"It's a mitzvah — I have to go after the bombings. I have to see for myself how the Israelis are doing," says one.
"I have to reassure my congregants/my students in Israel/myself that we should continue to travel to Israel/stay in Israel," reply others.
"A rabbi has to show her/his congregants the importance of visiting Israel often, especially when Israel is in distress," says another, or, "A rabbi has to demonstrate passion for Israel."
We went straight to Yitzhak Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. We read the graffiti Israelis have written everywhere expressing their grief and their longings for peace. We then stood at the place where Rabin was murdered, and on the spot at Dizengoff Center where the bomb went off. We rode the No. 18 bus. We visited Rabin's grave.
We conducted memorials for the slain, and added our memorial candles to the hundreds still burning atop the leftover wax of thousands more at each place, daily visited by hundreds of Israelis as well as tourists.
Each of us said what we all felt: The news coverage of the bombs could not tell the whole story. In any case, since the blood has ceased to flow, there is no coverage of the intense commitment for peace expressed at these makeshift shrines.
I find that every Israeli seems to have been at an explosion site just before it happened, or their child has been there, or their friend.
In all my many times going to Israel, I had never been so universally thanked for coming. As Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert told us over lunch, several performers at events for Jerusalem's 3000th anniversary celebration had pulled out, most notably the Chicago Symphony. Our presence in Jerusalem made the point that people, especially American Jews, should not cancel their plans to come for the summer or for the following year.
So I had come, for as a Hillel director I advise many students on study in Israel. After time spent in Israel, one's own Jewishness is always more informed and more passionate, and one's opinions of Israeli politics is based on first-hand identification instead of the frequent distance Americans feel for all things foreign. Israel ceases to be foreign, and becomes a homeland.
But now my students were being directed by their parents not to go on the Israel programs they had for so long dreamed of. They stand likely to miss the one opportunity they may have to broaden and deepen themselves as Jews.
I had to go to make the point that these parents should reconsider their fears. I know the fears of a parent, having four daughters myself. And I fear more for their safety on a cul-de-sac in Palo Alto than I do when they roam the streets of Jerusalem by themselves.
Who else canceled their trips? Mostly Americans. A former student who is now a computer science professor at Hebrew University told of a Palo Alto computer executive who canceled a major computer conference for fear thatAmericans would not come.
The head of the Conservative Congregational movement in Israel told us of a British family whose members flew to Israel for a brit, but the next week half of the American family members had canceled their trips to attend a wedding. And one of the American directors of the Ramah summer camps canceled her trip for an international staff meeting because, she said, "I do not want to risk my life just for a job." According to a travel agent friend of a local rabbi, 75 percent of all American tours to Israel are Christian, 25 percent Jewish. Of those tours, only 25 percent of the Christian tours canceled, while 50 percent of the Jewish tours canceled.
It is Sunday, the week of the two bus bombings, and as I write this, I am off to ride the No. 18 bus across Jerusalem. Because you are reading this, you know my ride was, as most rides are, uneventful.
As Rabbi Kenny Berger, a member of our tour who was the rabbi for Sara Duker, a victim in the first Hamas attack, said: "We are here in Israel at this moment to keep reassuring the Israelis that we in America still care. This moment for them is like the end of sitting shiva, when the visitors no longer come but the pain, anguish and feelings of loss and isolation remain."