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“Parents told us, ‘I don’t see anything on the news, so I’m imagining the worst,’ ” Ben-Ari said.” As soon as we gave them information on what was going on in Tel Aviv, they felt a lot better.”
Other programs with students in southern Israel also took measures to remove them from the path of incoming rockets. The day after Pillar of Defense began, Ben-Gurion’s study-abroad program took students on a trip to Masada, then relocated them to Sde Boker, another Ben-Gurion campus out of rocket range. Program staff quickly arranged for students to continue coursework there – if necessary for the rest of the semester.
“You’re not just bored, but you feel like you can’t change things,” said Abby Worthen, a University of Pennsylvania student taking her junior year abroad. “We felt like there was nothing we could do, and that was hard.”
Worthen, like other students, was shaken the first time she heard a siren – a feeling she said separated the study-abroad students from their Israeli classmates, many of whom were reservists called to serve in the Israeli army.
“I’m almost jealous of Israelis,” Worthen said. “They have this way about them that’s calm and rational, and I don’t. On some level it’s a lot more intense for them because they have a stake in it, [but] it wasn’t as meaningful to them because this is sort of run of the mill.”
Even programs considered safely out of range were impacted by the fighting. Nativ, a Conservative post-high school program in Jerusalem, prohibited participants from traveling to Israel’s South or metropolitan Tel Aviv, both areas targeted by rockets. Oranim asked its participants to notify staff whenever they left Tel Aviv. Often stuck at home, the Americans turned to talking politics – too much, according to Fox.
“I definitely learned a lot more about Israel and the Gaza conflict, but talking about it 24-7, there wasn’t that much news that could sustain conversation,” he said. “So we found ourselves rehashing the same conversations, so it got a little exhausting.”
The intense focus on the fighting, though, reminded Worthen of the physical and emotional distance between Israel and the United States.
“It’s so hard listening when there are real things going on in the world, that Hostess is going out of business,” she said, referring to news last week of the snack maker’s demise. “I had to remember that there are other things in the world.”