Israel trip still a birthright

They couldn't leave the hotel at night. They felt restricted. They resented what they perceived as an agenda. They missed some of the more fun hangouts.

But the bottom line is, they still had a great time. And perhaps more importantly, they established a meaningful connection with Israel and hope to return under better circumstances.

What is important is that while fewer students are going to Israel, those that do are glad they did. As reported in our Page One story, participation in Birthright Israel is down. At its inception three years ago, college students were clamoring to get their free 10-day trips. Now, after a year and a half of continuing violence, students are feeling it is an offer they can easily refuse. And, surely, parental pressure is playing a role in their decisions.

We commend those Bay Area students who decided to make the trip. True, they made their disappointments and frustrations loud and clear to our reporter. But we are heartened by the fact that their positives seemed to far outweigh the negatives.

Yes, they felt restricted, but they understood it was for their own security. Many chose to stay on after the 10 days, enabling them to visit on their own some of the sites the group avoided.

Birthright Israel is supposed to offer just a taste of Israel to those American Jews who would not otherwise make a visit to Israel a priority. It is specifically geared to the 18-to-26 age group, because research has shown that many Jews tend to drift away from the community during college.

If getting just a taste of Israel — even now, when the situation is far from optimal — is enough to make young people want to return, then it seems the trip is doing what its funders intended. And we can only hope that more students will find the free trip an offer they can't refuse.