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Jewish Journal

Los Angeles Israelis Wait and Worry

by Jane Ulman

March 20, 2003 | 7:00 pm

Dafna and Elisha Gilboa are hoping to leave for Israel with their three children on April 14 to attend a family wedding and spend Passover with relatives in Netanya.

"We're in a wait-and-see mode," Dafna Gilboa said. "If Saddam Hussein is launching missiles at Israel, I cannot risk my kids' lives."

Israeli businessman Eitan Teitler, on the other hand, is making more frequent trips to Israel, intending to visit in April. His wife, Erella, will leave in May, staying over a month. "We have children and grandchildren in kibbutzim in Northern Israel," he explained.

While the State Department, in a travel warning issued March 16, advised Americans against travel to Israel, and has ordered home American citizens, the Israeli Consulate takes no position. And the Los Angeles Israeli community, estimated at 120,000 people, is making difficult decisions about returning to visit family and friends.

Haim Tzour, owner of ET Travel in Tarzana, reports that travel by Israelis has been down about 40 percent since the intifada began in October 2000.

"Israelis are traveling," Tzour said, "but their vacations are shorter -- 10 days instead of one or two months -- and they tend to go as individuals, not whole families." (For more on travel to Israel, see page 40.)

"Most of the people in Israel say the chance that Israel will be involved in a war is very, very low," said Tal Kaspi, head of Bayt Israeli at the Israel Consulate in Los Angeles.

And an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson in Washington, D.C., confirms that Israeli reservists in the United States are not being called up.

So life for Angeleno Israelis continues as usual -- sort of.

Ada Doron, the owner of Fleur, a party planning business in Van Nuys, said that Israelis are continuing to plan celebrations.

"In general, when people organize personal parties, they forget the problems around them," she said.

But many of her clients who would normally also celebrate a bar mitzvah in Israel are postponing that part.

Israelis in Los Angeles, whether they are new to America or second generation, are living in two worlds.

"I check the UCLA Web site for school work and at the same time I am checking Maariv and other Israeli Web sites," said Yoni Avital, 26, who is studying electrical engineering at UCLA.

He is hoping to return for a cousin's wedding on April 6, but fears getting stuck in Israel.

"I want to see everyone, but I also have obligations here," he said.

Overall, the Los Angeles Israeli community supports President Bush.

Dr. Yehuda Handelsman, president of the Council of the Israeli Community (CIC), an organization founded over a year ago to specifically meet the needs of local Israelis, explained, "We're torn. On the one hand, Iraq has been a constant threat to Israel and it's time to get that guy out of there. On the other, most of us have seen fighting and do not relish another attack on Israel. We're worried."

CIC, with more than 1,000 members, is organizing rallies and letter-writing campaigns in support of Israel. The council also works closely with The Jewish Federation and the Israeli Consulate. But unlike the Israel Film Festival, which has been postponed (see Community Briefs on page 20), CIC is continuing its cultural and educational programs.

"We've got a lot going on," said Handelsman, including the annual Israel Independence Day Festival in Woodley Park on May 11, which will feature Israeli singer Igal Bashan.

Los Angeles-based Troop Chen, consisting of 250 Israeli scouts in third through 12th grade, is also active. Aside from tightening security, the scouts, who meet for four hours every Sunday, continue their normal activities. These include rope climbing and nature study, as well as political debate and dealing with their identity as both Americans and Israelis.

"The Israeli kids, more than the American kids, are conscious of what's going on," said scout leader Yossi Knoller. "We try to explain to them that the president of the United States is working for the security of the free world. The kids accept that America is justified in going to war."

Yardena Shamir, a Hebrew teacher at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles and director of Union Hebrew High School, also reports support for the war.

"We talk about the news in every single Hebrew class," she said, "and 99 percent of the Israeli community here is for the war. I have only one Israeli girl, who arrived only five months ago, who does not support the war."

"But Israelis are doers," said Bracha Loren, a marriage and family therapist in the San Fernando Valley. "We don't sit and contemplate. We get up and do."

For example, a year ago, 10 Israeli couples founded Urgent Aid for Israel to buy equipment for Israel. In the first two months, they raised $130,000 to buy an armored ambulance for Magen David Adom. Now they are raising funds to buy Lifepak heart defibrillators for ambulances and 250 walkie-talkies for the Jordan Valley communities.

And Volunteers for Israel, according to board member Charlotte Leib, has recently instituted a new one-week program for volunteers to fly to Israel to assist with preparing gas masks for distribution to Israeli citizens. In addition, the organization offers two- and three-week programs to help out on Israeli army bases.

"We plan to continue our programs," Leib said. "If volunteers need to leave Israel, the government will help them."

Meanwhile, Israelis continue to debate traveling to Israel.

Dina Stuhl, a Hebrew and Judaic studies teacher at Adat Ari El Day School and mother of four sons, said, "What kind of message are we giving to our children if we are afraid to go? We need to be strong and supportive."

"You don't know what's going to happen here either, God forbid," she added.

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