Sun will rise again in Mideast, teen Israel trip organizer says

If only it was fuzzy math.

Eran Applebaum claims that after the onset of the current intifada and its attending terror campaign 2-1/2 years ago, North American Jewish youth tours to Israel experienced a 90 percent drop.

Applebaum ought to know. He happens to be a senior executive with Israel Experience Ltd., a subsidiary of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and for more than 50 years a land provider of teen trips to Israel (including those offered by the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay).

As a land provider, Applebaum organizes from top to bottom a multidimensional Israel trip, from housing and meal arrangements, to transportation, right down to admission tickets to the 3 a.m. tour of Masada.

Despite the devastating economic hit suffered by his company — and the entire Israeli tourism industry — Applebaum believes things are definitely looking up this year.

"The tide is turning," says the native Israeli who was in the Bay Area recently drumming up business and meeting with longtime trip partners. "We're expecting a 50 percent increase in the number of high school students signing up with us in 2003."

That's a far cry from the glory days of 2000 — when more than 6,700 teens across North America signed up with Israel Experience — but definitely a step in the right direction.

According to Applebaum, Israel Experience offers short-term programs of three to six weeks for high school and college students.

Programs include visiting historical and religious sites, participating in kibbutz life, exposure to Israeli army life, nature studies, survival techniques, sports, hiking and encounters with Israeli peers.

The company's Web site — whatis.html — explains trip highlights.

Says Applebaum: "By bringing groups of teens and students to Israel, we strengthen their connection to the land, as well as strengthen the continuity of Jewish community in the U.S. and all over the globe."

Given that the world has gotten crazier since 2000, Applebaum's optimism may seem out of step, but he feels he's got the facts on his side.

"People understand that…we still need to provide meaningful programs in Israel," says Applebaum, "and they worried they'd lose a generation who would have no meaningful experience."

Of course, with suicide bombings a constant threat, parents' concerns for their children's safety played a key role in the drop-off of visitors.

"Safety, security and health have always been our primary concerns," he says. "If we thought we couldn't provide those things, we would tell our clients not to come, but it has not been the case so far."

In all Israel Experience programs, safety and security precautions are followed in accordance with the Israel Ministry of Education guidelines. A certified medic always goes along on out-of-city trips.

"The sun will rise again in the Middle East," says the ever-optimistic Applebaum. "And I hope it happens as soon as it possibly can."

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.