'Birthright' trip returns safely from Israel

Los Angeles area Jews traveled to Israel on an all-expense paid trip during a tumultuous time of conflict.
Friday, July 25, 2014
A group of young Angelenos traveled to Israel hoping for a fun and spiritual experience. But they also unexpectedly ended up in a country engaged in a tumultuous conflict.

The group returned to Los Angeles after a 10-day "Birthright Israel" trip, an all-expense paid journey through Israel for Jews aged 18-26. This particular group was sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

As the death toll mounted in the conflict between Israel and Gaza, parents of the participants grew more and more worried.

Shelly Eisinger Stark's daughter was on the trip. "It's very nerve-wracking. I was up all night," she said.

"I probably woke up every day he was gone at 4:30 a.m.," father Roland Rhone said.

Rhone's son, Dustin, said the group was well taken care of.

"You're always thinking about what's going on. But, they made it feel so safe," Dustin Rhone said.

The group mostly went on with the trip as planned and avoided the most dangerous areas. Most never had to enter a bomb shelter.

"It was nice to see how life goes on despite things," participant Cameron Stark said.

For other travelers at L.A.X. returning from Israel, it was a more chaotic experience.

Woodland Hills resident Tali Hamer said she often saw rockets being intercepted overhead by Israel's Iron Dome system.

"There are so many rockets, even when the Iron Dome bumps it and detonates it, everything shakes, windows shakes, walls shake, its like boom, boom, boom" Hamer said.

At one point, Hamer went to an emergency bomb shelter inside her hotel and was reunited with a long-time friend.

"It was really odd," she said.

She said not knowing when the emergency sirens would go off made her uncomfortable even taking a shower.

"Anytime I went to the bathroom, I was aware of that," Hamer said.

Hamer added, "if you have 90 seconds or 60 seconds to get to a shelter, you learn to look to where the shelter is."

Hamer's kids were enrolled in an Israeli camp for the week. But, the camp cancelled most of its outdoor activities as a precaution.

Still, though, she wished she could stay longer in Israel.

"Birthright Israel" participant Lolly Burrows expressed the same sentiment.

"I would definitely go back. I would go back right now!" Burrows said.

Related Topics:
religion u.s. & world israel gaza strip palestine los angeles international airport Los Angeles
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