U.S. students in Israel undeterred by bombing, State Dept. warning

NEW YORK — The suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem last week has not deterred the hundreds of American students who will be studying abroad in Israel this year.

Nor is a warning by the U.S. State Department against riding public transportation in Israel keeping the visiting Americans away from buses.

If anything, "the shock and outrage" felt after the attack "has made people decide that they wouldn't cancel," said Geoffrey Weill, a public relations official with the Israeli Tourism Ministry's office here. The majority of the students who will be studying in Israel this year were already in the country at the time.

At Tel Aviv University, it was surprising how few students "were afraid for their own safety," said Jan Stott, overseas program director.

And there was almost no reaction from parents, "in contrast to the invasion of Kuwait" by Iraq in 1990, she added. "There were maybe two or three phone calls from parents out of 170 American students."

The State Department issued a warning last week to American citizens traveling in Israel as well as to U.S. diplomatic officials stationed there to "avoid use of public transportation, especially buses and bus stops."

The advisory was issued after the Aug. 21 bombing of a bus in Jerusalem, in which an American teacher and former San Francisco resident, Joan Davenny, was among those killed. A similar warning had been issued after the April terrorist attack on a bus in Gaza, which resulted in the death of American college student Alisa Flatow, among others.

Although Hebrew University students were injured in last week's bus bombing, the issue of students leaving the program never came up.

"There was not a single case of a student wanting to return," said Moshe Margolin, assistant director of Hebrew University's office of academic affairs in New York.

The university opened its phone lines for overseas students to call their parents and let them know they were safe. "It allayed the fears of parents because they knew that their kid was OK," Margolin added.

The result was that there were fewer than two dozen phone calls from parents to the overseas office in New York the next day. The parents were mainly "worried about students riding on public transportation to classes," Margolin said.

The university has since contracted for private buses to transport students from their dormitories in western Jerusalem to their classes on Mount Scopus. The administration has also set up counseling for any student who needs it, Margolin added.

Despite the attack, "the ulpan classes were never interrupted" and attendance by the 475 Americans remained steady, said Margolin.

A group of students boycotted the private bus service, continuing to take the public Egged buses to university in a sign of solidarity with the local residents, Margolin said.

For other visiting Americans, including Seth Limmer, a rabbinic student at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, heightened concern about safety has caused them to stop using public transportation temporarily.

Limmer's decision was partially made in deference to his parents in the United States, who were nervous about him using public buses.

"I don't like that I entered into the fear mentality, but there is an element of practicality," Limmer said.

However, Limmer recognizes that his personal safety is not guaranteed.

"What happens in buses can happen in the street or supermarket or anywhere," he said. "Anything can happen at any time."

Rivka Kornreich, the administrative assistant at the Yeshivat Keren B'Yavneh office in New York, said there were no concerns directed to her office by parents. "The fact that the yeshiva is in the north of the country may have something to do with that," she added.