U.S. teens in Israel learn some painful lessons about life

I am a high school senior, studying at an American program in the small town of Pardess Channah in northern Israel. We are 36 teenagers, most here only for one year, most without our parents.

My family made aliyah (immigrated) and lives in Jerusalem, but I live primarily at school. We learn, eat and sleep on campus. The past few weeks, we awaken in the morning to frightening headlines over the radio. We skip our first few classes, gathering in the television room, our eyes glued to images of carnage.

To most of us, these tragedies have become a part of living here.

Though shocked and upset, Ilan Reynolds, a 17-year-old from North Hollywood, remains adamant about peace.

"Everyone has to find a way to live through it. Life goes on," he says. "I won't stop living here. That would let them win. I'm not changing my lifestyle."

In Israel, a country that fits into California 20 times, whenever a terrorist attack occurs, the victims are known. They are someone's mother, father, sister, brother, neighbor or friend. The immediacy of the attacks is permeated by a sense of painful personal connection.

My friends who are here studying are learning how to cope. Many are afraid, homesick and depressed. Their parents are even more worried, with their children so far away in a dangerous land.

But nobody from my program is going home. Many are experiencing a new sense of strength and connection to the people and the land. It is in times of tragedy that Israelis unite, and we, Jewish students from America, are also embraced.

"What makes the situation so frightening is that these attacks come unexpectedly. My parents are very worried," says Justin Horowitz, a 16- year-old from Long Island.

"But in America crime is even more rampant. People are the victims of senseless death," he adds. "Here in Israel, we know who the enemies are; we know why they want to destroy us, and we try to protect ourselves and watch out for each other. I still feel safe walking around the streets of Israel at night. Walking around in New York after dark is definitely out of the question."

Sivan Gur Arieh, 17, of Piedmont, agrees. "Being here is not scaring me away," she says. "On the contrary, it is drawing me in. Sure, I feel scared and vulnerable, like everyone does, but I want to build my life here. I'm not going back to America."

Stephanie Luros, a 15-year-old from Northridge, is determined not to let her stay in Israel be ruined by terrorist attacks.

"Every time there is a terror attack, I feel as though the victims are members of my own family," she says. "Studying here has made me a more responsible person, more independent, more at peace with myself."

Although a sense of numbness sets in with the shock of each attack, Shawn Levy, 17, from Dayton, Ohio, says that he wants to feel like a real Israeli.

"These occurrences mature you," he says. "They bring out your strengths. They emphasize the value of life. Right now I'm avoiding public transportation," he admits. "I don't want to die here away from my family."

In the past few days, armed soldiers have been stationed at virtually every bus stop. A sense of security is slowly returning.

After the bus bombings, my sisters stayed home and slept a lot. But life does go on. People are riding the buses again, returning to their lives.