Philly-area residents postpone trips to Israel, reflect on Mideast conflict

 Michal Furman of Bala Cynwyd, who returned from her birthright trip to Israel on July 15, attends a rally in support of Israel in Love Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Michal Furman of Bala Cynwyd, who returned from her birthright trip to Israel on July 15, attends a rally in support of Israel in Love Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Federal Aviation Administration has extended its suspension of all U.S.-based flights in and out of Israel as that country’s army and Hamas militants continue to clash in the Gaza Strip.

An FAA representative said Wednesday the ban will be in effect for up to another day as the agency “continues to monitor and evaluate the situation.”

The ongoing violence, which erupted more than two weeks ago, has made visiting Israel a big question mark for Americans across the country, including Delaware Valley residents and their loved ones.

Wilmington resident Becca Spiegel was looking forward to her first trip to Israel

“There’s something valuable in living what you read and hear about,” said Spiegel.

But after the bloodshed began in Gaza, the 24-year-old had serious second thoughts about her birthright trip and, in the end, decided not to go.

Personal safety was certainly a concern, but she also had a larger, moral dilemma she simply couldn’t ignore.

“It felt like a strange position of privilege and entitlement to go into this country that was in the middle of a war and just be a tourist and learn about how great Israel is,” said Spiegel. “Meanwhile, there’s this giant conflict going on and people are getting hurt and dying.”

Lower Merion resident Akiva Goldstein is also having some mixed feelings about the conflict, but for a completely different reason.

Goldstein, 21, returned to the area about a month ago after serving in the Israeli army. And so, he said he feels funny not being there now, fighting alongside his friends.

Still, he’s not worried about his family members — two cousins — now visiting the country.

“I feel they are going to be completely safe. I don’t feel for a second that they’re in any extra danger. I believe that the military at the moment is doing everything in its power to keep Israel as safe as possible,” said Goldstein.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Israel with hopes of brokering a cease-fire agreement, but there’s no word yet on when the war could end.

Philadelphia Rabbi Shawn Zevit is among the many here who hopes it’s soon. He has a trip planned in the fall. His stepson is also scheduled to start a yearlong program then.

“It’s only realistic to say, day to day, what does that ongoing conflict mean and what level of security is taking place,” said Zevit, who heads Mishkan Shalom in Roxborough.

“I can only [say] ‘please God, let it be the fact that a month from now this is all history and there’s movement towards a more tenable solution and situation.”


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