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April 5, 2011

Explosion shakes Jerusalem study abroad

Following a March 23 bus bombing in Jerusalem that left one person dead and dozens wounded, the U of C study abroad program remains largely unaffected, though the University has issued stricter guidelines for its students.

Students arrived at Hebrew University’s Scopus Student Village the day the bomb went off, and according to third-year Michelle Boyd, the explosion was far enough away to go unheard. However, word traveled fast.

“I could hear all the sirens and helicopters … then I got this text message in all caps from Hebrew University’s alert system, and less than ten minutes later Ori [Program Assistant Ori Yehudai] started calling us individually,” Boyd said.

Yehudai asked the students to stay in their dorms until they received further notice. He also suggested they contact their families to confirm their safety. But half an hour later, administrators emailed parents with the new guidelines and assured them that all students were safe, Boyd said.

The new guidelines carry stronger language on traveling around the city: in an April 2 email to students, to On-Site Program Coordinator Ariane Weisel strongly recommended that students not ride on public transportation, that they travel “with at least one other person when leaving the area of campus and the dorms,” and that they not travel to the West Bank “under any circumstances.”

Since the bombing occurred the day before classes were set to begin, Yehudai updated students on the program’s status at orientation and told them to direct any further concerns either to him or Weisel. Boyd said that administrators offered assistance if students wished to return to Chicago, but that they did not specifically advise leaving the program.

“If we or our families were uncomfortable, the University [said they] would help with the arrangements to go back and do our quarter in Chicago,” Boyd said.

According to Boyd, one student left Jerusalem, bringing the total number of students to 21.

Despite the new travel regulations, the rest of the program remains largely the same. On March 31, the Study Abroad office issued an online statement, assuring the University community that while classes will continue as scheduled, student “excursions have been modified as deemed prudent.”

Boyd said she was surprised by the response to the bombing.

“We [in the Study Abroad program] were shocked, and everyone else was definitely also shocked and scared, but it was surprising how life moved on,” she said. “Classes at Hebrew University kept going that day, as far as I know, and it was just weird that life didn’t just stop.”

The bombing was the worst attack in Jerusalem in four years, according to the March 23 New York Times article “Jerusalem Blasts Raises Fears of Growing Violence.” One woman died from a chest injury sustained in the attack, and 24 were wounded. The attack came at a time of escalating tensions between Israel and Palestine, including increased exchanges of air strikes and rocket attacks.

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