Teens get a first-hand look at Israel during conflict

Rachel Krug (bottom row, third from right) is pictured with her group while they spent time in the north of Israel.

Jeffrey Eidelman Junior, Parkway Central High School

As the Israeli and Palestinian conflict continues to be in the news, a large number of Jewish teenagers experienced the tensions first-hand this summer.

Parkway Central senior Jonathan Samuels traveled to Israel for Ramah Israel Seminar, the Israel program through Camp Ramah. He landed in Israel on July 1, seven days before the fighting started, and returned Aug. 10. 

“I really felt proud to be there during the war,” Jonathan said. “A lot of tourists either left or decided not to come because of it, and I felt like I was supporting Israel tremendously just by staying there.” He said his group was one of the few from which nobody left.

Jeremy Schwartz, a junior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, went to Israel through a program with Camp Livingston.  Jeremy and Jonathan visited many places such as Eilat, Jerusalem and Haifa. However, not all tourists had this luxury this summer. Most programs remained in the north of Israel, avoiding major cities like Tel Aviv for safety reasons.

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Another participant on the Livingston trip, Parkway Central junior Scott Prywitch, said he believed he experienced the “Israeli reality.” The Israeli reality, Scott explained, is what most Israeli citizens experience on a frequent basis, such as taking refuge in a bomb shelter when sirens go off. Like Jeremy, Scott initially was afraid when the sirens went off, but he calmed down after time.

 “I was frightened by having to enter a bomb shelter for safety because I was not used to such a thing,” Scott said. “As the whole situation played out, I started to understand what was actually happening, and I became less nervous.”

Jonathan said: “It may not seem like a lot, but 45 seconds is plenty of time to find somewhere safe to stay until it is OK to come out. It really just felt like a tornado drill.”

Jonathan and Jeremy said they took their cue from Israelis and their counselors, who remained calm in the bomb shelters as they talked the teenagers through it.

 Another Ladue junior, Rachel Krug, also visited Israel before and during the war. She went with a USY Eastern Europe and Israel pilgrimage, which arrived July 1. Unlike Jonathan and Jeremy, Rachel never experienced the sirens.

 “Wherever we went, we always felt safe,” Rachel said. “We had a guard with us at all times. Fortunately, our trip never heard any sirens. I felt more safe in Israel, even during a war, than I would feel in any other country.”

 However, Rachel was a little disappointed not being able to visit all of Israel.

 “I really wish we could have gone to Tel Aviv,” she said. “It’s a beautiful city that I have been wanting to go to for my whole life.”

Scott said one of the many benefits of his trip was witnessing the strong nationalism of Israel.

“The most remarkable thing to see at this specific point in time is how the small yet brave country of Israel comes together and fights for what they believe in,” Scott said.

 Jonathan also found the spirit of the Israeli people to be inspiring.

 “It was amazing to see all Israelis come together to support their country and be prideful of it,” Jonathan said. “I definitely plan on using my experiences this summer to educate others. Like I said, I’m not an expert by any means on this topic, but I did live through a war there so I will tell people what I went through and what I learned there.”

 All these teenagers had positive experiences during their trips. Scott and Jonathan agreed that their trip was meaningful.

 Rachel added: “I would say that my experience in Israel this summer was nerve-wracking but amazing.”