Minnesotans visiting Israel find themselves 'in eye of storm'

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY and MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: July 9, 2014 - 11:06 PM

Sirens blared after St. Paul rabbi spoke with family of dead Palestinian youth.

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Smoke and debris rise after an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip seen from the Israeli side of the Israel Gaza Border, Wednesday, July 9, 2014.

Photo: Ariel Schalit, Associated Press

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Hours after Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker visited the family of a young Palestinian killed by Jewish extremists, the sirens sounded. The rabbi from St. Paul, making his 11th visit to Israel, scurried for shelter.

“There is nothing like hearing an air raid siren and having to seek shelter,” the rabbi from Mount Zion Temple said from Jerusalem Wednesday.

Four rockets flew overhead the day before but didn’t connect thanks to a defensive system, the rabbi said.

Spilker spoke as violence continued to rock the region, with more rockets raining into Israel and Israel hitting targets in Hamas-controlled Gaza, leaving dozens dead.

In another section of Jerusalem, Laura Zelle and Susie Greenberg, of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, were sitting down to dinner Tuesday when a siren sounded. They turned to a live telecast and heard a loud boom. Then a flash filled the screen.

Zelle, of St. Paul, said she’d heard the rockets before — when she visited Jerusalem two years ago. Greenberg, of Minneapolis, said via phone that she’d lived in Israel previously for a year, but had never witnessed anything like this.

“Here, in Israel, you’re in the eye of the storm,” she said. “There is a sense that you need to be careful at all times.”

The erupting violence also has become very personal to Zak Abukhdair, who was born and raised in Minneapolis. One teenage cousin was burned to death after three Israeli teens were killed and other cousin, from Tampa, was beaten by Israeli police while in Jerusalem for the funeral.

Because the attacks were in Jerusalem and one victim was American, the incidents quickly became international news, Abukhdair said. “I really hope this will spark something,” he said. “I hope we can bring people together.”

Although Greenberg said some cultural events in Jerusalem have been canceled, it has been mostly life as usual, according to Spilker. Kindergarten classes and summer camps have gone on, he said.

“The whole cycle of violence is predictable, sad and awful,” he said, blaming extremists “on both sides. … My prayer is we can ratchet things back down, to ease the tension.”

paul.levy@startribune.com 612-673-4419 mlsmith@startribune.com 612-673-4788

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