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Jewish Journal

Anxiety and Anger

From Fairfax to Encino, an emotional roller coaster.

by Gaby Wenig

September 13, 2001 | 8:00 pm

When Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz (Schwartzie) received a 6:15 a.m. phone call saying that the World Trade Center had been bombed, he told his caller he'd been watching too many science fiction movies and advised him to get more sleep.

"But then, when I received another eight calls in succession, I knew that it was serious," Schwartzie told The Journal. Indeed, the mood today in the Los Angeles Jewish community was one of shock, sadness and disbelief as people awoke to images of the devastation and destruction in New York.

"It's a tough one to try to put into reality, said Gagi Shagalov, proprietor of Munchies Candy Store on Pico Boulevard. "Thousands of people who didn't even know what hit them are totally gone. Sooner or later, every one of us is going to know of someone who was in there."

Shagalov said he decided to open his store because to keep it closed would only prove to the terrorists that they had got the better of him. "As much as I would rather be home now, I feel that I have to be here to let them know that they can't do this to us."

In many parts of the community, however, normal life, and people's plans were disturbed. "I took my kids to school this morning only to be turned away at the door, because the school was closed," Schwartzie said. "Then I had to arrange for extra plainclothes and uniformed security guards at my High Holy Day service, because nobody will want to come unless they feel safe there," Schwartzie said, referring to his services at the Chai Center. Many in the community did not go to work Tuesday. Motty Slodowitz, 32, who lives in Pico Robertson, stayed home from work so that he could stand guard at his children's school in the morning. "I just did not trust that the school would be able to provide adequate security" he said.

Others' plans were radically altered. Fairfax residents Douglas and Melissa Blake found themselves stranded in Los Angeles after their trip to Europe was canceled. "A friend woke us up at 6:45, and told us to change our plans because we weren't going to be leaving," said Melissa. "Our whole day was planned with our trip in mind and I don't even know when the airport is going to reopen."

Many said they hoped the world would now be able to understand the terror that Israelis go through.

"The world is always condemning Israel let them condemn the U.S. now for retaliating," said Judy, a bookkeeper from the Fairfax area who preferred not to give her last name. "I am angry, really pissed off. I think they should bomb those people who were dancing in the street," she said.

Encino resident Danny Barwald, 40, said the events would have a profound effect on the American psyche. "I thought that the sense of security and safeness that America feels in terms of being protected from events in Israel will be shattered. The sense of innocence that America has will definitely change."

Indeed, many in the Jewish community saw Tuesday's terror attacks with an eye to its effect on the world, and of course, Israel.

"When you hear about terrorist attacks in Israel, and then you go out into the streets, you really feel that you are mourning alone. But today, the whole country was feeling the tragedy," said 22-year-old Tally Wolf, from her job at the Shalom Nature Center in Malibu.

Schwartzie summed the attitude up: "The joke that is going around is that Sharon called up Bush today and advised him to practice restraint. This is a great tragedy, but I think it is going to shake up the American people and make them realize what the Jews have been going through in their little country in the Middle East."

Most Jews, though, were just trying to come to grips with the magnitude of the tragedy. "This is a very scary time period," said Nechama Denbo, 27, of Pico Robertson. "I feel that God is sending us a message, and we just have to open our eyes to see it."

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