Does conflict in the Mideast affect teens’ views about summer programs in Israel?

Smoke rises in Northern Gaza after an Israeli Air Force strike during Operation Pillar of Defense. Photo by Uri Lenz/Flash90/JTA

DANIELLE SEROTA, SOPHOMORE, Parkway Central

Teens wait months, even years, for the once in a lifetime summer experience of journeying to Israel with fellow Jewish teens. However, matters such as the Gaza-Israel conflict and potential spillover of the Syria tragedy may cause teens – and their parents – to reconsider a visit.

Summer Israel programs such as USY’s “Israel Pilgrimage” and “NFTY in Israel” have become well-known programs for high schoolers to take part in over the summer in Jewish communities all over the country. These programs aim to immerse teens in Israeli culture and allow them to form a deeper, more meaningful connection with their Jewish identity.

“I’m really looking forward to meeting other Jewish teens from around the country and learning about our Jewish heritage together,” said Jayme Oberman, a sophomore at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, who is planning to go on the USY Israel Poland Pilgrimage.

Ladue High junior Rebekah Sheinbein agreed that a summer in Israel can be incredibly significant for Jewish teens.

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“It really is a life-changing experience,” Rebekah said.

With the civil war in Syria, the nuclear program in Iran and the recent Gaza conflict, these programs face hurdles due to perceptions and realities of tumult in the Middle East.

However, Karen Rader, director of the Israel Experience Center at Central Agency for Jewish Education, said she is not seeing a decrease in high school students bound for Israel this year. “My numbers are actually up from last year,” said Rader, whose center runs about six programs with travel opportunities to Israel for St. Louis area high school students.

“I have not had one parent call or question me (with concerns about the threat of violence there),” she added. “I’ve talked to several other programs (nationwide) and their numbers are pretty much in line where they were last year.”

Ladue High sophomore Emma Barg is happily planning on attending the USY Israel Pilgrimage this summer. However, if the program directors decided to cancel the trip, Emma said she would be disappointed but understanding.

“This will be my fifth time traveling to Israel, and even though there is some risk involved with going to Israel, I always feel safe there,” Emma said. “If the trip needed to be cancelled, I would be very upset at first, but I would understand.”

Jayme holds a similar stance.

“While I would be very upset if the trip were canceled, I know it would be for the best,” Jayme said. “Israel is always there and if I can’t go this summer, I will go next year.”