Twenty local teens who had planned to spend three weeks in Israel on a national leadership training program this summer have been grounded by the security situation.
The Diller Teen Fellows were originally scheduled to depart July 17.
At first, the trip was delayed for one week, in an effort to see if the situation would stabilize and make adjustments to the trip if necessary for security purposes.
On the morning of July 22, the trip was canceled.
The decision comes following a State Department warning regarding travel in Israel and the U.S. FAA’s grounding of U.S. airline flights to Israel. (El Al flights are continuing as scheduled.) That action followed increased Hamas rocket fire in the vicinity of Tel Aviv.
Seven of the 10 North American Diller cohorts had pulled out before midnight on July 21.
“We thought it did not make sense to go to be with just two other communities,” said Moshe Levi, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ community shaliah, or Israel emissary “Adding to that was the State Department advisory and parents beginning to say maybe we should not go.”
He added, “The highlight of the trip is for all of the Diller Teen Fellows in North America and Israel to be together for one week in Israel. If we cannot provide that, it doesn’t make sense.”
An option has been floated for the teens to go to Israel in December. No decision had been made, however, at press time.
Daniel Gerstein, 17, of Maplewood, told NJJN he felt “sadness and disappointment” upon hearing the news, but not surprise. “We saw it coming when last night seven of the North American cohorts pulled out,” he said. He added that he knew the trip “would be near impossible” once the FAA and the State Department issued their statements.
Of the 20 local teens originally planning to go, only one had pulled out before the cancellation, according to Diller Teen Fellows coordinator Amanda Solomon.
Arielle Dror, writing for the MetroWest Diller Teen Fellows group on its blog, captured the thoughts of her peers. “In 24 hours we will not be on a plane to Israel. We will not be 30,000 feet in the air, trying to sleep in order to combat the fatigue that will come with the first day at the Dead Sea. Our feet will be firmly planted on New Jersey soil. Without our Israeli brothers and sisters.
‘Everyone’s reaction was basically the same: anger. We wanted to scream, punch walls, curl up into balls and cry ourselves to sleep. For the past six years, our Diller cohorts have never had this issue. But Diller 7 is unique. And we’re going to deal with it.”