Israeli-Gaza conflict affects south Florida Jews

Some reconsider travel to Israel due to fighting

BOCA RATON, Fla. - Fighting continues in the Middle East. Friday, Israeli leaders threatened to push further into Gaza as the army counters Hamas militants in the region.

South Florida's large Jewish population is keeping a close eye on the situation. Groups like the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County are collecting donations for Israeli victims and organizing rallies to show support.

Others are reconsidering travel plans to Israel. 

"It's the time of their life," Marisa Marz said as she read one testimonial after another. Each word makes her want to visit Israel more than the last.

"I've always been interested in learning more about that side of my family," she admitted Friday. Her father is Jewish.

A program called Taglit Birthright takes people to Israel to learn about Jewish culture and heritage. Marz signed up, but a work conflict forced her to cancel. Now, the violent conflict between Israel and Gaza may mean she won't have the chance to participate before her eligibility runs out.

She has to balance the rewards of the experience against her safety.

"If you're online, the homepage usually has a story about what's going on today or what happened last night and it's scary stuff, it's very real," said Marz.

Other Americans are participating in similar programs in Israel right now. Local Jewish leaders fear the violence is ruining the experience.

"They can't go on day trips because they're kept close to the campus because they have to go in and out of the bomb shelters," explained Matt Levin, the president of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County.

His wife's relatives live in Israel, so the violence there hits close to home.

"We're up every night," he said. "We wake up, one of us wakes up at 3 o'clock in the morning and checks the news."

For now, Levin and Marz have to hope for the best.

"It could change in a month or two, but I'm not sure," Marz, a Fort Lauderdale resident, said. 

Many Jewish Americans said its like living in two worlds: the U.S. and Israel because they know so many people living overseas.

The Israeli military is on the ground in the Gaza Strip where Hamas is launching its attack. The U.S. and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. 

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