Last week, Bianca Brichkov was all set to go to Israel's three-year Elite Academy high school with four other American students. This week, she's back as one of the few Jews at her all-girls Catholic school in the Bronx -- all because of her father.
The New York parent filed a restraining order last week forbidding his 15-year-old daughter from going to the Jewish State.
"I don't want my daughter to go to a place where constant war is going on," Vladimir Brichkov said. "Would you send your kids to Israel right now?" he asked. "I wouldn't."
But Bianca Brichkov's mother, Florina Shein, contends that her ex-husband filed the claim just "to spite me," and hopes to revisit the issue in family court later this month, when she will dispute visitation rights and child support.
The episode was the most extreme among the families assembled for a bittersweet farewell party Sept. 2 in the New York headquarters of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which coordinates the program along with Israel's Ministry of Education.
For the past 12 years, the Elite Academy has drawn 9,000 students from Latin America and the former Soviet Union to Israel's top high schools. This year, the free program, which provides students with a stipend and health insurance, expanded to 32 countries -- including the United States and Canada -- after a request from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Between 40 and 50 North Americans applied for the spots, and five Americans were accepted after psychological and academic screening, said Michael Landsberg, executive director of the Jewish Agency for Israel's aliyah department for North America.
"For each of you, this is the most important step of your life," Landsberg told the group. To ease parental concerns, he added, "We understand, for you parents, this is the most important treasure that you have."
Bianca Brichkov, who had joined her peers in New York who were taking off for the program, said, "I'm very, very upset about it. I really wanted to go and I was upset that my own father wouldn't be able to let me go."