While Iraq was firing Scud missiles on Israeli cities Thursday, Irene Churgin was worrying about the safety of her two sons in Israel.

The phone rang in her Rockville home. It was her son in Jerusalem, calling to calm her. "He was in a sealed room with a phone and he wanted me to know he was okay, not to worry," she recalled yesterday.

For many of the 165,000 Jews in the Washington area, the last few days have been particularly anxious and disturbing.

Like all Americans, they are concerned about the safety of U.S. troops and the outcome of the conflict. As Jews, they feel added anxiety about the safety of the Jewish state and relatives and family members who live there.

Additionally, the FBI and police officials have told all Jewish synagogues and community centers in the area to take precautions -- watch the mail, unusual people, unexpected packages -- against a terrorist attack. Emergency meetings, hot lines and social programs to deal with the crisis have sprung up since Iraq's missiles hit Israel.

"If this keeps up, it will threaten the state of Israel," said Melvin E. Getz, a retired research chemist who lives in Maryland.

Early this morning, Iraq launched a second missile attack on Tel Aviv.

"There are probably not too many American Jews who don't know someone over there and aren't worried. Let's face it, {Saddam} Hussein and other Arabs don't want a non-Moslem state over there," Getz said.

Attempts by Saddam and others to link the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait with Israel's occupations of the West Bank and Gaza have outraged many American Jews. Many say they disagree with Israel's treatment of Palestinians, but they deplore the attempts to morally equate Israel's occupation of the West Bank -- taken after the Six-Day War in 1967 -- with what they view as Iraq's unprovoked takeover of Kuwait.

Saddam "is trying to involve Israel in something that has nothing to do with Kuwait," said Benjamin Wostein, co-president of the Montgomery County chapter of Parents of North American Israelis. "It is a separate issue entirely. He is trying to make it Arabs against the Jews."

Surrounded by 185 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, Israel, a nation of 4.8 million, has rarely been free of unrest.

Most residents of Israel have been keeping gas masks at their sides and have memorized the quickest path to a room sealed against poisonous gas. Yesterday, air raid sirens sounded throughout Israel amid fears of new attacks, after Thursday night's Iraqi missile attack that left craters near Tel Aviv and Haifa, destroyed homes and injured 12 people.

In interviews with about two dozen Jews and many Jewish leaders in the Washington area yesterday, before the second attack on Israel, opinions were divided over the whether Israel should respond to the Iraqi missile attack.

Some expressed worry that a retaliatory strike would play into the hands of Saddam, who apparently wants to involve the Jewish state in the war in an effort to shake the allied coalition that includes Arab states at odds with Israel. The United States has asked Israel to stay out of the war, and to let the allied troops decimate the Iraqi war machine.

"You don't have to be a military expert to know that {Saddam} is trying to complicate this war and draw Israel in," Getz said. "We don't want to do what he wants."

Sharing that view was a 79-year-old printer who was listening to radio reports at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville. "I know if I was over there, I'd feel like bombing the hell out of them," he said. "But that's the exact wrong thing to do. I pray they don't."

Other Jews, however, say that Israel has no choice but to retaliate. The threat of new attacks, and more deadly Iraqi missiles, perhaps with chemical weapons, is too great, they say.

"The whole point of Israel is to fight back and to not be taken advantage of," said Judy Kessler, a pianist and music teacher who works in the District.

Ira Gissen, director of the Virginia chapter of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, agreed. "For those who suggest that Israel exercise restraint," he said, "Jews learned a very bitter lesson when they hoped in the 1930s that the Western democracies would intervene and save them from mass murder. That didn't happen, and we can say there are 6 million reasons whey they won't wait for intervention again."

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, executive director of the Washington area chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, found no consensus among the 1,500 members of his group as to what the Israeli response should be.

"But there is unanimity in supporting Israel," he said. "The people in Israel are the ones ultimately in danger."

Since the Iraqi bombing of Israel, the phone lines at the Washington area Jewish Social Service Agency have rarely stopped ringing.

"One caller said it was the most eerie experience he's had, watching the news reports and seeing people in Israel put on their gas masks," said Craig Shniderman, the agency's executive director.

"It brings back a lot of memories of genocide to talk about gas and Jews."

"This crisis is so heart-wrenching because it cannot fail to bring up memories of the Holocaust," said Ted B. Farber, executive vice president of United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington.

"This goes way beyond Israel's existence being in jeopardy to somehow a world that doesn't change," he said.

Staff writers Retha Hill and Beth Kaiman contributed to this report.




Montgomery County...................89,970

Northern Virginia...................37,016

Prince George's County..............13,030

SOURCE:United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington.