Iraq's missile attack on an Israeli neighborhood yesterday, the first to cause fatalities, heightened concern among many American Jews that future attacks may become more deadly and American weaponry may not be sufficient to protect Israel.

"When you have so many casualties and fatalities, it raises the concern to a new level," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

"To watch the casualties being carried off on stretchers on television . . . it's barbaric," Hoenlein said.

"We are outraged. I can't emphasize enough how angry we are," said Mark Robbins, assistant to the director for the office of government and international affairs at the American Jewish Committee. "This exemplifies Saddam Hussein's true colors. These attacks have no military significance; they are focused specifically on civilian population."

At Jewish gatherings at Rockville and the District after the missile attack in the Tel Aviv area that killed three and injured at least 96, there was heated discussion, and little agreement, over what Israel should now do.

Should it wait, and not retaliate, as the United States has asked?

Or should it begin its own missile attacks and bombing raids?

"Israel has clearly said they reserve the right to defend themselves, and they can't expect the United States to do all the dirty work," said Yosefi Seltzer, 19, a sophomore at George Washington University who was watching news reports with friends at the school's Jewish student center.

Seltzer, ambivalent about whether Israel should attack, said he was convinced that such an attack was what Saddam wanted when he began missile attacks on the Jewish state Friday. "I think the United States should step up its effort at this point," Seltzer said. "I sort of feel Israel will have to get involved soon."

Adam Spector, a GWU political science major, said the latest attack "makes my sorrow greater, but by retaliating it would play into Saddam Hussein's hands . . . . The key for Israel is to maintain what they've been doing. Israel, in my opinion, won't be able to do much more than what the Americans are already doing."

At the Jewish Community Center in Rockville, Jack Binstock, a 63-year-old Holocaust survivor, said that Saddam "reminds me of another Hitler." Binstock said he is glad that the United States is so actively trying to stop Saddam and torn as to what action Israel should now take.

One woman at the Rockville center said she was trying to read to take her mind off her son, 23, who is studying in Jersusalem.

"Yes, I have asked him to come home," she said. "I haven't screamed and yelled or thrown a tantrum, but yes, I have asked him to come home," said the Silver Spring woman. She and several others asked that their names not be used, citing the fear of retaliation from terrorists.

"I think American Jews are feeling some of the helplessness that Israel must be feeling now," said Ted Farber, executive vice president of the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington.

Hoenlein said the crisis is focusing the American public on Israel's precarious position in the Middle East, as a tiny Jewish nation surrounded by often hostile Moslem countries.

"Many have come to a new appreciation of the realities of what Israel confronts," he said. "Many have come to understand how small Israel is and what it has had to contend with for so long."

Hilary Meyers, president of GWU's Jewish Student Association, said her initial reaction after the first missile attack on Israeli cities was fear. It has not turned to anger.

"It's been proven that {Israel} is not retaliating. I think Israel should be congratulated," said Meyers, who has family and friends living in Israel.

"It's hard not to say . . . that they should not go in and at least protect themselves. But from a military standpoint, maybe it's best if they stay out of it."

Staff writer Jo-Ann Armao contributed to this report.