Summer in Israel: UMD students experience challenges on trips abroad during Gaza war

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What started off as summer plans to intern, travel and visit his brother, turned into a much more eye opening experience for senior computer engineering major Max Cohen.

“I wanted an internship in Israel, so I did one with Israel Tech Challenge,” Cohen said. “We first had a two-week tour of Israel’s tech scene followed by an 8-week internship. My brother is in the army so [seeing him was also] a reason to go.”

On July 8, about halfway through Cohen’s internship, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge. The Operation began in response to weeks of constant rockets being fired into Israel from Gaza. While Cohen did not expect a war to break out during his trip, he said that life was still routine and he generally felt safe.

“When I was at work, my desk was 20 feet from a bomb shelter,” Cohen said. But he admits that certain times were more frightening than others. “There was one time when I was walking to the bus stop on my way home from work. Everyone starts running to find shelter,” he said. “When you’re out in the open you have to jump on the ground next to a car so that was startling.”

Junior journalism major Hayley Fixler, who also spent the summer in Israel, experienced similar challenges. She said she always had to be aware of her surroundings and to know what to do in case of a riot or air raid.

“It really did hamper some of our plans, as towards the end of my stay, we weren’t really allowed to travel to different parts of the country by ourselves,” she said. “Looking back, yes I would have liked to have been able to fully travel and not worry about safety and security, but at the same time, it was a surreal experience and changed my outlook on everything.”

An experience that stands out for Fixler was when rockets were fired while she was on a bus.

“Having the bus shake and feeling completely helpless and vulnerable when the Iron Dome intercepted a rocket above our heads is something I will never forget,” she said.

Fixler spent majority of her trip in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood where she was a participant of a program through MEOR and Jinternship. The program gave her the opportunity to intern for Israel’s only English speaking news station where she reported daily on the World Cup.

Cohen and Fixler say they never considered leaving Israel early.

“Israel is my homeland, and to be perfectly frank I felt more safe walking the streets of Jerusalem than I do in College Park at times. Despite [everything], the people on my program grew closer and we definitely matured,” said Fixler.

Cohen felt similarly, stating, “I just didn’t feel a need to go home. Being there during the operation made Israel more real for me in both the political realm and day to day life.” Cohen and Fixler both plan to return to Israel this winter break.

Haley Cohen is a junior family science major.

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