NEW YORK (Aug. 18)
Israel’s military action in Lebanon has made the summer of 82 an experience that will live in the minds and hearts of visiting young people for the rest of their lives. This appraisal was reported to leaders of the American Zionist Youth Foundation (AZYF) by Avraham Katz, head of the Youth and HeChalutz Department of the Jewish Agency.
The thousands of young people who are participating now in programs in Israel “proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the spirit of the youth who immigrated and developed the State of Israel still burns in our young people all over the world,” Katz said.
Some 6,300 young people, more than half from the United States in programs coordinated by the AZYF’s Israel Program Center, are in Israel now. In spite of the action in Lebanon, the number of AZYF program participants increased significantly over last year, Katz reported.
“From the moment they arrived they wanted to ‘do something meaningful’,” Katz said. “They volunteered for everything and anything — from collecting garbage to harvesting crops. They visited with wounded soldiers and soldiers’ families and asked to be sent to kibbutzim and moshavim to fill in for men serving in Lebanon. They are wonderful.”
AN IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION
What is even more important, Katz related, was the fact that this large number of young people — the largest ever through the Youth and HeChalutz Department — came at a time when adult tourism was down. “These youngsters were evident everywhere. Their spirit was pervasive.”
According to Katz, youth movement leaders were concerned that the Lebanese action would curtail the number of young people coming to Israel this summer. Quite the opposite was true, he said. A very small percentage of people who registered, opted out of the programs prior to departure. “I think the reason so many chose to go probably had to do with the deep allegiance felt by their families and prior experiences of their friends and relatives,” Katz said.
“In fact,” he added, “the actions in Lebanon secured the Northern border enabling us to follow the proposed itineraries to the letter.” In past years, he explained, actions of the PLO limited travel in the north.
Two additional factors have added to the overall success of the summer programs this year, according to Katz. One, has been the “rediscovery of the Negev and Judaean Deserts. ” While Sinai was occupied, program participants were sent into the Sinai to experience the growth and development of the territory; now the experience is intensified because they participate in the growth of Israel.
One of the highlights of the summer program which Katz himself experienced was a solidarity rally in Jerusalem at which 3,000 young people from all corners of the world came together to join with Israeli peers in a physical tribute and march with the theme “Jerusalem is One: The Jewish People is One.”