Jackie Safran Webb and her daughter Shauna have been planning Shauna’s trip to Israel since October.
Shauna, 20, an exercise science and criminal justice major at the University of South Carolina, says she’s excited to be part of a mid-December Birthright Israel trip to Jerusalem. This will be her first trip abroad, but as enthusiastic as she may be about it, her mother is concerned.
Since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday, critics worldwide have denounced the action as being counterproductive to the peace process between Israel and Palestine.
After the president’s announcement, protests sprang up in Turkey, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. Even Pope Francis weighed in, according to TIME, calling for the status quo of Jerusalem to be respected and for “wisdom and prudence” to prevail to avoid further conflict.
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Shauna is taking it all in stride.
According to Cheryl Glantz Nail, Community Relations Director for the Jewish Federation of Columbia and co-advisor for Hillel, the largest Jewish student organization in the world, organizers are constantly monitoring the situation. Students are given weekly updates about the trip and advisers review security details, reminding them of possible changes to the itinerary should the need arise. They say the safety of the group is the first priority.
Birthright Israel is a foundation with a mission to send young Jewish adults from around the world to Israel as a gift in order to create and strengthen bonds between Israeli youth and Jewish communities throughout the world and “promote the idea of a trip to Israel for all Diaspora Jews as a critical part of Jewish life outside Israel.” Birthright Israel coordinates with Hillel to plan trips to the Middle East.
Jerusalem is the home of all three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — and each religion has holy sites located within the city. During the ten days in Israel, the Birthright group — made up of students from USC, College of Charleston, University of Georgia, Florida State University, Elon and Emory — will tour the Old City, Wailing Wall, the Holocaust Museum, spend a night in the Israeli desert, and learn about the history and culture of the region.
While in Jerusalem, the group will be escorted by a medic, security detail, a tour educator and additional staff members. The students have been told to travel only as a group and not to take public transportation or wander out alone. The Israeli Ministry of Education will administer the trip itinerary in coordination with the Israeli police and other security forces. The group will also be tracked via GPS.
“It’s not uncommon to see groups of Americans in Israel,” Shauna says. She believes there might be some “extra rowdiness, but is not that concerned. “With all the security in place, I honestly feel like I’ll be safer there than I am here.” Besides, she says, the itinerary is packed with things to do and there’s not much down time.
But Jackie Webb is not so confident.
“I’m scared. This is my child,” she says.
But the trip is still on. And Shauna is going.