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The spiritual leader of Oklahoma City's
Reform synagogue speaks at the nationally
televised prayer service.
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Rabbi David Packman
On Domestic Terror
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BOAZ DVIR SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
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abbi David Packman of
Temple B'nai Israel in Ok-
lahoma City joined Presi-
dent Clinton and the Rev.
Billy Graham Sunday, April 23,
at a prayer service for victims of
the Alfred P. Murrah Federal
The nationally televised ser-
vice, held at the Oklahoma City
State Fair Arena, drew a crowd
of 12,000 and several dignitaries,
including state officials and At-
torney General Janet Reno.
Rabbi Packman, 56, who for 19
years has been the spiritual
leader of Oklahoma City's only
Reform synagogue, read from
Lamentations during the service.
The Jewish community in Ok-
lahoma City is small but active,
Rabbi Packman said in a phone
interview after the prayer service.
Its 2,800 members are mostly
young and middle-age college-ed-
ucated professionals and govern-
The Jewish Federation of
Greater Oklahoma City raises
about $700,000 a year. The city,
which has many active churches,
has two synagogues — one Re-
form, with 420 families, and one
Conservative, with 280 families.
Most of the adult Jews in Ok-
lahoma City, which has 440,000
residents, are married. "This is
not a good place for Jewish sin-
gles," Rabbi Packman said.
But it is a good place to raise
a family, he said. Even now, after
the bombing. "I like the pace of life
here," he said. "People are kinder,
gentler. We have very harmo-
nious relationships here."
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BD — What did you say dur-
ing the prayer service?
DP — I made a comparison be-
tween Jerusalem and Oklahoma
City. I said that Jerusalem, which
was destroyed (in 70), came back
to even greater splendor. A des-
olated city rebuilt itself. We can
BD — Is Oklahoma City des-
DP — Yes. Everyone at the
temple knew someone who is ei-
dead or injured. Or they knew
someone who had a relative who
is either dead or injured.
BD — Did you know any vic-
tims or any relatives of victims?
DP — A dear friend of mine
(Peggy Thompson) — the head of
the local chapter of the National
Conference of Christians and
Jews — lost her brother-in-law.
She is devastated.
BD — Were there any Jewish
DP — No, we have been very
lucky. It could have easily gone
the other way.
The only one injured was a
woman from my congregation.
She was slammed against the
wall in the next-door building—
the Federal Courthouse.
BD — Where were you during
DP — I was at the temple,
eight miles away. At first, I
thought it was a sonic boom. But
the ground moved. The ground
doesn't move in a sonic boom. So
I thought maybe it was also an
-earthquake — by strange coinci-
dence, at the exact same time.
BD — What was your first re-
DP — Honestly? I thought it
was an act of Middle Eastern ter-
BD — Is it wrong to raise such
suspicions against a group of peo-
DP — Probably. But a lot of ter-
rorism comes from the Middle
BD — How did the Arab com-
munity in Oklahoma City react
to the suspicions, which were
shared by many around the
DP —There are 5,000 Muslims
here. I am not talking about Na-
tion of Islam followers. I'm talk-
ing about real Muslims. They
were scared to death. They were
afraid that if it turned out to be a
Middle Eastern (terrorist attack),
they would be killed, injured, boy-
cotted. Their businesses could
have been destroyed. Their
mosques could have been bombed.
In 1979, during the Iranian
hostage crisis, we had 3,000 Mus-
lims in the universities in the area
(including the University of Ok-
lahoma). They were attacked very
badly. They were beaten up. In
one year, their numbers went
down to 500.
The people here rarely get an-
gry, but when they (do), they re-
ally get angry. The Arabs know
that. So as soon as the news of the
explosion came out, they issued a
statement. They donated money.
They gave blood.
BD — Do you have any con-
tacts with the Muslim communi-