Umbrella for gap-year programs in Israel says all of its 5,700 participants are safe
By Andrew Lapin

(JTA) – More than 5,000 young adults on long-term programs in Israel are out of danger, an umbrella group for the programs said.

A spokesperson for Masa Israel Journey — which guides participants to hundreds of gap-year, career training and continuing education programs in Israel — told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that all of its 5,700 participants had been relocated away from areas “under direct danger.”

The organization has evacuated its programs in the south of the country, including gap years and kibbutz volunteering in the coastal city of Ashdod, and is following Israeli security protocol regarding whether other programs will need to be moved.

“At Masa, we are unequivocally committed to being present and available to our 5,700 Fellows in Israel during this emotionally challenging period,” the program’s spokesperson, Tal Bar-on Morali, told JTA.

The message came as Israeli social media networks have been flooded with images of people who are missing or have been taken captive or killed. Hundreds of those victims were young adults who were celebrating at an all-night nature party in the south that was attacked by Hamas fighters. In Saturday’s attack, Hamas fighters killed 700 people, injured more than 2,200 and took some 100 hostages to Gaza. 

U.S. citizens are reportedly among those who have been captured or killed, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. 

“I am so, so grateful—beyond grateful—for this outpouring of love, but I’m having trouble responding to everyone,” author Joanna Rakoff, whose son Coleman is on Year Course, the Young Judaea gap-year program, wrote on Instagram on Saturday. 

“So I’m posting here to say: Coleman is fine right now,” she wrote. “He’s sheltering with a friend’s family. Love, love to you all, from this very worried mother.” 

A spokesperson for Taglit-Birthright Israel, the organization that runs free 10-day trips in Israel for young adults, in addition to other programs, told JTA it was not currently running any trips to Israel.

Other Israel programs were in close communication with parents abroad to assure them participants were safe. Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh, an Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem largely catering to American and British male students, alerted parents Saturday evening to report that all of their students were “safe and accounted for.”

Kivunim, a gap-year program in which Jewish students travel the world using Israel as a base, had been scheduled to fly out its latest class on Monday. The start of its program has now been delayed to Oct. 22, and participants will travel to Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece first, its director told parents in a letter over the weekend. Some of Kivunim’s 36 student participants had traveled early to Israel or live there now, and the program has confirmed that they are safe.

“The security and safety of our students and staff are and always will be our first priority,” Kivunim’s leadership wrote in the email. Executive director Elie Lauter told JTA the group now intends to bring students to Israel in November, but will rethink the schedule “if arriving in Israel is not yet appropriate.”

Some of Masa’s fellows have chosen to end their programs and leave the country, but no program has been canceled or closed, Morali said. Masa is also providing mental health services to its fellows.

“Above all else, we are dedicated to their welfare,” Morali said. “We hope and pray for better days ahead in Israel and for the entire Jewish community.”

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