Itineraries change, but Israel trips go on

Noah Silver, 16, had looked forward to Camp Ramah’s summer trip to Israel for several years; his sister, who went two years ago, raved about it, as did other past participants. But his trip turned out to be very different.

“From the beginning, we didn’t realize what was going to happen,” Noah’s mom, Shelli Silver, told Jewish News. “We knew that there was a problem as soon as he left” – his plane left the day after the bodies of the kidnapped Israeli teens were found and was in the air headed for Israel when the news broke about the murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammed Abu Khdeir.

“We still didn’t really have the realization of what it was going to escalate to,” Shelli Silver says. “I don’t think anyone did.”

Noah is currently one of 250 students – one of eight from Arizona – on the six-week Ramah Israel Seminar trip. He and his family are members of Beth El Congregation in Phoenix.

The Ramah Israel Seminar, which started in 1962, alters its itinerary during times of conflict, according to Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, national Ramah director. In 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, the program avoided most of northern Israel and, during the Intifada, the trip avoided East Jerusalem and the West Bank, he writes in an email. This summer, there have been some itinerary changes to avoid going anywhere near Gaza. “We also delayed taking the students to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv,” he writes. “Otherwise, the trip has been very successful.” No family has chosen to have their children return home early.

As of press time, the Phoenix community Birthright Israel trip is still proceeding as planned, according to Shahar Edry, director of the Israel Center; the group was scheduled to leave July 30.

According to Taglit-Birthright Israel, all upcoming Birthright trips are scheduled to continue. On the organization’s website, a safety and security update notes that staff members are in constant contact with the trip organizers running the groups and that trip itineraries are approved daily, with information administered by the Israel Ministry of Education and coordinated with the IDF, Israel Police and the Homefront Security Administration.

From the beginning of Noah’s trip, the itinerary has gone through several changes, says his mother, such as delaying a visit to Jerusalem to spend more time in the north. The teens’ parents receive daily updates – with extra security updates, if necessary – which often include information about canceled activities. One main change was a host Shabbat, where under ordinary circumstances the teens spend 48 hours with a host family anywhere in the country. This year, many of the teens stayed in Jerusalem, Shelli Silver says. Noah spent the weekend on a moshav about an hour northwest of Tel Aviv.

Although he didn’t hear sirens during his visit, he told his mom that some of the other campers did have to go into bomb shelters after sirens were sounded where they were. “We talk to Noah quite a bit or he texts when he can get to Wi-Fi,” says his mother.

Noah hasn’t expressed any degree of concern for his personal safety, she says, but he has expressed disappointment about some of the canceled activities. Of course, he fully understands what’s going on and why the changes are being made, she says, but it’s a disappointment nonetheless.

“All we really do care about is his safety and the safety of the kids on the trip. When you get past all that, he wants to see the country.”

One thing they have discussed was “that it might not have been the experience that you expected or you wanted, nonetheless, it’s an experience,” she says. “And how many Jewish Americans in their lifetime, comfortably in their suburban lifestyles, are going to be able to tell a story about how when they were 16 years old, they lived through this Israel-Gaza war and what it was like and what it was like to hear the news from the country firsthand and to meet people who were sending loved ones off to the army.”

Shelli Silver shared a recent post from her son’s Facebook post, which explains his perspective on the trip.

“Thank you to everyone who has worried about my safety and checked to make sure I’m doing okay. I have been safe and protected for three weeks in Israel, with many extra measures taken to avoid the bombs that are raining down on this beautiful country. I can’t say the same for the millions of other people living and touring here in Israel, nor for the innocents living in Gaza. …

“People are dying, and all anyone wants is peace. Life goes on in Israel. We go to the beach. We hike. We celebrate our holidays. We just want peace. Please keep the citizens of both Israel and Gaza in your prayers. Hamas must be stopped, and it is despicable that stopping them means the deaths of more civilians.”

This article first appeared on jewishaz.com.

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