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Battle of the Ages

Family squabbles erupt over teen trips -- and commitment -- to Israel.

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Who would want to send their kid on a summer trip to Israel at a time like this? Not surprisingly, far fewer people than usual. Several "youth tours" have been canceled, and those that are going ahead report about half the enrollment of last year. Meanwhile, fierce family debates on the subject are pitting idealistic teenagers against anxious parents.

"It's very frustrating to love my parents so much yet hate their ideology so much," says Scott Dubin, a sophomore at NYU who insists that if his parents really supported Israel, they'd want him to go regardless of the dangers. "You can't support Israel when it fits in your schedule. Supporting Israel is a 365-day-a-year job." Dubin says his parents have enlisted every member of his family -- "from the matriarch down to my youngest cousin" -- to talk him out of going. "Every time she hears the word Israel, my mom starts crying."

"Many of these kids have never faced a threat to their Jewish existence. It's clear to them that this is where they have to be," says Deborah Joselow, of United Jewish Appeal Federation in New York. "But for parents, there's a tension between wanting your child to experience Israel and worrying."

Susan, from Great Neck, fought with both daughter and husband before laying down the law and barring her 15-year-old from going: "I understand that Israel needs to know there are people that are not abandoning it. But if you're an adult, you take these chances. To send your child, it doesn't make me feel comfortable."

Often, parents get upset with trip leaders for what they see as attempts to talk their kids into going. But leaders insist they never meddle: "We can't get in the middle of family disputes," says Rafi Cohen, a coordinator for Ramah Programs.

Tour groups have also come under criticism for using kids almost as political pawns -- a charge that trip leaders reject. "That's ridiculous," says Marlene Post, chairperson of Birthright Israel North America, which sends hundreds of people, 18 to 26, to Israel each summer. "I don't see taking a young person to Israel as a political statement. It's an educational experience, not a solidarity mission." Post adds, "We will do anything humanly possible to ensure the children's safety." Buses, for example, are swept for bombs before excursions.

Some college students can, of course, decide to go whether it unnerves their parents or not. On previous trips to Israel, Noam Kutler, a Rutgers student, has seen one bomb go off in Jerusalem, and has come within an hour of sitting next to another. But he's still eager to return. "I need to show my support," he says. "I don't consider it brave."


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