"I can't say that I'm not disappointed about having to leave early, but I absolutely understand why we have to leave. The administrators and coordinators at Michigan State took our safety very seriously and decided that evacuation was the best option." ~Nate Strauss, MSU Jewish Student Union President
Rabbi Hendel Weingarten always prays for Israel. Thursday night, he made sure to say an extra prayer for the soldiers.
But those prayers, he says, aren't necessarily out of fear.
"So many missiles are falling on the land of Israel and God is protecting the land of Israel," said Weingarten. "As a Jew, we know and we see the open miracles that have been happening in the last few weeks here."
Eight students from Michigan State University, studying abroad in Israel, are on their way home after MSU decided Wednesday morning to cut the Jewish Studies Program trip short by two weeks, due to escalating violence in the region.
"MSU has made the decision to abbreviate the current programs in Israel and bring our students and faculty home," MSU Spokesman Jason Cody said in a statement. "Additionally, MSU will defer sending any new students at this time. We will continue to monitor the situation, and programs in Israel will continue once the security situation improves.”
Weingarten says he understands the university's decision, as a secular institution. But it's not one he agrees with as a Jewish man of faith.
"That is the safest place in the world to be right now, in Israel," he said. "God's eyes are on the land of Israel, protecting the land of Israel, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."
Barry Kaufman, who works in Michigan several months out of the year, calls Jerusalem his home. He also says he's opposed to MSU's decision.
"I would say that's a mistake," he said, noting that two of his own kids who live in the Jerusalem area. "I would say there's no reason. The safety of the young adults is not at risk there. As you can see by what has happened with all the missiles, there has been only one fatality. There's been hundreds of missiles."
The final decision was not made overnight, Cody said. A special committee meets weekly to discuss safety and security abroad and make decisions.
Regular checks with the U.S. State Department and others also help influence decisions. Bringing the students home was not a sudden decision, Cody said, noting the situation has been on their radar.
MSU Student Nate Strauss, who is also the president of the Jewish Student Union and was studying in Israel, confirmed students were on a plane home.
"I can't say that I'm not disappointed about having to leave early," he said in an email. "But I absolutely understand why we have to leave. The administrators and coordinators at Michigan State took our safety very seriously and decided that evacuation was the best option."
Strauss added he has always felt safe in the country and that Jerusalem felt like home.
All MSU staff and faculty members are safe.