The looming war with Iraq has long ago taken on the language of a religious crusade, in Arab capitals as well as the White House. But the Jewish messianic excitement that grew out of the first Gulf War back in 1991 is more muted now, humbled after a decade of the crash and burn of the peace process, controversy over the Lubavitch messianic aspirations, and Israelís Palestinian war that has shown little evidence of anyoneís grand plan, let alone Godís.
The overthrow of Saddam Hussein has touched off a scramble among Jewish groups seeking compensation for Jewish refugees from Iraq as well as other Arab countries. In many cases the groups are competing against each other.
At stake potentially are billions of dollars from individual and communal claims.
The push for reparations comes at a time when Palestinians are demanding the right of return to their former homes in Israel.
As Jewish soldiers recited the Ten Plagues and spilled wine from their cups at a seder table in a tent in the Kuwaiti desert, Rabbi Joshua Narrowe observed that the spilled wine was not only "for the Egyptians who died in the Exodus, but also for the Iraqi conscripts and civilians who died" in the 26-day Iraq War.
Jewish leaders saw the Clinton administration’s last-minute decision to call off an imminent bombing raid on Iraq as one more retreat by Washington in the face of Saddam Hussein’s skillful maneuvers.
‘He Frittered It Away’
‘It’s so obvious, it’s almost comical,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “We know exactly what Saddam’s doing, but we continue to play his game.”
Leah Dunne, a native of Patchogue, L.I., had to go to the Persian Gulf to shore up her connection with God.
Dunne, 23, a six-year Air Force veteran, since December has been serving at the Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait. Her job is to watch third country nationals, those from such countries as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Egypt, who work at the base.
Despite efforts by Jewish groups to provide kosher-for-Passover food to as many as 2,000 Jewish troops involved in the Iraq War, several Jewish soldiers and chaplains complained to The Jewish Week that there is not enough for the eight-day holiday that begins Wednesday night.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) said he heard some of the same complaints but has been rebuffed in his efforts to get the Air Force to fly more Passover provisions to Kuwait and Iraq.
The fall of Baghdad is similar to the Six-Day War, Israel's lightning military defeat of its Arab neighbors in 1967, because both left the Arab world humiliated and in shock, according to a foreign policy and defense specialist at the Ben-Gurion Research Center.
"The Arab world can't figure out how to handle this traumatic situation," said the specialist, Zaki Shalom. "And nobody can tell how long this traumatic situation will last."
Maj. David "Bull" Gurfein, a Long Island native who re-enlisted in the Marines after 9-11, is carrying with him in the battlefields of Iraq a small chunk of concrete from the remains of the World Trade Center.
"It was 9-11 that triggered his desire to go back, especially after he went to Ground Zero," said his mother, Vivien. "He showed his [military] card and the police and firemen there handed him some pieces of concrete. He was weeping when he saw what happened there. ... They said to him, 'Go get 'em.'"
Just minutes after the blazing sun set in the Kuwaiti desert last Saturday, and as a lone candle flickered in a tent at Camp Commando near the Iraqi border, one of four Jewish soldiers at the evening Sabbath service began to cry when Rabbi Irving Elson put his hands on his shoulders and prayed.
"Be strong and of courage and trust in the Lord," Rabbi Elson said, quoting from the Book of Joshua.