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Jewish-Americans Pray for Peace

In the United States, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of particular interest to American Jews and Muslims. This week, outside Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a Jewish temple broadened a traditional end-of-Passover service to include a memorial for those killed in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in recent weeks.

Suzette Khodouri, an Iraqi-born Jew who brought her family to the United States in the late 1940s, sits in the congregation at Temple Shalom with an anxious expression on her face. She says she has brothers and sister, cousins and nephews who live in Israel, and that she fears for their lives. She says it has not been easy watching the news about suicide bombings. "I get scared to death," she said. "What do you think, I don't worry about them? I don't know who will be killed. May God look after us."

When asked about the surge of bloodshed in the Middle East, Ms. Khodouri condemns Palestinian suicide bombers who target Israeli civilians as "cowards." But she also criticizes the invasions undertaken by Israel's armed forces, which she says will drive more and more Palestinians towards extremism, fostering an unending cycle of violence.

Suzette Khodouri says, when she thinks about the challenges facing Israel, she often has conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, she says she retains a strong faith in God. But despite her faith, she says she has lost hope for peace in the Middle East. "After we shed all the blood, victory? What victory?" she asked. "OK, we might have the state of Israel, but at what cost? Our lives, our children, everybody!"

Temple Shalom Rabbi Ivan Wachmann strikes a more optimistic tone. "There's a perennial battle between good and evil," he observed. "But good, as you know in every war, ultimately, will triumph over evil."

The rabbi sees the violence in the Middle East as a classic struggle between good and evil, but says neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians can lay claim to the mantle of the good. "As the bible says, the potential for evil lies in all of us - whether they are Palestinian, whether they are Jewish," he pointed out. "It has nothing to do with what your name is. If it is Palestinian against Israeli, you will never have peace. Those who speak peace are winning for God. And those who do not speak peace are losing - and they will lose!"

Rabbi Wachmann grew up in Ireland. He notes that the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland does not resonate with most Irish-Americans as deeply as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resonates with Jewish Americans. According to the rabbi, it should come as no surprise that Jewish Americans feel strongly-connected to their brethren in Israel. "The Jew, as a result of the Holocaust, feels that never again must this happen," he said. "We feel that we Jews are only a small minority in the world, so we feel like a close family. If you only have one brother or one sister, the loss of that one person is horrific."

Indeed, many at Temple Shalom prayed fervently for an end to violence in the Middle East - almost as though they, themselves, we're living in the region. Suzette Khodouri says she feels kinship with Jews in other lands but is happy to reside in the United States. "Israel is my state, but America is my country," she said. "I will never leave America. This is where I am; this is my country. If Israel needs help, I will help - but I am an American."

Ms. Khodouri says, in the end, all she can do is pray.