The recent escalation of the Gaza-Israel conflict presents uncertainty to those scheduled to participate in the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip planned for late December.
Despite the unknown of what may come, the trip is currently expected to begin on schedule. There are around 20,000 expected participants from around the world scheduled to go on the winter Birthright trip.
Penn Hillel Director Rabbi Mike Uram, who advises students planning to go on the trip, said Penn students should not change their plans now. About 30 from Penn are scheduled to go on the trip through Hillel this December.
“[Birthright] takes the safety of the participants very seriously and they’re going to monitor the situation,” he said. “My advice is to stay registered and see how things play out.”
Taglit-Birthright Israel sent an email to all applicants scheduled to participate in a trip this December. The email also advises applicants not to make any trip cancellations at this point. However, if participants choose to cancel their trip due to safety concerns as the date of the trip approaches, they will be refunded their deposit.
The email reads, “We do however want to reassure you that Taglit-Birthright Israel sees the issues of safety and security as our top priority. Every effort will be made to ensure that your trip to Israel will be not only a safe and secure one, but also an enjoyable and truly educational life experience.”
Safety measures include official clearing of daily itineraries and immediate itinerary changes and “no travel zones” in the event of heightened security concerns.
Representatives from Taglit-Birthright Israel could not be reached for comment after multiple attempts.
On November 14 Israel launched an air strike that killed the military wing commander of the Palestinian party Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007. Both Palestinian and Israeli forces fired rockets in the days following.
On Nov. 21, Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire in an effort to prevent further escalation. On Nov. 23, a Palestinian was killed and nine were wounded in a confrontation with Israeli soldiers after the cease-fire.
College sophomore Adam Kelmenson, who is scheduled go on the trip this December, will most likely go on the trip assuming all goes as planned.
Kelmenson sees the trip as a possibility to see a war-torn country firsthand. “We live in the United States — we’re never really subject to violence. It would be cool to be there. What is it like to be in a country that’s constantly under threat?” he said.
“From a Penn perspective, we can’t really comment on this without being there and it would be cool to actually go there to have validity to claim some arguments,” Kelmenson added.
Taglit-Birthright Israel began in 1999 and has sent close to 300,000 Jewish young adults from 60 countries, all 50 states and Canadian provinces, and from nearly a thousand U.S. colleges and universities, to Israel.
The goals of the trip include strengthening Jewish identity and increasing solidarity with Israel among the participants.
The trip includes visits to major sites such as Masada, the Dead Sea, and the Western Wall, as well as the cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.