Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has described the conflict with Hamas in Gaza as an all-out war, but it will apparently take more than rockets raining down on southern Israel to deter some local trips to the Jewish state.
In addition to the turmoil in Israel, the economic downturn in America has caused families to readjust their financial priorities and cut back on expenses.
UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey is on schedule to take its second Jersey to Jerusalem community mission to Israel in February. Organizers have closely monitored the number of participants to make sure the trip remains financially viable. They have two buses and say that is enough to proceed.
J2J2, as the trip’s been dubbed, has 43 people signed up and is scheduled to leave on Feb. 14. That number is drastically lower than the first J2J trip in 2007, which took more than 300 people. However, organizers are happy with the response.
“Nobody has backed out,” said Leslie Billet, J2J2’s co-chair. “Everybody who said that they’re coming is coming.”
Participants include singles, couples, and families from Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform backgrounds.
“It is a miniature version of what we did the first time and we’re very happy about that,” Billet said.
Still, the economic downturn has had its effect.
“People became uncomfortable with what the future would look like 12 to 15 months out,” Billet said.
For the first J2J trip the UJA-NNJ provided each participant with a $500 subsidy. The federation cannot provide any subsidies this time, Billet said, which makes the cost of the trip higher but still reasonable.
The trip’s $4,018 price tag was set in the fall of 2007 when oil was trading at $140 a barrel and the dollar was beginning to sink against other currencies, including the New Israeli shekel. Oil has dropped $100 since then, which has led to decreases in airline fuel charges, but the federation is locked into pre-arranged prices.
J2J2 is still less expensive than other trips, Billet said, because it is all-inclusive.
“Once they join us at the airport, their expenses are paid for,” she said.
The trip is focused in the Jerusalem region, the Golan, and Nahariya, all out of the range of Hamas rockets hitting Israel’s south. Billet is not concerned by the security situation; her first trip to Israel was during the second intifada.
“I never felt unsafe for one minute,” she said. “We
really hope that people have no doubt about their safety. Israel would not allow people to be unsafe and federation would not allow people to be unsafe.”
The YJCC of Washington Township is running its 18th trip to Israel in February, called the YJCC Israel Family Experience. The trip has 18 confirmed participants with a handful of others still interested, said co-leader Paula Cantor, interviewed on Tuesday by telephone.
“We will not cancel our trip unless no one wants to go with us,” she said. “We feel very strongly about going to Israel in good times and in bad.”
Past trips have included between six and 46 people. Cantor said she doesn’t know if the current number reflects the country’ economic situation, but she is happy with the turnout and emphasized that people are still signing up.
Some people have inquired about the trip and then not followed up, but no one has said outright that the economy is keeping him or her from participating, Cantor said.
“I think it may be playing a subtle role that people are not telling us about,” she said. “It’s certainly possible.”
While the itinerary is centered around Jerusalem and the Kinneret region, it includes travel close to Sderot and Ashkelon, which are popular targets for Hamas rockets. Organizers will pay close attention to the situation and make adjustments to the itinerary as needed, Cantor said.
“This is very recent, and we know from experience that it’s possible something happening in December won’t be happening in February,” she said. “We have no idea what the timeframe will be and if it still won’t be a good region to be in in February.”
Cong. Shomrei Torah of Fair Lawn is also planning a trip to Israel in February, which was still on schedule according to a recent shul bulletin. Calls to organizers were not returned.
For more information on the YJCC trip, call Jill Brown at (201) 666-6610.