Rabbi Benjamin Sharff of Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills, who says his congregation includes people who avidly support Israel and others who are more critical, sees it as part of his job to remind everyone to consider the full complexity of events in the Middle East before deciding how they feel about any moves Israel makes.
"Things are never as black and white as they appear at first," says Sharff, who addressed the Syrian civil war on Friday night and says he will do so again on Yom Kippur morning.
"During the High Holy Days, we stand in judgment for our actions during the past year, with the idea of trying to right any wrongs and set new pathways for ourselves," he says. "How can you remove yourself from the broader world as you do that?
"People will be thinking about this fluid, dynamic situation and expecting me to say something about it."
Sharff believes that even if American involvement would escalate tensions around Israel, someone must make a clear statement that any use of chemical weapons is an "affront to humanity."
Rabbi Steven Schwartz of Beth El Congregation in Pikesville, who has spent considerable time in Israel, says Israelis are so accustomed to threats from neighbors that when tensions do escalate, they're less prone to alarm than their supporters in the United States.
Gas masks or not, he says, those who live in Israel tend more toward a state of resigned readiness than to panic, one reason he guesses reports in the Western press might be somewhat overblown.
"I'm not sure I'd really say it's a crisis there," Schwartz says. He plans to speak on Yom Kippur about the importance of Israel, though not necessarily about current tensions.
"In many ways, the situations in Syria and Iran have even made things easier for Israel. There's less attention on the Israeli-Arab situation, at least for the time being," he says.
Wohlberg, a longtime friend of Israel, sees the situation as more perilous. He says it's worth recalling that this year is the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, when a coalition of Arab military forces stunned the world with a surprise invasion of Israel on that holiest of days.
"It was one of those never-to-be-forgotten moments, like the Kennedy assassination," says Wohlberg, now in his 35th year of leadership at Beth Tfiloh. "There we sat on the high holidays as we got the news that the Egyptians had crossed the Suez Canal and the Syrians were in the Golan Heights.
"There's a sense of knowing how close we came to losing Israel — and that it can definitely happen again."
At Beth Tfiloh, the sentiment is not just an annual feeling. For the past several years, Wohlberg's synagogue has purchased more Israel Bonds — bonds in support of nonmilitary causes in the Jewish state — than any in America.
Over the next ten days, he says, he expects most rabbis in the area to delve into the Syria and Iranian questions.
"All of us have great-grandparents who prayed for [the creation of] Israel. And all of a sudden, we're the generation that has it. The High Holidays are an opportunity to rekindle the flame of commitment," he says.
Shapiro agrees. Even though the Syrian crisis has him nervous, he also offers a chance for Jews to deepen their connection to their faith and their nation — which has been the purpose of the Days of Awe for thousands of years.
"I don't have classified intelligence about will happen, but one of the things I'm going to say [on Yom Kippur] is that when we don't have anything to be afraid of, or anything to be thankful for, it's difficult to really pray," he says. "If in our hearts and actions we decide to do the right things, God will respond in kind — not just for Israel, but for all of humanity."