A Letter from HUC-JIR Year-in-Israel Students

Monday, March 4, 2002

In this letter, we would like to share with you the reasons why this year's class stands together unanimously in support of the College's decision and in support of each individual classmate's decision regarding the last eight weeks of the year in Israel program.

Last year, in the shadow of the Dolphinarium bombing in Tel Aviv, 62 students arrived in Jerusalem to begin their first year of study at the College. Among the many things that greeted us were the initial security briefings from the staff, with warnings where to go and where not to go. At first they were simple: avoid East Jerusalem and areas outside the Green Line. With those warnings in mind, we set out exploring Jerusalem and making the city our own.

On August 9, while most of the class was miraculously on a tiyul in Ashkelon, a suicide bomber killed himself and more than 10 others at Sbarro. We reacted with a mixture of sadness, anger, and fear. Had this bombing changed everything? Students wondered whether the program would be cancelled, whether we would be sent home. After all, it was a miracle that none of us were there.

Yet, tragically, the Sbarro bombing was merely the beginning of ten months of escalation that would render our previous life in Jerusalem unrecognizable. We watched as a trip to Ben Yehuda street became a life or death decision. One morning, students sat in shacharit services as a bomber killed himself outside David's Citadel Hotel-next door to the College and some 100 yards from the kindergarten playground where the child of an HUC student plays.

Last week, while the CCAR convention was in town, our "safe place" list, which had grown smaller and smaller as the months went on, collapsed. While members of the CCAR were there, an alert security guard captured a man determined to kill himself and many others at a busy cafe on Emek Refaim, a spot we thought was safe. Two days later-Moment. Moment Cafe was a safe haven for students. Located near the Prime Minister's office, we thought nothing could be safer. We went there often, and again, it was a miracle that no students were there on Saturday night. We were not physically there, but emotionally. We knew on Saturday night that everything had changed. It was the capstone of nearly ten months of ongoing terror.

After the Sbarro bombing, many asked if we would be allowed to return home. But when the announcement was made earlier in the week that going home would be an option for those who needed to, there were no cheers or happiness. The answer was stunned silence and many tears.

This is not a decision we face lightly. We must weigh our ideologies, our emotional well-being, our physical well-being, and the needs of our loved ones-and find a balance that all of us can live with. Those who choose to stay might do so at the risk of hurting their family, those who choose to leave do so with a sense of sadness and deep loss. All of us have been here for at least 40 weeks, and some of us may leave 8 weeks ahead of schedule. Regardless of when we leave, our commitment to Judaism and Zionism is deep and profound.

From all of us, we thank the administration of the school-both here in Jerusalem and abroad, for having the courage to make this decision, and for their spiritual and emotional guidance as we go through our own decision making process. And we thank the members of the CCAR who stood with us here in Jerusalem, consoling us, counseling us, and unanimously pledging their support for the decision of the College.

As a class who has lived through the trauma and danger of day-to-day life here in Jerusalem for the past nine-plus months, we are unanimous in our support for any decision that any student makes on whether or not to stay the additional eight weeks in Jerusalem. While some outside critics are voicing their disapproval, those of us who have risked our lives and the lives of our families day-in and day-out while studying here are unanimous in our non-judgment of any decision that any of our class chooses to make. No matter what we decide, our hearts are in Jerusalem. Pray for her peace.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu