Life-changing night in Jerusalem for 2 Minn. teens

Life-changing night in Jerusalem for 2 Minn. teens

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Despite the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, many Minnesotans continue to visit Israel even though some have been forced to alter their plans and avoid the holy city of Jerusalem.

Gillian Singer and her best friend, Julia, started their trip in Europe to learn about the Holocaust. That was supposed to be the "education" part of their journey, but it was their visit to Israel that taught them the most. The two teens insist they were never scared, but the experience took them on a path they did not expect.

"We have been looking forward to this trip for a very long time," Singer said, adding that it was the highlight of her summer.

The teens planned to spend the majority of their time in Jerusalem, but the itinerary changed after an unscheduled trip to a hotel bomb shelter.

"After the first night in Jerusalem, when the sirens did go off, they quickly decided to take us up to the northern region which is so far away from the Gaza region that it's not able to be reached by rockets," Julia Laden explained.

The pair of 17-year-olds traveled with a Jewish youth organization, and they say the change allowed them to experience different parts of the country -- a side not everyone gets to see. Yet, throughout their time there, updates on the violence served as a reminder of the fragile relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I think we saw just how devastating it was for both sides," Laden reflected. "I mean, the amount of lives that have been lost already. It just can't be fair and doesn't seem right."

The two were able to spend the remaining few days of their trip back in Jerusalem just as the cease fire was brokered, and they left Israel just as the fighting picked up again. Now, they have more than just memories -- they have a new perspective.

"That first night in Jerusalem with sirens changed my view of the world forever," Laden said. "That was something that made it so real to me about Israel and the sacrifice so many have made for that land."

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