Attacks fail to deter La Jolla father, son from trip to Israel

By Joe Tash

A La Jolla physician and his teen-age son planned to board their flight for a trip to Israel Tuesday, in spite of violence occurring in the south of the country after a deadly terrorist attack near the resort town of Eilat last week.

“Those of us with strong connections to Israel go with the flow. It’s not going to deter us. It’s not going to deter our friends and relatives in Israel. … it’s an unfortunate part of life,” David Feifel, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at UCSD and a practicing physician, said in an interview Monday.

Feifel, 48, will meet with professional colleagues and give a talk in Jerusalem during his week-long stay, along with visiting brother, Marty, who lives in Eilat with his family. Feifel’s son will stay in Israel for a year to study in a seminary, before beginning college.

Ariel Feifel, 18, said he isn’t worried about traveling to Israel.

“No, I think it’s important not to be concerned. I feel like it’s our duty to go and support Israel. By going we show we are not afraid and we don’t let these terrorists win, that’s what they’re trying to accomplish with these attacks and we can’t let that happen,” said Ariel, who has been to Israel a number of times before.

“There’s a sense of comfort and safety when you go back to your homeland. This is the Jewish state and I’ve never felt out of place or afraid there, and I don’t expect to this time,” he said.

Eight Israelis died in Thursday’s attacks on civilian buses and a car near Eilat. The Israeli military then launched attacks against suspected terrorists in Gaza, and rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel.

The New York Times reported Monday that a fragile cease-fire appeared to be taking hold between Israel and Hamas, which rules Gaza.

David Feifel said his family and friends were not hurt in the attacks, but the violence does take a psychological toll.

“Like all Israelis, it’s a jarring experience psychologically. But like all Israelis, they know terrorism is a way of life and the threat is always there. While it jars them, they are determined to live normal lives. They go about their business. Thankfully, no close friends or relatives got injured in the attack, (but) it makes them think,” Feifel said of last week’s attacks and the subsequent rocket fire.

The son of Holocaust survivors, Feifel was born in Canada. After World War II, his parents helped establish the state of Israel, and later immigrated, after their first child, Feifel’s older brother, was born. Feifel has lived in La Jolla since 1992 and is married with three children.

Feifel said he has been to Israel many times and feels it is generally a safe place, although he is also aware of the volatility of the region and the threat of terrorism.

Last summer, Feifel said, his daughter was in Israel when a rocket was fired toward Eilat, but landed in the Red Sea, near where she was participating in a youth program. This summer she returned to Israel to volunteer at a home for underprivileged youth.

The recent violence does give pause to the couple as their son prepares to spend a year in Israel, Feifel said. “There’s always a risk this incident will be the beginning of something bigger,” he said.

Ariel Feifel said he would be studying about Judaism in a small city near Jerusalem over the next year, as a way of strengthening his own personal connection to his faith. He said many Jewish teen-agers from the United States and other parts of the world take a year off after high school to either study or travel in Israel.

When he returns to the U.S., Ariel said, he will begin pre-med courses at Columbia University in New York. But for now, he’s looking forward to his time in Israel.

His family is convinced the benefits of the experience will outweigh the risks.

“It’s always such an incredibly positive experience for the youth, we wouldn’t dream of denying him this opportunity,” David Feifel said.