Jewish organizations taking high-school students to Israel this summer are revising their tours and taking extra precautions to ensure a safe and rewarding experience this summer. But they are taking different approaches.
The Conservative movement's United Synagogue Youth, for example, plans to bar its participants from going into congested areas, including shopping malls.
The outdoor Machane Yehuda market and the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, both popular destinations in Jerusalem, are off limits.
Young Judaea, the Zionist youth group of Hadassah, has canceled trips to such places as Tel Aviv and the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, according to its national director, Doron Krakow.
But even as the groups prepare their itineraries, they have yet to resolve a major issue--insurance coverage. Because of the U.S. State Department warning against travel to Israel, many life insurance companies may not pay in the event of a fatal terrorist attack.
Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, termed it a "big problem."
The rabbi said he wrote to Israel's ambassador to the United States, David Ivry, on Monday asking Israel's help.
Asked if his organization's USY trip might be canceled unless coverage is provided, Rabbi Epstein replied: "We're confident we're going to work it out."
Some groups are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars as they prepare to take only a fraction of the usual number of teens to Israel.
In a conference call Monday to parents of many of the 300 teens going on the USY trip, Jules Gutin, director of youth activities for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, reassured them that safety would be paramount.
At the same time, he said, "we feel we can provide a high-quality Israel experience, the impact of which can last a lifetime."
For the first time, USY will permit its participants to either rent a cell phone or buy a phone card to keep in close touch with their family back home.
The USY trip will include a visit to the Western Wall as well as to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, barring any security concerns. And USYers who wish to visit relatives and friends during their free weekend must be picked up by their hosts at their Jerusalem base or at drop-off points in Tel Aviv or Haifa.
Young Judaea has decided to eliminate all free time and make several changes to its itinerary. Along with canceling the trips to Tel Aviv and the Old City of Jerusalem, Haifa and Netanya have been eliminated, Krakow said.
"By not going to some of these cities, we have raised the confidence level of parents," he said, "and the trip has not been materially affected. The biggest change is Jerusalem. We have reduced the time we will be staying there. We will still be going to the western portion of the city to visit Hadassah Hospital, the Holy Land Museum and Yad Vashem."
Krakow said the organization was taking these steps "in the interest of a more conservative approach. . Our message to the parents is that if we reach the point that we can't provide the level of safety and security we provided last year, we will not go."
He said relatives or friends who want to visit the teens would be asked to come to "one of our bases" instead of allowing home hospitality.
"In the last few years, we have gradually reduced the amount of free time," Krakow said. "We feel that having the kids scatter throughout the country is not the right thing to do, given the current dynamic."
Bobby Kaplan, owner and director of Israel Basketball Camp, which for the past seven years has run a program in Israel for Modern Orthodox youngsters 10 to 17, switched the location three months ago to a resort hotel in Swan Lake, N.Y.
Kaplan said he found that of the 60 to 70 youngsters who had initially signed up for the camp, only 10 were prepared to go in light of the violence.
He said his enrollment is now in excess of 80 and that he had 122 last year.
Leonard Rubin, senior vice president for program services for the JCC Association of North America, said the 70 youngsters his group plans to take to Israel would be staying at facilities just outside the major cities.
Other than that, Rubin said, "we have not changed the itinerary. We will still visit the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and the Western Wall. And we'll be going to Tel Aviv for shopping as a group and to see the sights."
The Reform Zionists of America and Bnei Akiva of the U.S. and Canada, along with the National Council of Young Israel have not canceled their plans for teen summer trips.
Rubin estimated that his organization would lose about $250,000 in infrastructure costs that will not be recovered because of the few teens going. Last year, Young Judaea took 650 youngsters to Israel.
Rabbi Epstein, the United Synagogue's executive vice president, put his group's loss at $300,000 to $400,000.
Calls to the Conservative movement's Ramah program in Israel and the Orthodox Union's National Council on Synagogue Youth were not returned.