Magazine article Insight on the News

Students Brave Terrorism in Israel: Turmoil in the Middle East and State Department Travel Warnings Have Not Deterred Young American Students from Visiting the Holy Land for a One-of-a-Kind Learning Experience. (Youth)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Students Brave Terrorism in Israel: Turmoil in the Middle East and State Department Travel Warnings Have Not Deterred Young American Students from Visiting the Holy Land for a One-of-a-Kind Learning Experience. (Youth)

Article excerpt

On Aug. 2, the State Department renewed a special advisory warning U.S. citizens to defer travel to Israel, two days after a bomb attack in a cafeteria at Hebrew University in Jerusalem killed seven students, including three Americans. Yet the killings and the advisory did little to dampen the enthusiasm of other American students in the holy city.

The new summer session opened the day after the murders, and the Associated Press quoted Daniel Faraha of Carmel, Ind., who left the cafeteria three minutes before the blast, as saying, "It hardened my resolve to stay." And Rebecca Casey, a Christian from Albuquerque, N.M., said, "If we give into terrorism and don't continue with the school, that would let them win."

That spirit comports with the attitude of other American students interviewed by INSIGHT earlier this summer before the attack at Hebrew University. An attitude of determination and unselfish courage prevailed despite other State Department warnings and a huge falloff in tourism. When Robyn Weisman first asked her parents if she could go to Israel, they told her "absolutely not." When she asked a second and a third time, they told her the same thing. The fourth time she asked they told their daughter that just because they said no didn't mean she couldn't go.

Hundreds of American students, and even some tourists, still are going despite the threats. They are taking advantage of programs that take people (mostly young Jewish collegians) to Israel. Incredibly, many of these programs are free. Even more interesting is that in the last months of increased violence in the Middle East, students have continued to take advantage of these opportunities. Some consider it a calling.

After all, these special trips to Israel hardly are vacations (though one may be hard-pressed to see it as a vacation at all). Even with all that Israel can offer--its land, food, culture and history--there is an undefinable spell which sets the nation apart. In restaurants, on street corners, on buses and at temples there are things that make Israel different. For one, Israel is not at peace and has not been for as long as history remembers the modern state. This on-and-off war has been costly in many ways. It taxes the reputation of the country, as well as the psyche of its people--and sometimes their lives. So why travel into such an area? Besides providing insight into and contact with ancient and modern history, tourism helps the country. Many young people apparently are aware of this.

Almost 500 American youths flew there the weekend of May 24-26; Weisman was among them. The journey, an Israel Advocacy Mission and Training Program, was sponsored by Hillel, the national Jewish campus organization. This four-day trip consisted of high-level briefings with Israeli officials, journalists and educators. It also involved a day of service helping those affected by terrorism and workshops on how to best educate and advocate for Israel. Each participant paid $250 upon selection; $180 of that fee is contributed to charity. Some students extended their trips to enjoy a specially designed two-week academic program in Middle East affairs at the Jaffee Center at Tel Aviv University.

"My parents told me `You make your own decisions now,'" says Weisman, who became an adult while considering her trip abroad. "I figured what they told me was as close as I would get to a yes."

Weisman, like other students going on the trip, was chosen because she is a leader on her campus as president of the Israel Club. The purpose of the trip, besides helping campus leaders enhance their roles, is to show economic and personal support for the country--a goal of many of these programs.

Not every trip is so politically charged. Students between ages 18 and 26 who are Jewish and have $250 to lay down as a deposit are eligible for Birthright Israel, an organization that takes care of almost all expenses, including most meals, lodging and airfare. …

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