Goldberg went to Israel this winter on Birthright, a free, 10-day trip available to Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 that is sponsored by Taglit-Birthright, a partnership organization between Israeli and Jewish community organizations. She said 40 students were scheduled to go on this trip, but 10 dropped out once fighting began. Ithaca College also sent 10 students on Birthright through Hillel, Jewish Chaplain Michael Faber said.
Though Goldberg said the attacks were still going on when she got there, she did not feel she was in danger.
Some students said they went to do volunteer work, some to visit friends and some to learn more about their heritage. Though they may have gone for different reasons, most said they felt it was important to be there during a time of war and to support the people of Israel.
The fighting, which began when Israel bombed Gaza on Dec. 27, was aimed at punishing Hamas militants who have been bombing Israel for the last eight years. Battling killed approximately 1,300 Gazans, the vast majority of whom were civilians, and thousands of Palestinian homes were destroyed, according to The Associated Press. Israel had relatively few casualties — 13 dead, including 10 soldiers — before declaring a cease-fire Jan. 19.
Faber said he thought it was safe for Jews to travel to Israel during this time.
“I wouldn’t hesitate as a parent to send my child,” he said.
Goldberg said Birthright trip itineraries had to be cleared by the Israeli government daily and an armed medic was always with the groups. She said visiting Israel during the conflict gave her a much better perspective of the country and its people.
“You really see the country come together a lot more when there is a conflict, and I really got to see how much pride there is everywhere for the country,” she said.
During her trip, Goldberg went to Mt. Hertzl, the national Jewish cemetery, and saw freshly dug graves of soldiers who had recently been killed. She spoke to a group of soldiers who were constantly receiving calls about friends who got injured during the conflict.
“It’s things like this that got me more attached to it on a personal level,” she said. “Now when I see the stories on TV it will be a lot more meaningful and I will actually pay more attention.”
Freshman Jeffrey Schnabolk went to Israel two days after the first attack but said he felt safe. He said he felt even safer after learning that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to Israel to speak.
“I’m happy Israel finally took action,” he said. “It was also nice to see Mayor Bloomberg come to Tel Aviv so quickly.”
Schnabolk said he saw many protestors in Jerusalem and could feel the tension. He said soldiers were everywhere with guns, and everyone was aware of their surroundings.
“It’s important to go there and give your support,” he said. “People as young as 18 are getting called into the army all the time.”
Cornell sophomore Rachel Fogel went to Israel during winter break with Blueprint Negev, a Jewish National Fund trip that focused on doing community service in different parts of the country.
“I wanted to get back to Israel and I wanted to do something nontraditional, so I found this program,” she said.
In order to participate in this 10-day trip, Fogel raised $950 for Sderot, a heavily bombed area of Israel. The money went toward building indoor playgrounds with bomb shelters.
“Being there during these events made it extra rewarding because some of the people we were actually helping out were in the south where a lot of people were being affected,” Fogel said.
She said life went on in these areas, and people were grateful for what students were doing.
According to The Associated Press, Israel had withdrawn the bulk of its forces from Gaza by Tuesday evening, coinciding with the inauguration in Washington of Barack Obama as president. However, the temporary cease-fire remained shaky. Israel’s air force struck a Gaza mortar squad after it shelled Israel, the military said.
Though students may have been visiting during a time of war, Goldberg said she was glad she went.
“Many people we met on the trip thanked us for coming during such a bad time,” Goldberg said. “It was like a personal compliment for them that even though we knew there was a conflict we still came anyway because we wanted to visit.”
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