NJCRAC trip finds Israeli youth keeping hope alive

JERUSALEM — In a show of solidarity with the people of Israel after a spate of suicide bombings, a group of U.S. Jewish community relations leaders came to Israel this week.

"The purpose of our visit is to demonstrate to Israelis our solidarity during this difficult period and to give them a sense of connectedness to Jewish communities outside Israel," said Martin Raffel, associate executive vice chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, which organized the visit.

During the three-day trip, the 22 participants met with hospitalized victims of the most recent terrorist attacks and held memorial services at the bomb sites. They also visited the grave of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery.

One of the more poignant parts of the trip came Tuesday, when the Jewish leaders met with students at the Renee Kassan High School in Jerusalem.

"Last year alone, eight of the school's alumni were killed in military action or in terrorist attacks," Raffel said. The students spoke "about their feelings of insecurity, about the fear of getting on a bus."

Calling the encounter "life-affirming," he added, "These are young people who have lives and who are intent on leading them."

The students described their Purim party, which was scheduled for March 3, the day of the bombing in Jerusalem.

"They told us that the party went on — that not to go ahead would be a victory for the terrorists," Raffel said. "It gave us the feeling that Israelis aren't giving up hope, that they are not giving in to sadness."