A group of exchange students from Bethany High School cut their trip to Israel short by a couple days, and a mother frets daily over her son's well-being in Tel Aviv.
Oklahomans with ties to Israel said they are indeed concerned about the recent spate of violence there, but that the conflict is for the most part isolated to the southern part of the country and has had only minor relevance in their daily lives.
“If you hear a siren you take shelter, but we never really felt afraid — it wasn't anywhere near us,” said Michelle Ayers, an English teacher in Bethany who took nine students to Israel this month. “It's a lot like hearing a tornado siren.”
The students, and their counterparts at high schools in New York and Virginia, spent several weeks in educational seminars and visiting landmarks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Part of the lesson plan was to learn how different cultures coexist, Ayers said.
When fighting broke out a week ago at the Israel-Gaza border, they also learned how cultures can sometimes clash.
Though the cities in the north are well within range of rockets fired by militants in Gaza, Israel's missile defense system has reduced the danger there to sirens and the sounds of those very same rockets being intercepted.
Ayers said she spent the last several days of the trip trying to convince parents and school officials back at home that everything was OK, but ultimately the Bethany crew came home two days early.
“I think the kids learned an amazing lesson,” she said. “Number one, they realized that the news media blows things out of proportion. They also learned what it's like for these kids to live in an area where they're surrounded by people who want to annihilate them. It really gave them insight into how blessed they are to live in the United States of America.”
Violence a surprise