Some Foreign Students Canceling Study Plans at Israeli Universities

With tension high in Israel over the Persian Gulf crisis, the numerous youth programs in Israel have seen some foreign Jewish students heading home, but not in numbers that would represent mass panic.

“We have had a lot of phone calls from worried parents, but as of today, Monday, only 10 students have gone back to their families abroad,” a spokeswoman for the Hebrew University’s Rothberg School of Overseas Students told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Of the record 1,100 students who enrolled in this year’s one-year or academic preparatory programs at Hebrew University, this is a very low percentage, and the university “it very satisfied,” the spokeswoman said.

Although the students in Hebrew University’s foreign program are generally younger than the ones at Tel Aviv University, it seems that the sense of fear among students there is slightly stronger than in Jerusalem.

One student, 20-year-old Adam Kaplan, said he personally knew of “at least 13 students who have packed up and left, and they arrived only two weeks ago.”

Tel Aviv University spokeswoman Carol Cook, however, said she had been informed only of five students who had left, out of a total of 240 enrolled in the program.

Kaplan, who is currently studying at the intensive summer Hebrew course before starting classes in a month, said many of the students who are remaining regret their classmates’ decision to leave.

“If there is a war, we want to stay and help the country with whatever we can do,” he said.

IT IS PARENTS WHO ARE WORRIED

Both universities have held meetings with the students to tell them what to do in case of an emergency. According to the Hebrew University spokeswoman, the university is in close contact with civil defense authorities, but they do not have gas masks stored at the campus.

“We are like any other citizens,” the spokeswoman said. “If something happens, I hope the gas masks will reach us in time.”

Avraham Duvdevani, world secretary of Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist organization that arranges yearlong programs for hundreds of high school graduates every year, said it has had no cancellations at all.

“Of the 40 students that were scheduled to study at our summer ulpan at Bar-Ilan University, all have arrived, and we have had no cancellations by any of the close to 100 that are scheduled to arrive in the country next week,” he said.

“Many, many parents have contacted the organization in Israel and the offices abroad, but not a single parent has said that they are stopping their child from coming.”

In New York, Jenni Rothfield, a spokeswoman for the World Zionist Organization, said that four students recently decided to pull out of the yearlong Otzma volunteer program, a 4-year-old joint project of the WZO, the Israeli Forum and the Jewish federations of North America.

But she said that 56 chose to leave for Israel last week for their year of study and work in kibbutzim, army camps and development towns, despite the troubling events in Iraq and Kuwait.

Rothfield said that any cancellations from the more than 5,000 foreign teen-agers and college students enrolled in programs in Israel have come “at the insistence of parents more than from the kids themselves.”

According to Kaplan, many of the 13 who left the Tel Aviv program did so only after serious arguments with their parents.

“You can hear kids fighting and crying on the phone every day,” he said, “and the ones that don’t leave are those who manage to explain to their parents that if there is a war, they can do more good for Israel in Israel than from the United States.”

(JTA staff writer Allison Kaplan in New York contributed to this report.)

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