David Eric Borowitz was introduced to gas masks when he led a delegation of students from Yeshiva University and Stern College to Israel on the eve of the Gulf War 12 years ago. "I had hoped the last gas mask I’d ever see was in 1991," he said.
Last week he saw the gas masks again. "They were waiting for us on the seats": of the bus that carried Borowitz and 34 others in a hastily arrived Action of Unity solidarity mission from Ben-Gurion Airport to their hotel in Jerusalem.
The mission, timed to coincide with the start of the American war in Iraq, was 48 hours of meeting politicians, shopping at Jerusalem’s Malchah Mall, listening to a briefing on civil preparedness, visiting an army base to thank Israeli and U.S. soldiers for manning a Patriot missile installation, and planting trees in honor of the Columbia astronauts at the Jewish National Fund American Independence Park in Jerusalem.
"Israeli children are going to school every day," despite the ongoing threat of terrorism, said Russell Robinson, chief executive officer of JNF, one of a dozen Jewish organizations cosponsoring the mission. "It’s our responsibility to make every effort to come to Israel."
The participants, informed about the trip via e-mail notices, came from about 10 states. The youngest was Sharon Tsur, 29, of Manhattan, executive director of Media Watch International, one of the cosponsoring groups. The oldest: Chaim Sheiner, 84, a retired electronics equipment manufacturer from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The other participating organizations were American Friends of Likud, the American Sephardi Federation, American Zionist Movement, Hadassah, Religious Zionists of America, Labor Zionist Alliance, ARZA World Union, Amit, Zionist Organization of America and Mercaz USA.
"We were shooting for 15 to 20 people," Robinson said, adding that people rearranged their work schedules at the last moment to join the mission. "I’m never surprised by the feelings that American Jewry has for the land of Israel."
They were met at the airport with flowers. "Everybody said ‘Thank you for coming,’ " Robinson said. Government ministers wanted to greet the group. "We ran out of time slots to put them in."
"I don’t sense any fear at all" among Israelis, Robinson said.
For Borowitz, a YU student in 1991 and now chairman of the J2J Network, a New York-based firm that promotes business between the United States and Israel, this week’s visit under the cloud of war evoked a feeling of deja vu: the gas masks, the sealed rooms, the ominous news reports about battles in Iraq.
People asked him what it was like in 1991, he said.
His answer: "I’m never worried about coming to Israel. You can’t allow terrorism to win."
The country seemed more prepared for a possible Scud attack than 12 years ago, Borowitz said. Pamphlets in five languages, explaining how to use the masks, were available on the group’s bus.
"Everyone seems to be very relaxed," he said. So are his parents. They supported his decision to visit Israel during the first and second Gulf Wars. "My parents," Borowitz said, "have gotten used to it by now."