Directors of Hillel’s Birthright Israel program, which gives students a chance to travel to Israel, said plans for January’s trip to Israel may be altered if the turbulence in the Middle East continues.
The Birthright Israel program invites Jewish students to take a free 11-day trip to Israel based on the belief that visiting Israel is a way for students to connect with their Jewish heritage, said Simon Amiel, executive director of Hillel at GW.
Sixty of the 300 students scheduled to go on the trip are GW students.
The Israeli government, the Birthright Israel Foundation and Jewish federations sponsor the annual program.
The students are scheduled to travel Jan. 2-4.
Amiel said program coordinators are monitoring the Middle East situation and will make a decision about travel plans close to the departure date.
Yes the situation is volatile, Amiel said. My hope is when the time comes to go, it is less of an issue. There is no way we are going to take students to an area that is unsafe.
Programs coordinated by Birthright Israel visit various parts of the country.
Israel has been wracked by violence between Israelis and Palestinians for more than six weeks.
Violence in other Middle East countries has also surfaced. Last month 17 American sailors were killed when the U.S.S. Cole was attacked by an apparent suicide-bomber in Yemen. A few days later a bomb was thrown at the British embassy in Yemen.
The State Department issued a travel warning Oct. 24 instructing Americans to defer travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
Students in the Birthright program said they are not very concerned about their safety traveling to Israel.
I’m still really excited to go, sophomore Francoise Galleto said. If the Birthright Israel Foundation deems it safe, then I’m not concerned.
Only three of the 60 GW students withdrew from the trip citing safety concerns, Amiel said. Students on the waiting list replaced them.
GW students said Hillel has made it clear the trip will be canceled if the students’ safety is threatened and has kept them abreast of the changing political situation in Israel.
The 60 GW students receive frequent e-mails from Hillel about safety issues in Israel.
Many students said the e-mails keep them knowledgeable, not fearful of the situation.
I have faith that they are not going to take us if it’s not safe, senior Nathan Marder said.
Students said their parents and grandparents are more concerned than they are.
My parents hear the news, hear what’s going on, the bombs and they’re not sure about where I’m going, freshman Marcus Appelbaum said.
Most parents relax once they talk with their children or with directors of the program at Hillel, said Karen Krantweiss, director of student activities at Hillel.
My mom was a little worried, but once I reassured her it was fine, Marder said.
The students said if there are risks, they are worth taking.
My grandmother has wanted me to go all my life, Appelbaum said. She wants me to be able to go and enjoy it. I never really wanted to go before because I had this picture that there were guns everywhere, but recently I’ve found out it’s a very beautiful place.
Some students said they were a little worried that the threat of violence might deter them from the trip’s experience.
I think (the violence) might have a slightly damaging effect on the experience, Marder said.
Students received a letter from the Israel Programs Department of the International Center of Israel outlining steps taken to ensure student safety.
The letter tells students their itinerary is disclosed only to Israeli intelligence, police and army, which may change it to reflect security concerns. The students will private, and will receive a safety orientation upon their arrival, according to the letter.
Some students said safety concerns in Israel are no different than in most large cities.
(The trip to Israel) is not marginally any more unsafe then walking down 23rd Street, Amiel said.