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The talk in Israel is not centered on Iraq, but on the survival of Israel itself, according to a Williamsville couple who just returned.

Judith Katz, president of the Buffalo Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, and her husband, Dr. Leonard Katz, visited Israel on a fact-finding tour earlier this month.

"The gulf crisis has really threatened them," Katz said. "We learned that for this little country in the Middle East, survival is not assured."

The Katzes' first of five trips to Israel was on their honeymoon in 1958, and they have returned several times with their children. They noticed a different atmosphere on their latest visit, they said after they returned home Friday.

"We felt the most tension between the Arabs and Jews," Mrs. Katz said. "The mood is one of anxiety."

While Israelis are worried about Iraq's expansionism, they are more concerned with their day-to-day existence with their neighbors, Katz said.

The daily life has been one of strife. This week marks the third anniversary of the Palestinian uprising, the intifada.

"No one is sure how to solve it. This may be the most opportune time," he said.

American Jewish Committee members met with several government officials, among them Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, Labor Party opposition leader and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, a Palestinian activist, an Arab member of the Knesset and a member of Peace Now. Leaders of the committee also met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

"Being in Israel at this time was, for us, very emotional," Mrs. Katz said.

She said the high point was welcoming Russian Jews emigrating to Israel. The low point came in talking to a Palestinian, when he expressed his lack of hope and the futility of his situation.

Meeting 220 Russian emigrants on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport at 1 o'clock one morning was the most exciting part of their trip, Mrs. Katz said.

The 120 American Jewish Committee members and others waved flags, and carried flowers and dreidels, a children's game often played during Hanukkah.

Many of the Jews from the Soviet Union have not been educated in their faith, the Katzes said. Most of those arriving in Israel did not know of Hanukkah, except one boy who said his grandfather had told him about the Jewish Feast of Lights.

The Katzes also visited Russian emigrants who had been in Israel five months.

"They all seem very happy," Mrs. Katz said. "They wanted to know why we did not move to Israel."

The Russian Jews told them they moved to Israel because of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. The emigrants they met were a small number of the expected million Russian Jews migrating to Israel. Thirty thousand arrived last month, Katz said.

"Here's the hope for the future," Mrs. Katz said.

Israelis look to the Russian Jews to stabilize their population and to expand the economic base. There also has been an unprecedented outpouring of aid from Israelis anxious to welcome the Russians to their country, Katz said.

The American group also was welcomed by almost everyone they met. Katz said not many groups are touring Israel now because of the unsteadiness of the gulf situation, but their group had no concerns about their personal safety.

"We felt so good about making a statement and being in Israel," Katz said. "We felt very welcomed and appreciated. . . . They feel very isolated and anxious."

The Katzes will discuss their trip to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv at 8 p.m. Wednesday and during the Saturday morning service at Temple Shaarey Zedek on Dec. 22.

"The gulf crisis has really threatened them. We learned that for this little country in the Middle East, survival is not assured."
Dr. Leonard Katz

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