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!
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • 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.