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Do I Send My Child To Study In Israel?

Do I Send My Child To Study In Israel?

I have been asked many times by other parents since my daughter's murder by Palestinian Islamic Jihad whether they should let their children travel to Israel.


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.

September 2, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) SusanRubinstein, September 10, 2006 9:29 PM

I was 3 blocks from a suicide bomber in 1996 and am going again

I with my then 2 yr old son, who is now 13, a bar mitzfah boy soon, was in Tel Aviv during the Purim bombing on Dizengoff Street in 1996. Sure I was scared..even nervous to walk back to my hotel, but I did it. I recall an Israeli woman said to me in English "keep walking, dont show you're scared". Well, I was scared and one young israeli girl had said to me "you're an american're lucky you can go back to america, I can't". I also recall the 2 students from nj who were killed that Feb in Jerusalem bus bomb. Well, I am going back with my son for his 13th year, as I went back in 1972 when I was 13. Will I be nervous? you bet!!! But I am still going. My gentile friends can't understand why I'm taking the risk, but I think any jewish person who has been there, understands all too well why I am taking the risk. I'll just be praying the peacekeeping troops do a better job this time and that no bombers will creep in once again. From my mouth to G-ds ears.

(5) Victoria, September 5, 2006 9:54 AM

Alisa Flatow

I admire Stephen Flatow's confidence in his children and their own ability to face life, with the understanding that some do not value life as they do.
When Alisa's death was reported I identified greatly with her family because my own daughter's name is Alyssa and she was of a similar age and I could not imagine losing her in such a hellish manner. God Bless Stephen Flatow and his family, especially the spirit of Alisa, who will always be with them.

(4) BenKaplan, September 5, 2006 12:13 AM

A rebuttal to Stephen Flatow

Many dedicated Zionists, such as you seem to be, would agree with your thinking irrespective of the heightened dangers and unsettling political climate over the entire Middle East. This certainly is a most precarious time for a son or daughter to be living in Israel for an extended period. I don't think you really mean to say that "as Jews we are commanded to choose life and it is life in its fullest that Israel is about" for this
surely cannot be taken seriously. It would be better to tell others that Israel, presently,has heightened internal as well as external problems to deal with and that it would be best to wait until stability has returned. Our young people should not be "ego driven" to a calling of heroism or martyrdom when a more mature, reasoned person would refrain from doing so.

(3) EstherAronovski, September 3, 2006 9:04 PM

I made that decision to let my son go study in Israel this year

I read this article with interest since I have just sent my 18 year old son to study in Yeshiva and we were asking ourselves the same question. It seems that the answer is the same for all of us. We have to have faith that everything will be O.K. and that the experience will be worthwhile, while knowing that tragedies do happen. Every day I pray that he will be safe and that Hashem will protect him, and that all of the people in Israel will be safe as well.
Thanks for the article.
Thanks for the article.

(2) SilkyPitterman, September 3, 2006 4:24 PM

It's all in Hashem's hands

Five years ago, my son was learning in "safe" Belle Harbor, NY when an airplane crashed 2 blocks from his yeshiva. The engine of the plane fell into a gas station that was on the yeshiva's block just 5' from the gas pumps and TOUCHING the bumper of a full gas truck. Nothing exploded and my son and the whole yeshiva was safe.
When my son told me that he wanted to learn in Israel, it was a no-brainer. The One who watched him in Belle Harbor will watch him in Israel. I never worried about him even when a bus was blown up in the neighborhood where I thought he might be. He was in good Hands.
If Moshiach doesn't come first, my next son will be going to learn in Israel in a few years.

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