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'I really want to be there'

Eric Kaplan has the war in Gaza to thank for his trip to Israel next week.

Mr. Kaplan, 25, is finishing up a master’s degree in Jewish and non-profit studies at New York University. A native of Paramus who now lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, he leaves Monday to lead a Birthright Israel trip whose scheduled leader canceled last week.

“The current situation reignited my passion for Israel,” said Mr. Kaplan, who first visited Israel in high school on a USY trip that left him ineligible for Birthright. Later he studied at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, and at Hebrew University.

He also is not unacquainted with terrorism or violence. His mother died in the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001.

So earlier this month, he called up a connection at Birthright and applied to work as a group leader.

“While I am a little nervous about the situation in Israel, I really want to be there,” he said.

The group he will lead combines outdoor travel with spending time with young Israelis. It is for people his age: 22 to 26.

Leading the group “is an opportunity to inspire other Jews, to show the Birthright participants what it means to be part of a Jewish people that supports one another and has a sense of mutual responsibility,” he said.

“We’re a united Jewish people. The Israelis would be there for us and it’s important for us to be there for them,” he said.

““Larry Yudelson

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