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Grade 10 Israel tours altered for safety reasons

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Grade 10s routinely go on programmes to Israel for a few weeks every year, but with Israel at war and parents concerned about their children’s safety, the three organisers, Bnei Akiva, Habonim Dror, and Yeshiva College, have reconsidered this year’s trips.

Bnei Akiva decided to postpone its Hadracha programme to 2025, doing a special Grade 10 programme in South Africa instead. Habonim moved its Shorashim programme from Israel to four cities in Europe. Finally, Yeshiva College opted to take its Grade 11s, who missed out on going to Israel on Kfar at the end of Grade 10 because of the war, on the programme this May. The Grade 10 group will go later in the year, according to Natalie Altman, the principal of Yeshiva Girls High School and the director of Yeshiva’s kodesh and ethos.

The idea behind taking specifically Grade 10 teenagers to Israel is that they are mature enough to understand the complexities they are learning and to be independent in Israel. It’s also just before the real academic pressure begins in Grade 11.

In all three cases, the challenging decisions were made with participants’ security in mind. Said Altman, “Certain parents have chosen not to send their children [on Kfar].”

Instead of a trip this year, Bnei Akiva will offer a dual programme for Grades 10 and 11 to Israel in 2025. “Though we still believe Israel is a safe, unbelievable place to visit and learn from, we feel a deep sense of responsibility for providing the best programme for as many people as possible,” said Ben Swartz, who is part of the leadership of Bnei Akiva South Africa. “It’s with this in mind, coupled with the fluidity of the situation in Israel, that we postponed the programme.”

Swartz said Bnei Akiva would still be offering an “incredible programme” for Grade 10s in South Africa this year. “This is in no way to replace the programme in Israel, but rather to provide inspiration and direction at this crucial age in their development,” he said.

As the time for Habonim’s Dror Shorashim trip to Israel drew closer, this youth movement opted for Plan B because parents and channichim were concerned about going to Israel now. They moved Shorashim to Budapest in Hungary, Bratislava in Slovakia, Prague in the Czech Republic, and Vienna in Austria.

“We pivoted because of legitimate security concerns about travelling to Israel with an active war on many fronts. Europe isn’t just a safe option, but one which is attractive and meaningful,” said Brad Gottschalk, Habonim Dror SA’s sgan maskir.

Though some Habonim parents voiced concern that the Europe trip would be too Holocaust-centred, Gottschalk said it would only be one feature of a bigger exploration of 2 000 years of Jewish history in Europe. “There’s so much happiness and beauty in this history, which is seen the more it’s explored. Crazy Yiddish tales, beautiful synagogues, understanding where so many of our traditions come from – there’s much to explore,” he said.

“There’s also a portion of the programme at a lakeside resort with 80 Grade 10 Israeli kids, the tour guides will be Israeli, and the madrichim are determined to bring Israel to the Europe trip,” Gottschalk said.

Altman said that although they cancelled last year’s Kfar because of the war and security issues, she believes sending the two tours to Israel this year was wise as “many international trips are going ahead this year. We believe this is a deep time to be in Israel and really see the strength of Am Yisrael in the best way”.

For the Grade 11s in Israel now from 7 to 28 May, the experience would probably be more powerful than any other time since the state was established. “We believe our children will be changed forever from this,” Altman said.

Yeshiva, Altman said, has worked closely with a security team and tour advisors in Israel to ensure that the safety of its school children isn’t compromised. “They won’t visit any danger zones in Israel,” she said.

Changing the tour from last year to this year “allowed our parents to feel safer in sending their children. Some still have security concerns, but we have assured them that we won’t put their children in any danger. They are visiting safe areas that are constantly being monitored by the teams in Israel.”

Habonim said there was an outpouring of relief and support from Grade 10 parents and channichim when the plan was changed. “Planning the Israel experience was proving to be tricky, with parents and channichim wanting a Habo experience, but not being completely on board with travelling to Israel.”

It’s still putting safety first even though it isn’t going to Israel. “We’re still travelling with a highly trained guard, ensuring the safety of the group throughout,” said Gottschalk. “We’re also implementing measures such as a 24-hour Shorashim hotline which channichim can call in case of emergency. That said, the areas we’re travelling to are safe and well-known. Over the past 20 years, we have run Shorashim with well-tested safety measures, and have had success with these.”

Swartz said Bnei Akiva’s Hadracha programme “infuses a love of the land of Israel with a fun and meaningful experience. At its core, Hadracha aims to instil a genuine understanding of religious Zionism. Even though we’re not going to Israel this year our Chavaya (Experience) Programme that we’ll have in South Africa will still focus on the same goals and relay the same messages.”

He said Hadracha was postponed based on understanding the anxiety and concerns felt by the Bnei parent body, but Israel still remained an unwavering pillar of the movement. “We’re doing our utmost to ensure that our channichim will receive unbelievable programmes this year and next, centred on the foundational value of Israel in our lives.”

All the organisations behind the Grade 10 programmes are clear that there’s no more important time to stand with Israel than now. Whatever decision they make reiterate that. Though plans had to change for safety reasons, the ethos of all these trips and those who make them happen is unchanged, and focuses solely on the youth with whom they work.

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