The war in the Mideast this summer has brought back to the forefront the issue of travel to Israel, even as students by the thousands are leaving for a year of study in Israel.
As the head of the Alisa Flatow Memorial Scholarship that provides scholarships for study in Israel, I can testify that we have seen increasing numbers of applicants no matter what the situation is in Israel. But as the parent of a terror victim, I have been asked many times by other parents since Alisa's murder by Palestinian Islamic Jihad whether they should let their children travel to Israel to study and play.
I usually pause when asked that question and I think back to how my children reacted about going to Israel after Alisa was murdered. My daughter Gail, who had come home for Passover that year while Alisa opted to stay in order to fully imbibe what Israel has to offer, was on the plane back to Israel less than a week after getting up from shiva.
Francine, who began a year of study a few days after the 1997 bombings on Ben Yehuda Street, was asked by CNN about her parents' reaction to her going to Israel. "I think they're probably a little bit nervous," she answered, "but they don't have a choice. I'm going. I'll call them."
Since then, all my children have been back several times, including Ilana and her husband, who lived there for a year while he learned in yeshiva. Today, after spending time on kibbutz milking cows and cleaning kitchen pots and pans, my son Etan is living in Jerusalem.
I relate those facts as a way to assure them that all will be well. But I know that Alisa's murder is still on their minds.
There is a little known story about Alisa's last bus ride. The truth is that Alisa did not want to go to Gush Katif for here pre-Passover vacation. She had hoped to go to Petra in Jordan and see its famous Nabatean buildings made more famous by "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." But Alisa's friends couldn't justify spending $1,000 to travel to Petra. So, Gush Katif and its beaches became the destination with Alisa's life ending on the road outside Kfar Darom. But the story continues nine months later.
In February 1996, the Hamas bombing of a No. 18 bus in downtown Jerusalem took the lives of two young Americans, Sara Duker and Matthew Eisenfeld. Sara and Matt were also on their way to a vacation that Sunday morning -- but their destination was not Gush Katif, it was Petra. Two Sundays, two destinations, two bombings.
Yet I am in favor of letting students study in Israel.
We are enjoined by our tradition to choose life. And it is life in its fullest that Israel is about.
I believe our children understand it better than their parents. For 12 or more years many of us expose our children to a Jewish education and lifestyle. In many cases, we take them to Israel to become bar mitzvah at the Kotel, or simply to tour the country. We demonstrate our Zionism by giving charity to Israeli causes, and we swell the parade route along Fifth Avenue for the Salute to Israel Parade. What, then, do we expect when they start meeting with Israeli yeshiva and seminary representatives a year before they graduate from high school?
Our children also understand that we are enjoined by our tradition to choose life. And it is life in its fullest that Israel is about. It is the exhilaration of Jerusalem's holiness, the thrill and spectacle of Tel Aviv's night life, the quiet of the desert that combine into an experience that changes the lives of Jewish kids from the diaspora. Our children understand this and desperately seek it. Fortunately, it's an experience now made more accessible to others by programs like Taglit birthright israel, Masa, Aish HaTorah and others.
So do I send my son or daughter to Israel? As one parent, I say, "Yes, I choose life." For me, there is no other answer.
Courtesy The New York Jewish Week.