- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Teen campers returning to the United States from a country where violence is routinely making headlines immediately began e-mailing each other: "I miss Israel."
Miriam Prensky, 16, and Jessica Stein, 17, were among 72 Jewish high school students from the Washington area who recently returned from a six-week trip throughout Israel with Camp Ramah and they want to go back.
"This was my first time in Jerusalem," said Miriam, a student at Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, who felt a connection to the Israeli citizens.
"To me it was really amazing; everywhere I looked I saw another Jewish person, whereas here there are not as many. It was so amazing."
The girls agreed that one of the highlights of the trip was praying at the Western Wall, a place of worship in Jerusalem where many people are moved to tears. The campers said their emotions rose as they experienced the different services and various levels of faith at the wall, a symbol of the eternity of Jewish tradition.
"The first time at the wall was really moving," said Jessica, a student at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax. "But the second time was just as moving. None of us wanted to leave."
It is experiences like these that keep many Jewish parents from harboring their children from a country where suicide bombings regularly hit public areas. Miriam's and Jessica's parents encouraged their children to take advantage of the opportunity to visit Israel for a sense of tradition and to solidify their faith.
But their children's safety is still a top priority.
The country requires that all visiting organized groups go through daily security procedures. They must register an agenda with officials, who check the safety of the planned activities, then call the police station to check on the safety status.
Security guards were stationed on the group's two buses and accompanied them everywhere they went. Police also set limits on where the girls could spend their free time. Immediately after every bombing, the camp e-mailed parents to tell them their children were safe.
"By the time I would call my parents to tell them everything was OK, they already knew," Jessica said. The girls were allowed to rent cell phones to call home in case of an emergency.
These increased safety measures gave parents the assurance they needed to allow their children to go to Israel but did not hamper the experience.
"Even with more security, we were able to go everywhere," Jessica said. "We weren't just sitting around. We were always moving and didn't even notice because we always had alternative plans."
Though the two were in Israel during several bombings, including the one at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in which seven students were killed, they said they never feared for their lives.
"We were not afraid for us, but we were afraid for everyone we knew in Israel," Jessica said. The students were kept away from televised news but were read a newspaper every day to keep current with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every time a bombing was announced, the girls said, they would run though a list of relatives in Israel who might have been affected and wondered whether they were safe.
After every attack, they also felt the anxiety of their counselors, most of whom were Israeli citizens.
Although tourists are shying away from Israel, the girls smiled and spoke of their trip with enthusiasm, saying they will encourage members of their synagogues to visit Israel.
"It allows the greater community to know that Israel is still vibrant and still embraces visitors," said Barbara Sherbill, spokeswoman for Israel Quest, an organization that helped sponsor the trip.
"I miss Israel," said Miriam, who will keep in touch with Jessica and the rest of the group. "It's so weird to be back in the U.S."

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