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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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Youth trips avoid central Israel

Tags: Canada Birthright Canadian Young Judaea Israel Taglit-Birthright
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Smoke billows over Gaza after an Israeli airstrike July 10. ISRAEL SUN PHOTO

Israel youth trips are avoiding the centre of the country but are continuing to tour, despite the hail of rockets being launched from Gaza, organizers say.

Canadian Young Judaea’s Biluim Israel program has 101 teens who are currently in the north of Israel, said Risa Epstein, national executive director of Canadian Young Judaea. 

The 17-year-old campers will stay in the north until at least Sunday.

Program organizers are co-ordinating their itineraries daily with the Israeli Defence Forces and Israeli police.

“We’ve had a few parents who are concerned [and called the program], but no one’s asked to take out their children,” Epstein said.

For Taglit-Birthright Israel, which currently has 90 trips with 3,500 young adults in the country, the logistical challenges are growing, but programs are continuing. Trips are visiting  Masada and the far southern reaches of Israel, but are currently avoiding Tel Aviv, said spokesperson Karine Brown, who is based in Israel. While a few participants have withdrawn, no groups have been cancelled, she said.

 “Participants… were given a briefing. They feel incredibly safe, and they’re glad that they’re here, that’s the reaction we’re seeing on Facebook,” she said.  

In addition to daily checking itineraries with security officials, each bus has a GPS, she said. 

“It’s stressful,” Brown said. “You want  participants to achieve the most comprehensive trip.”

Authentic Israel, a tour organizer which runs trips for Birthright and B’nai Brith Youth Organization, has about 1,000 participants in the country right now, said director Avi Green.

Some programs are in Jerusalem, but avoiding areas close to east Jerusalem. The Galilee and Golan Heights regions, as well as most areas of the Judean Desert and Southern Arava, are all quiet and trips are being re-directed there, he said.

Despite the ongoing rocket attacks, “there’s a lot to do in Israel,” he added.  “We’re able to provide a rich, educational programming experience.”

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