Jewish students brave political turmoil for Israel pilgrimage
There’s no place like your homeland–even if safety isn’t three ruby-heeled clicks away.
For Jewish students on pilgrimage in Israel, their home in Mason is 6,198 miles away, and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are prevalent, according to junior Adrian Niedermann.
“(The Gazan War) started while we were there (last summer),” Niedermann said. “What sparked it was three Israeli boys were kidnapped, and they were found dead in a field; they were shot. That led to a revenge killing in Jerusalem of a Palestinian boy, and that all escalated, and (there were) already existing tensions. And then Hamas (a Palestinian militant group) was firing rockets…the number increased by the thousands.”
Niedermann and his travel group were staying in a kibbutz, a commune with hotel units, when his group counselors warned him of potential rocket fire in the area.
“A car alarm went off, and everyone panicked because we thought it was the rocket sirens,” Niedermann said. “But then a couple minutes later, the actual siren went off, and our counselor told us all to get on the floor. We got in tornado positions on the floor, and the rocket landed in a field a couple miles from us, so we felt the windows shake.”
Threats may not abate under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reelected as of Tuesday, March 17. Formerly agreeing with President Obama on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, Netanyahu reneged, promising no separate state while he remains in office; later claims of misinterpretation muddied U.S.-Israel relations further.
The continued political turmoil won’t inhibit sophomore Brooke Suddleson’s plan to travel to Israel for the first time this July to August with her summer camp, Camp Livingston.
“It’s important to my culture and to my religion that I get to go, and conditions there aren’t the best right now,” Suddleson said. “You just have to trust the people that you’re going with, so you know that they’re not going to put you in a dangerous situation. And if there is a dangerous situation, they’re obviously going to get you out of it, so no one gets hurt.”
Suddleson said her camp is preparing for the trip with the help of an Israeli correspondent who educates it on political issues.
“They have this program that he’s involved with where they keep track of all the different groups that are in Israel…they keep track of them on a map as a safety precaution,” Suddleson said. “So they have the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) update these people, and people who are in the Northern part can send a message to this room and say, ‘Hey, there have been some conflicts going on here and don’t let people go to this area.’ So we know…that we can avoid it by doing that.”
The extra precautions keep Suddleson from worrying too much; she said she is excited to experience Israel and world religious practices with her friends. Proximity to other Jews creates a spiritual experience, according to Niedermann.
“I feel closest to my religion when I’m with other people who practice it and when I’m in a Jewish environment,” Niedermann said. “And then we went to Israel, and…not only are you surrounded by Jewish people, (but) everyone there is Jewish. It’s a Jewish state; there’s Judaism in every aspect of life around you; you have all these monuments. Instead of hearing a story about a certain monument, you’re actually there looking at it.”
This religious clarity is worth the trip, Niedermann said, regardless of any military or political dissension.
“Regardless of what happened while we were there, it’s still the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Niedermann said. “I love it so much; it’s the best summer that I’ve ever had.”