Religious Travels In Unstable Israel

By: Autria Godfrey
By: Autria Godfrey

August 14, 2006

As troops overseas hope for a ceasefire in the middle east, the desire for one is just a strong here in Charlottesville. Members of the jewish faith are having to change their plans as the fighting continues.

Each year Jewish students take part in a birthright trip to Israel for both cultural and religious reasons. While fighting in the middle east continues, directors of the trip are making changes to destinations and considering possible cancellations.

With a ceasefire still just a hope for people forced to live in the war-torn country of Israel, members of the Jewish faith here are also feeling the echoing effects of the violence.

UVA's Hillel center has been sending students on birthright trips to Israel for six years and as battles intensify, so do their security concerns.

"Is it safe? Is it not safe? Can we go to Israel and just have a modified itinerary or should we just postpone the trip until another time?" explained executive director of Hillel, Brian Cohen.

UVA student Kim Wray made the religious & cultural journey this past June before the fighting erupted, but she remembers how even then they were prepped on the dangers of the area.

"Just get yourself ready, there are going to be people walking around with guns, just everywhere. I really didn't realize how lucky we were in the states to not walk around and see everybody with guns," Wray said.

Students are already accompanied by a security guard 24 hours a day and are not allowed to ride public transportation. Their itineraries are also reviewed by the Israeli government. Still directors of the trip are hesitant.

"If I don't personally feel safe going to Israel, then I'm not going to send a bus full of students to go to Israel," Cohen continued.

Although Kim was able to make the trip before the bombings began, she says it would be a different judgment call today.

"I think that if I was to go on the winter trip I'd have to think about it a little more than [when] I went on the summer trip," she said.

One important point is that The National Birthright Israel Organization takes extreme caution in planning these trips to ensure the safety of the students. Those who've been before say they felt well-protected and were never fearful for their lives.

The Hillel Center at UVA takes a group each summer and winter, and registration for the January trip begins in September.

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