Dear Cyber Rav,
My daughter is leaving for Israel soon to study at Ben Gurion University until June. Now my wife and I are a bit concerned about sending her given the war in the South (exactly where Ben Gurion is) and the missiles that are hitting various parts of Israel. Do you have any opinion on the issue? We are torn, but are continuing to plan for her trip.
War in Israel forces Jewish parents to contend with two conflicting values that we cherish equally. On the one hand, there is our love for our children and the responsibility to protect them; the other is our love for Israel and the obligation to support her not only when things are going well, but when she faces conflict and terror. The answer to your question is not found in a simple "yes" or "no," but rather in the rationale behind the "why" of your ultimate decision, whether you send your daughter or not.
You may be familiar with March of the Living. It is an annual program to bring Jewish kids from around the world to Auschwitz and then onto Israel in order to teach them the enduring Jewish lesson of devastation and rebirth of the Jewish people. One year, during an Intifada, it was decided to bring the kids to Auschwitz but not to Israel as the security risk in Israel was more than the program was willing to assume. There was a serious outcry from various parts of the Jewish world that such a decision taught kids that Auschwitz was real and permanent, but Israel, sometimes, just isn't safe! People were livid.
On the other hand, the decision of the March of the Living administrators was not without justification. They had real concerns and in the absence of offering the participants or their parents a definitive guarantee, they chose to forgo the Israel portion of the trip. I do recall with much sadness the year 1996, the academic year that two Seminary students, Matthew Eisenfeld and Sarah Duker, were killed in a terrorist attack in Israel. There is no question that a trip to Israel involves risk.
There is also no question that everything we do in life entails risk, whether that is tripping into New York for a Broadway show, driving our car down the LIE, or even crossing the street. We live with risk and we assume risk with almost every decision we make. It is also equally true that a super majority of students and travelers who go to Israel for either a quick visit or a more extensive stay do so and return safely and the richer for having gone to the Jewish homeland. The instances of injury or death are miniscule. The kind of fear we see in the Jewish community over travel to Israel is comical when compared to the actual statistics of injury or death, the risk of harm being as low as it is.
I think that there is merit and honor in teaching our kids to live courageously, and in living courageously, they need not live foolishly. When in Israel, we are cautious about the places we go to, when we go to them, and what to do in cases of emergency. I think kids can be sent to Israel at this time safely and I further believe that the experience of living in the Jewish homeland during a time of intensified conflict can be deeply transformative, bringing kids to an understanding of what it means to be a Jew and what it means to live in a Jewish state.
These are decisions that are in your hands and your daughter's as well. I'd be happy to sit down and talk to you personally about precautions to take while living in Israel. Good luck in your deliberations and Happy New Year.
Rabbi Rafi Rank
The Cyber Rav