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Despite Unrest, Group Heads to Holy Land

"I think this is an important time for Israel — for America — and it sounds cliched to say this, but for freedom in general," says attorney Eliot Bender, one of the travelers.

He's not apprehensive about his fourth trip to the Holy Land, he says — "just don't call up my wife, my mother or my sister."

The local Jewish Community Federation sponsors several missions to Israel each year. Each mission has the twin goals of demonstrating support for Israel and introducing American Jews to their history.

The group is smaller than in past years, according to participants. Nine from Richmond are making the journey, while in more peaceful times 15 to 20 went. In Israel, the group will join missions from other locations for tours, talks and even an address by Benjamin Netanyahu. They will return Friday.

"I have no fear," says Gilbert Grossman, 68. On this, his fifth trip, he plans to stay six extra days to visit his 30-year-old son, who is attending yeshiva (school) in Jerusalem. "I wish he would give me some sidearms or something, so if any problems came up I could defend myself," Grossman, a former Air Force officer, says jokingly. "But I know that's not going to happen. Jerusalem is not a violent city, he says, and he feels as safe as he would in Richmond — or safer."

Bender also plans to stay a few extra days. If any violent incident happens during the trip, he says, he hopes to be there to experience it firsthand. "I'll take my camera with me," Bender says, "but I hope I don't have to use it for anything besides me standing on rocks." —

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