Israel Programs Rebound

By Miriam Colton

Published February 06, 2004, issue of February 06, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Rebecca Blank, a sophomore at Blind Brook Public High School in Westchester County, N.Y., has wanted to study abroad for several years. Highly active in her temple youth group and a longtime attendee of the Reform movement’s summer camps, her first choice was Israel. So last week, Blank boarded an El Al plane at Kennedy Airport to embark on a four-month study program in the Judean Hills.

Blank is one of 66 students that the Union for Reform Judaism is sending overseas for the spring semester of its NFTY-EIE High School in Israel program — the most that the movement has ever sent in the program’s 43 years of existence and double last year’s total.

“After three years of declining figures and very little confidence in Israel as an appropriate destination for young people, people are now considering it again,” said Paul Reichenbach, co-director of the union’s youth division. “These high numbers give us renewed hope and confidence that young people will go to Israel.”

The increase comes almost three years after the Reform union was widely condemned after becoming the only major national Jewish organization to cancel its summer programs in 2001, a day after a suicide bombing rocked the Dolphinarium nightclub in Tel Aviv.

During the next year many other groups ended up canceling planned events in Israel, but none drew the high level of criticism that had been directed at the union and its president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie.

The number of participants in Israel programs, specifically the once-popular summer touring groups, has plunged over 90% since the outbreak of the intifada. The Reform movement itself, which sent 1,400 kids to Israel in the summer of 2000, could barely pull together 40 participants this past summer.

Reichenbach and others attribute the rise in their school-year numbers to the fact that Americans are acclimating to the situation in Israel. Rather than keep their kids from visiting Israel, the theory goes, parents are willing to accept security increases to ease their anxiety.

“The situation has definitely been quieter in the past few months, and parents have decided that a careful and cautiously run program can be appropriate for their kids,” Reichenbach said.

Since 2001, the Reform high-school program has beefed up its security in an attempt to rebuild parent’s faith in their children’s safety. Organizers have moved the program’s base of operations from central Jerusalem to the more secluded Kibbutz Tzuba, and placed restrictions on travel to public areas such as shopping malls.

Rebecca Blank’s mother, Nan, says security was not a key factor in the decision to allow her daughter to take part in the Israel program. “I’m only excited for her,” her mother said. “Saying goodbye to my daughter for 18 weeks is the bigger issue.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.