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Monday, July 17, 2006

Missile attack sparks grief in South Florida

South Florida residents with relatives in Israel and Lebanon are closely monitoring the escalating conflict. A conference of rabbis in Miami-Dade focused on the violence.

BY EVAN S. BENN AND DIANA MOSKOVITZ
ebenn@MiamiHerald.com

Ripples of alarm from the increasing violence in the Middle East reached South Florida on Sunday.

A Cooper City couple mourned the death of their nephew, killed Sunday along with seven others in a Hezbollah missile attack on a Haifa railway maintenance facility.

The Haifa attack was the deadliest by the Lebanese militia in the ongoing tit-for-tat clashes marked by a rain of rockets against northern Israel and stepped-up retaliatory strikes across Lebanon by Israeli warplanes and artillery.

''I had a feeling it was him,'' said Ilan Ender, uncle of 29-year-old Raffi Hazan, remembering his thoughts as he heard about the missile strike. ``Sure enough, about an hour later we got a phone call.''

Hazan had just started a job as an engineer with the Israeli train system a few days ago. Ender and his wife, Judy, watched their nephew get married in Israel two months ago.

Now, Judy Ender and her sister are returning there on Tuesday to grieve with family.

Hazan will be buried today, but the Tuesday flight was the earliest they were able to book.

Rabbi Pinny Andrusier spoke to the Enders when they called him at 5 a.m. Sunday with the news about Hazan's death.

''In Judaism, when someone suffers a loss, especially as tragic as an innocent victim, we all feel the pain,'' said Andrusier, the religious leader of the Chabad of Southwest Broward. ``For cases like this, we try to teach that they only took his body. His soul and his spirit will live on.''

Beyond a family's personal tragedy, the escalating crisis in the Middle East was the focus of talk at a conference of Orthodox rabbis in Miami-Dade and for others with ties to the region who waited anxiously to hear from relatives in Israel and Lebanon.

More than 160 rabbis from the Southeastern United States attended the conference.

Many of them talked with each other about the fighting and compared it to the 1967 Six-Day War that Israel fought against Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria.

''It's very worrisome because as each day goes by, it appears that more and more countries are ready to get involved in the fighting,'' said Sunny Isles Beach resident Isaac Beckerman, who prays at the Chabad where the conference convened.

Meanwhile, others with family and friends in the Middle East kept close watch on the news for updates about the bloodshed.

The Rev. Elie Mikhael of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Coral Gables spoke to his brother in Beirut on Sunday after being unable to reach him earlier in the weekend.

Other members of his congregation also are in Lebanon, trying to remain safe but preparing for an evacuation.

''Everyone is shocked right now,'' Mikhael said. ``We want to have peace -- there and everywhere else in the world. So seeing what is happening right now, it breaks our hearts.''

U.S. officials late Sunday were deciding whether to evacuate an estimated 25,000 Americans, possibly to the neighboring Mediterranean island of Cyprus, according to the Associated Press.

Among them: 10 Florida State University students who are stuck in Lebanon after traveling there on their own to study Arabic, the AP reported.

In Aventura, members of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces used a phone-a-thon to raise money to help Israeli troops.

They received about $8,000 in donations in four hours, said Robyn Baltuch.

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