(RNS) Rocket fire from terrorists in Gaza may have scared off U.S. and European airlines, but Taglit-Birthright Israel is still sending thousands of young Jews to the famed summer Israel experiences.

Visitors board a Birthright Israel bus during their 10-day tour in 2003. Despite increased violence in the region, the tours have continued and visitors are accompanied by an armed security guard.

Visitors board a Birthright Israel bus during their 10-day tour in 2003. Despite increased violence in the region, the tours have continued and visitors are accompanied by an armed security guard. Creative Commons image by Avi Drissman

“There are seven trips arriving from North America tomorrow (Thursday, July 24),” said Gail Hyman, vice president for communications at Birthright, which has sent about 400,000 Jews ages 18 to 26 on free, 10-day educational junkets to Israel. About 36 people are on each trip.

“We’ve sent 6,000 in this period since the conflict began, and only had 10 people leave early, which says something about what it must feel like to be there,” Hyman said.

Israel says more than 2,000 rockets have been fired at Israeli communities since July 8, when the fight with Hamas and other Palestinian factions began. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted 420 of those. Yet rockets have killed at least three civilians, and a rocket that landed about a mile from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport prompted the Federal Aviation Administration and several European airlines Tuesday to suspend U.S. flights to Israel for the time being.

Hyman said the Birthright program has made adjustments to ensure the safety of participants. Flights were switched to Israel’s national airline, El Al, which is still flying into Ben Gurion, and itineraries are being adjusted based on consultations with Israeli security officials, she said.

Birthright Israel visitors explore Masada, an ancient fortress in the Southern District of Israel, during their 10-day trip in 2003.

Birthright Israel visitors explore Masada, an ancient fortress in the Southern District of Israel, during their 10-day trip in 2003. Creative Commons image by Avi Drissman

About 30 percent of the people who had signed up for the trip have dropped out because of the fighting.

Birthright provides heritage, religious and cultural trips free to young adults who travel the country together with young people serving in the Israeli Defense Forces.

“Part of the mission of Birthright is to build relationships between people who would not otherwise be spending time together,” Hyman said.

Many times they make lifelong friendships, she said. The program’s goal is to build a relationship between Israel and Jews who don’t live there, and to develop a core of people who sustain Jewish communities that are supportive of Israel. Max Steinberg, a Taglit-Birthright alumnus who emigrated from the United States to Israel and joined the military, was killed in combat in Gaza on Sunday.

The program has run continuously since it began 14 years ago, even during the second Intifadah (uprising), when Palestinian terrorist attacks killed about 700 Israeli citizens and visitors.

The conflict provides the participants with a greater sense of what it’s like to live in Israel.

“We certainly didn’t look for it,” Hyman said. “But you can say we’ve had an extra layer of learning or experience that no one wanted or planned for, but people certainly told us it had an impact on them.”

(Oren Dorell writes for USA Today.)

MG END DORELL

12 Comments

  1. Kevin Eckstrom

    Lies Nats: We’re not interested in censoring viewpoints, but we are interested in keeping things clean in the comments section of our website. Your previous comment crossed the line on what is acceptable. You can make your point without getting vulgar. Per our user agreement:

    D. You agree not to use any obscene, indecent, or offensive language or to provide to or post on or through the Website any graphics, text, photographs, images, video, audio or other material that is defamatory, abusive, bullying, harassing, racist, hateful, or violent. You agree to refrain from ethnic slurs, religious intolerance, homophobia, and personal attacks when using the Website.

    • I understand.

      So why just me? Or just jewish topics?

      I’ve seen multiple 4 letter words used here to directly describe christians as a group, and the posts have not disappeared.

      Shall I point them out to you?

    • Kevin Eckstrom,

      Thanks for the reminder.
      Religion certainly brings out the worst in some of us when we get passionate about it. Though it can be very ugly, I think it is a healthy part of the agony of working out why one believes as they do.

      I appreciate the opportunity all of you at RNS give to all of us to not only read many excellent articles on religion but to comment sometimes at great length.

      “You agree to refrain from…religious intolerance”

      Though I hate religion because I see it as doing more harm than good, I am completely tolerant of religious people themselves and I fully support their right to hold their beliefs. I also like to hear from people who see religion more positively than I do – I enjoy reading a good argument in favor of religion (they are rare indeed).

  2. “Birthright provides heritage, religious and cultural trips free to young adults who travel the country together with young people serving in the Israeli Defense Forces.”

    “Birthright” appears to be an indoctrination camp. The fusion of religious belief to a piece of real estate is an emotional powder keg that has not worked well for either Israelis or Muslims.

    This blurs the line between nation and beliefs, telling each participant WHAT to think rather than HOW to think for themselves. It tells them subliminally and directly, this is ‘your’ land and the survival of Judaism guarantees it for you – if you grow up to guarantee Israel’s survival.

    Since the same combo is taught to Muslim children,
    the guarantee is war for that land – and more misery for everyone.

    ” ‘We certainly didn’t look for it,’ Hyman said. ‘But you can say we’ve had an extra layer of learning or experience that no one wanted or planned for, but people certainly told us it had an impact on them.’ ”

    Yup. The same goes for the children who live in Palestinian territory.
    The lessons on them won’t be forgotten either.

  3. The Israeli government position:

    Rocket fire from Hamas is such a serious threat that it requires the immediate and unrelenting bombardment, shelling and shooting, to kill hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Israel’s self defence.

    However…

    Rocket fire from Hamas, including near Ben Gurion airport, poses no serious threat to foreign tourism, trade or transportation. Nothing to worry about here – it’s business as usual.

    • Agreed rashid. Great point.

      But I’ll just say it….israels self defense arguments ring hollow in the face of their reaction. The higher the pali body count, the less valid their weak argument becomes.

      They are just exterminating a people who want the same thing they do, and had it before they moved in.

      Think about it, america had no middle east enemies until we became big brother to israel. And fyi…america was the only “no” vote in the UN resolution yesterday proposing to merely start an investigation of israeli war crimes. Many countries formerly known as G8 abstained. All the little guys voted “yes”.

      • @Lles Nats,

        You – “Faith” is a good argument for Christians in favor of Jesus.
        You – “Faith” is not a good argument for Jews who see no Messiah.

        As a defender of ‘Faith’ in one instance but not in another
        shows you are fundamentally against yourself.

  4. the file of the article is so funny, “fire from terrorist In Gaza” LOL. You push someone out of their homes and when they try to claim their home back you call them terrorist wow

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