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Friday, June 14, 2024

Weeks of airstrikes, elusive cease-fires and a flight ban have not deterred a teen travel program from continuing trips to Israel.

Taglit-Birthright Israel, an international nonprofit organization that sponsors free, 10-day trips to Israel for Jewish young adults, is continuing its program amid safety concerns that led the Federal Aviation Administration to ban flights to Israel.

The ban, issued on July 21, was lifted in 36 hours, according to a USA Today report.

Jonah Stein, executive vice president of UF’s Jewish Student Union, traveled to Israel on Birthright in May and said he’s glad the ban was lifted.

“Regardless of the safety issue(s), which I don’t think there are, people need to continue going to Israel,” Stein said.

UF Hillel, which sends more than 100 UF students to Israel on Birthright each year, has no plans to cancel trips.

“Fear doesn’t help anything,” said Gia Campana, UF Hillel’s Israel engagement coordinator. “If Birthright International says it’s safe, I think we are safe.”

Chanie Goldman, an executive director of Lubavitch-Chabad of Gainesville, said she thinks Birthright should continue.

“A lot of what is going in the world makes (Jewish young adults) even more want to find out about their heritage,” Goldman said. “It’s up to the parents at the end of the day.”

Gail Hyman, Birthright vice president of communication and marketing, wrote in an email that participants’ safety is the organization’s primary concern. To ensure their well-being, those currently on Birthright trips will not visit Tel Aviv and southern sections of the country “where the conflict has intensified.”

This is not the first time military casualties have impacted Birthright. Shortly after Birthright was established in 1999, the Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, caused a volume of cancellations — 30 to 40 percent — similar to what Birthright is seeing.

And regardless of safety concerns, Birthright should continue, Stein said.

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“We have an obligation to go to Israel to see things for ourselves and understand how important that country is for us as Jewish people.”

[A version of this story ran on page 8 on 7/29/2014 under the headline "Birthright trips not stopped by conflict"]

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