New York

South Florida Students Return Home from War-Torn Israel

The two South Florida kids arrived physically exhausted after the long journey from Israel to New York to Fort Lauderdale. Their parents, meanwhile, are emotionally spent from watching the news every night.

“Almost every hour, not every night,” said Kattalee Sowapark, greeting her daughter, Montita, with hugs and tears at the airport. “I watching the news at the restaurant, at home, by internet, everything.”

Montita Sowapark and Jamie Odzer (yes, my daughter) are home now after spending a tumultuous month at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

“I’m just glad she’s home safe,” said Dr. Shari-Lynn Odzer, Jamie’s mom.

My wife speaks for both of us. We’re tremendously relieved that our daughter won’t be in harm’s way from Hamas rockets, but grateful that she and the 79 other students from around the world had a life-altering experience as part of Weizmann’s International Summer Science Institute.

“We participated in cutting edge research and we hiked through the Judean desert and we hiked up Masada together and to leave all that behind so suddenly is a little difficult, but it is great to be back home to see my family again, see my parents,” said Montita Sowapark, who went to Boca Raton High School and will be a freshman at Harvard in a few weeks.

What’s it feel like to be home? After getting over the awkwardness of being interviewed by Dad, Jamie said, “It’s really bittersweet.”

Bittersweet, she said, partly because of the intense bonding that comes with running to bomb shelters 23 times in 30 days, praying the rockets don’t hit their targets.

“I think some people were scared at first, but it didn’t really feel that scary because you put all your faith in the Iron Dome,” explained Odzer, who graduated from Michael Krop High School and will soon be a freshman at Brown University.

The students at Weizmann say they actually watched Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercept rockets in the skies right above them.

“You kind of get used to it, just like most of the Israeli population there is used to this kind of alarm. And their attitude of just moving on and going on with life kind of affected every person there; so we all kind of adopted that attitude as well,” Odzer said.

My daughter says being close, but fortunately unscathed, by the military conflict left the students understanding Israel’s need for self-defense against an enemy that pledges to destroy it and fires rockets indiscriminately at civilian targets.

“But at the same time we do feel a lot of sympathy for the Palestinians that are under fire in Gaza as well; so it’s a tough situation,” said Odzer.

I asked both young women what they missed the most about home while they were away. They both said, “Chipotle”. After a month in Israel, it seems they’ve had their fill of falafel and hummus.

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