Program participants sticking fast

The vast majority of those already in Israel have decided to stay on.

shi360 w birthright 298 (photo credit: )
shi360 w birthright 298
(photo credit: )
Several organizations bringing Jewish teenagers and young adults to Israel reported cancellations among intended participants, but said the vast majority of those already in Israel have decided to stay on. For Home Front Command safety information click here. In response to the Katyusha barrages in northern Israel, groups such as birthright, the Conservative Movement's United Synagogue Youth and the Reform Movement's NIFTY program have overhauled their itineraries to avoid the north, but plan to go ahead as scheduled with their other tours. Only a handful of participants have left the NIFTY program to return to North America, but a conference of 400 British Reform youth scheduled to take place at Lake Kinneret this August will almost certainly be canceled, according to the organization. Some dozen birthright groups are set to land in Israel Sunday night and Monday morning as planned, though flights from the former Soviet Union and New York City had 25 percent of their participants back out over the weekend. But birthright spokesman Gidi Mark pointed to a flight from Budapest in which only one intended visitor had dropped out, adding that the numbers continuing to come are higher than in other groups because the participants are older - age 18 to 26 - than many other groups and the tours are for only 10 days. "Of course there are changes," he added. "Groups will not go any place where it is within the range of danger. The programs will be changed accordingly." The Hebrew University also indicated that all but one of the 350 international students are staying as of now, and that the institution will be taking in the 140 foreign students at the University of Haifa until it is safe for them to return. An HU spokesman said that parents had been calling with questions, but had been reassured because Jerusalem had remained quiet for now. "The parents called with their concerns," said David Keren, the director of USY's programs in Israel. "We update them on a daily basis, if not more and reassure them. After updating and briefing them [the participants] they felt better." The directors for the United Synagogue's NATIV college leadership program and OTZMA service-leadership program as well as the vice president for development for the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies all said the number of participants had not changed since the attacks began Wednesday. Elan Ezrachi, executive director of Masa, which expects to bring 10,000 18- to 26-year-old Jews on long-term programs after the academic year, spoke with directors of the various programs. "The organizers were very careful in making either-or definitive assessments of the situation. No one was talking about the collapse of programs, but no one was willing to say it wouldn't affect them," he said. "At this point, they're all saying that if this operation ends or comes to some sort of stabilization [soon], they don't see a decline [in participants]. But if we go beyond that, no one knows."