More than 1,200 British Jewish teenagers were this week told of the “painful decision” to cancel this year’s annual Israel Tour, after the charity UJIA Israel Experience said it was pulling its programme due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a widely-expected move, UJIA Israel Experience and 11 Jewish youth movements announced the Israel Tour’s cancellation on Wednesday, leaving a raft of 16-year olds with one less thing to look forward to this summer.
Despite the expected cancellation, UJIA nevertheless said it was “unparalleled,” pointing to the long-running programme’s continuation through wars and terror threats in previous years.
In a letter to parents this week, UJIA outlined “the steps taken to minimise financial exposure” and said the youth movements “will begin the process of organising refunds after Pesach… Parents are requested not to contact the movements until then to allow them time to manage the process”.
It is understood that the decision to cancel was taken after confirmation that costs arising from the coronavirus pandemic would not be covered by insurance.
Only last week UJIA chair Louise Jacobs and chief executive Mandie Winston expressed hope that Israel Tour would go ahead despite acknowledging “substantial challenges to any planned international travel” at the moment.
“It is our hope that Israel experiences over the summer such as Israel Tour, the Israel Bar/Bat Mitzvah trip, Birthright, and Onward Israel, will be able to take place,” they said. “We have secured significant flexibility from vendors to enable us to review the situation and make decisions as new information comes available.”
Organisers are now considering whether to offer an alternative Israel experience at a future date, while UJIA and the Jewish youth movements said this year’s would-be participants would not be overlooked.
The 11 youth movements involved are BBYO, Bnei Akiva, Chazon, Ezra, FZY, Habonim Dror, JLGB, LJY-Netzer, Noam, RSY-Netzer and Tribe.
Jacobs this week said: “Cancelling Israel Tour is a painful decision. We will do everything we can to ensure that those due to attend this summer are given opportunities to develop their leadership skills and their own sense of Jewish commitment and connection and to experience Israel at a later date.”