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Jewish Journal

Summer in Israel: To send or not to send?

by Mike Levy

June 7, 2001 | 8:00 pm

If the point of terrorism is to slowly whittle down the confidence of its targets, it seems to be working.

Until last Friday's suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv nightclub, parents throughout Los Angeles had planned to send their children on a variety of summer trips to Israel despite ongoing violence in parts of the country.

But in the wake of the explosion, parents, school administrators and Jewish youth organizations have decided to reevaluate their plans.

Thirty-one eighth-grade graduates of Yavneh Hebrew Academy had bags packed last Thursday night, ready to leave on Sunday for the school's annual graduation trip to Israel.

"Every Jew should be going to Israel, especially now," Leslie Kleinman, mother of Yavneh student Nina, told The Journal last week.

Leslie Kleinman had been to Israel in January on a solidarity mission and looked forward to sending her daughter on the graduation trip. But by the next night, school officials had decided to postpone the trip, tentatively rescheduling it for winter break.

The decision was "heart-wrenching," said Yavneh headmaster Rabbi Moshe Dear. "But we didn't feel as secure as we did before. We felt there would be reprisals and escalation," he said.

Other Israel summer programs are grappling with the same concerns. With its summer program registration dwindling to 350 teens as opposed to the usual 1,500, the North American Federation of Temple Youth, the youth arm of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), decided last weekend to cancel its trips entirely.

UAHC President Rabbi Eric Yoffie announced that security concerns had forced the cancellation. "Our religious and Zionist convictions run deep and are known to all," he said, "but this movement never uses other people's children to make a political or ideological point."

Many fear that the UAHC's decision to cancel its program -- the biggest one yanked so far -- will influence other groups to change their plans.

But some groups have decided to continue their programs, beefing up security. The Conservative movement's United Synagogue Youth, which offers six summer trips to Israel and European Jewish sites, decided this week to go ahead as planned; more than 30 teens from the Far West Region will go to Israel, though the program will limit their recreational activity.

Summer programs of Young Judea and the Orthodox Union's National Conference of Synagogue Youth are also on schedule.

"At a time when Israel is being challenged, I think it's important that we stand strongly behind them," said Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie of Chabad in Yorba Linda. Eliezrie's 15-year-old son is one of 40 children of Chabad emissaries participating in Tzeirei Hashluchim, a six-week program to study and learn in Israel. "Cancelling trips to Israel, especially by national Jewish organizations, undermines the support of Israel in the American Jewish community."

Israel's representatives here, though, prefer not to advise parents and educators officially. "We don't want to lose our credibility by saying there are no problems in Israel now, but we want, need and welcome anyone who wants to visit," said Mina Ganem, deputy director for the Israel Government Tourist Office.

"It is, of course, understandable that parents would be concerned," she said, noting that the tourism office "does not go against" the State Department's travel advisory, which as of April 18 warns U.S. citizens to defer travel to Israel. But she also said that evangelical and other Protestant groups continue to travel to Israel, with few cancellations.

Some organizations are taking a wait-and-see approach. "Right now we're looking at what other schools and organizations are doing. It's a major item on the agenda for our executive-board meeting on Thursday," said Stacey Barrett, director of community youth programs for the Bureau of Jewish Education.

At Milken Community High School, 17 students plan to reunite Aug. 2 with the students of Tichon Chadash in Tel Aviv, their exchange program "twins." Their plan is for 10 days in Israel, then to travel with the Israelis to Poland and the Czech Republic for 11 days. Yoav Ben-Horin, Milken's director of special projects, said, "At this point, we are assessing the situation. We are in constant contact with the parents. No definite decisions have been made."

But Linda Baum says her daughter Melanie will likely miss the Israeli leg of the trip."Before Friday, Melanie couldn't wait to go. But she's been watching the news, and she understands."

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