commitment to destroy Israel. They’ve got to pay for what they’re doing. But, it’s only Hamas that can stop this nonsense. I don’t think it’s the Palestinian people by themselves anymore — it’s terrorist groups and Hamas is right there in the forefront.”

According to census reports, the population of Jewish and Muslim individuals in the State of Texas total each less than 1 percent. While The News was able to make several contacts with members of the Jewish community in the area who were willing to offer their opinions of the current conflict, and give their names, we were unable to locate members of the Muslim community, or Palestinian natives living in Southeast Texas.

Also, several high profile members of the Jewish comminity in Beaumont asked not to be quoted for fear of retaliation and their safety.

We would like to encourage Southeast Texans with a connection to the Palestinian area of the Middle East to contact us at The Port Arthur News to enable us to accurately capture both sides of this deadly conflict. Send an e-mail with your contact information to: panews@panews.com.


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