By Haley Friefeld, section editor
Tonight, on the evening of February 3rd, the senior class will embark on Lev v’Nefesh, their 2-month journey to Poland and Israel. As the night approaches, the anticipation among the students becomes even more palpable. While there is much excitement throughout the student body, there is certainly some apprehension as well because of the most recent terroristic scares that have occurred in Israel.
In November, there were 16 stabbing attacks, 8 ramming attacks, and 25 shooting attacks. In December, there were 11 stabbing attacks, 12 car ramming attacks, and a similar, 25 shooting attacks.
Additionally, concerns intensified from an attack last November which hit especially close to home for many Schechter students. This attack was the murder of Ezra Schwartz, a student from America studying in Israel on a gap year program.
Not only did students from Schechter Westchester personally know Schwartz but, in many ways, Schwartz, who graduated from a Jewish day school in Massachusetts, resembled the typical Schechter student. This situation was all too identifiable for many, affecting students to a new degree: “It made me realize that really terrible things could happen no matter the circumstance, so it did make me more scared for the trip”, senior Dani Lerner said.
For others, Schwartz’s murder prompted eagerness and a greater yearning for the trip: “It made me feel more strongly about the importance of us going on this trip… if we had not gone to Israel as a result of it we would have let the terrorists win,” senior Talia Lorch said.
Students have also heard of many other tragedies that have recently occurred in Israel that might not have resonated as much with them. Nonetheless, all of these tragedies together have added to the unfortunate statistics surrounding the violence in Israel.
Israel has forever been a place for Jews to feel safe and at home. Unfortunately, some people sense that these secure feelings are at stake because the constant threat of attack has adulterated Israel’s sense of security.
This threat prompted Schechter Westchester to make several changes to Lev v’Nefesh.
One of the changes includes the school investing in highly trained armed guards to be present for the whole Israel trip, rather than the standard protocol, in which armed guards only join the group on designated days.
Free time will be offered, but restricted to enclosed and guarded areas. Along with this, students will not be permitted to have free time in the old city of Jerusalem and will be taking a group tour instead.
Some pick-up and drop-off locations for the host Shabbatot have been moved to more private areas than the standard locations.
Lastly, the seniors will not visit the West Bank or the Temple Mount.
Though some students face fear in regard to the Israel trip, others have a strong sense of confidence in the school’s ability to provide security for the class.
“I think overall anyone going there would feel anxiety given the situation, but I know that the school will take extraordinary measures in keeping us safe and making that their number one priority so that eases my fear a lot,” senior Sarah Baden said.
“I think that everyone trusts that the school is going to take all necessary precautions to keep us safe,” senior Cara Kupferman said.
And there are, of course, students who are slightly fearful about the trip, despite the assurance the school has tried to provide the students with over the past few months.
“Even though the school says they have all this security, I’m so scared something is going to happen,” senior Shir Cohen said.
Some students even find it difficult to imagine potentially dealing with these horrific situations in Israel.
“Well when you see pictures or read about stabbings in the news, you don’t really imagine that this could be you. But I sort of imagined myself in the situation where a terrorist runs up to me, a random person, and that scared me,” senior Jacob Richman said.
These limitations were not received favorably by all.
“Of course it’s [in] the back of our minds, but honestly, I think we’re more annoyed that our freedom will be curtailed than worried we won’t be safe,” Kupferman said.
And for some, the recent violence is simply not a concern.
Senior Jacob Forchhiemer said: ”It saddens me, but it doesn’t make me worry about my trip”.
This experience may also open students to the problems that Israelis face everyday.
“I think it would be an eye opener to experience what people who live in Israel have to deal with on an everyday basis and it is important for us to get a better understanding, maybe even try to think of ways to help prevent it,” senior Shir Cohen said.
Just as students have several views on the safety of the trip, so do parents.
“Yes, any time there is an increase in violence where my family or I is going, it makes me apprehensive,” said Ted Listokin, father of a senior attending the Israel trip.
In response to these concerns, Head of School Michael Kay said, “We get these calls every year, I think maybe more this year, because people have definitely been apprehensive about what has been happening.”
To address this apprehension, Rabbi Harry Pell, Associate Head of School for Jewish Life and Learning, sent a letter last Wednesday that informed parents about the changes being made to the itinerary and the extra safety measures that will be taken.
“It’s a real situation, and its incredibly upsetting but I think that the sense overall in Israel is that life is moving forward,” Pell said.
Some people are slightly frustrated with the alterations in the itinerary, but Pell attempts to pacify these complaints in his letter: “These decisions are made out of an abundance of caution, and we recognize that each involves a tradeoff in the name of security… Nevertheless, we are committed to erring, always on the side of safety.”
The letter certainly provides comfort and reassurance for students and parents who may still have been fearful, or even had some mixed feelings on the situation.
‘’My fear is calmed. I calmed myself by remembering how much work was spent preparing security precautions for this trip,” Richman said.
It seems that the school has not failed to reassure the parents in whatever fear or hesitance they may have had, regarding the safety of their children.
When Listokin was asked about the school’s response to the dangerous situations in Israel, he positively said: “They were very clear about where they get their guidance from security wise and how their itinerary is altered.”
Despite the changes to the trip, the one thing that has not changed is the intention of the trip, to give the students an unforgettable and amazing experience.
“I think it will be just as fun and they’ll find ways for us to do what we had planned to do in a safe environment, which is kind of the way Israelis always function,” Richman said.
“It is still going to be a life changing memorable experience,” Kay said.
So seniors, while you are in Israel, you may feel apprehensive or you may be content for the whole trip. Regardless, always keep in mind the amount of faith you have learned to keep in Israel during your years at Schechter.
As Pell said, “The Victory of Terrorism: Terrorism only wins when people radically change their lives in response to terrorism.”
May the seniors have an amazing and safe trip as they make their thrilling journey to Poland and Israel.