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Originally published Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 10:54 AM

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U.S. youths stranded in Israel as flights halted

Tens of thousands of Jewish American teenagers and young adults spend their summer in Israel.


The New York Times

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Like thousands of Jewish children, a group of 25 high school students with the North American Federation of Temple Youth took a summertime excursion to Israel, in their case spending much of their two weeks at Kibbutz Tzuba in the golden Judean Hills outside Jerusalem. They were supposed to fly back to New York on Tuesday night.

But their flight, like those operated by at least three U.S. airlines and several European airlines, was canceled after a Hamas rocket landed 1 mile from Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv. The Federal Aviation Administration instructed air carriers to temporarily halt flights to and from Israel.

The specter of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner struck down recently by an anti-aircraft missile over eastern Ukraine doubtlessly has added to the airlines’ anxiety about sending planes over combat zones.

Several leaders of Jewish organizations that sponsor such trips, having already had to deal with children suddenly sent to bomb shelters for the past few weeks of Hamas rocket fire, seemed stoic about the latest burden. They said they were answering calls from worried parents, but were making sure that the young people under their responsibility were safe.

“We’re working minute by minute to try to reschedule them, but in the meantime they’ll be housed in the kibbutz,” said Annette Powers, a spokeswoman for the Union for Reform Judaism, the parent organization of the youth group. “We’ll have educational programs and fun programs, and they are going to continue doing them. They’re not going to be sitting around watching the news.”

Tens of thousands of Jewish American teenagers and young adults spend their summer in Israel. Some study in the yeshivas in Jerusalem or the West Bank, while others go to summer camps there or stay with relatives on kibbutzim, or collective farms. Still others take trips with organizations like Birthright Israel, which offers 10-day tours that are not religious in nature.

Birthright Israel has 31,000 participants in its programs this season, which runs from May to September. Stan Steinreich, a spokesman, said, “We’ve been around for 14 years, with 400,000 participants, and unfortunately we’ve had similar situations we’ve had to deal with.”

One of the organizations leading trips for Birthright is Young Judaea, one of the oldest Zionist movements in America. This summer the group has taken 1,500 participants to Israel for Birthright and for other programs such as one that includes introductions to Israeli leaders and journalists.

Ayelet Margolin, a spokeswoman for Young Judaea, said several groups of teenagers were still in Israel and had been there since the conflict with Hamas started. “Parents who have been worried about the security situation are now wondering whether their kids are going to be able to come back home,” she said.

But, she said, many parents feel the conflict “is making their experience more valuable.”

“The kids get to ask hard questions and have conversations about it and debate about it and form opinions about it,” she said. “They get to see the complexity of living in Israel and being Zionist and loving Israel.”



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