UPDATED: Alabama Episcopalians on Holy Land tour are safe after Hamas’ attacks, Israel declares war

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Oct 10, 2023

Members of a Holy Land tour group from St. Paul’s, Daphne, Alabama, gathered here in Tel Aviv before the start of the tour, are safe after attacks by Hamas and Israel’s declaration of war. Photo: Facebook

Editor’s note: ENS has received an update from the Rt. Rev. J. Russell Kendrick, bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, that all members of the pilgrimage group are safely out of Israel. Some are already home while others are still traveling.

[Episcopal News Service] Members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Daphne, Alabama, who arrived in Israel for a Holy Land tour a day before Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks are safe. Eighteen people were traveling in the group, at least some of whom appear to be traveling home.

The Rev. Thack Dyson, St. Paul’s rector who is traveling with the group, has been posting updates on the church’s Facebook page. On Oct. 8 he said that the tour operator had moved them from Tel Aviv, where they first arrived, into Galilee, a northern area of Israel farther away from the fighting.

Israel declared war on Hamas on Oct. 8.

On Oct. 9, Dyson noted that church members were having difficulty booking flights home after U.S. airlines halted flights to and from Israel. On Oct. 10 he said some travelers were able to make arrangements for flights routed through Turkey or Dubai. The tour was to last until Oct. 17, according to the church’s calendar.

Dyson, who is still in Israel, thanked people who had sent texts or other messages offering prayers for the group’s safety, saying, “We feel your prayers, we feel your support.”

He also expressed his appreciation for the care provided by the tour operators, noting that they have families in Israel for whom they are concerned “and yet they are taking their time to make sure we are protected as well.” Two members of Alabama’s congressional delegation, Rep. Jerry Carl and Sen. Katie Britt, contacted the group to offer support and information.

The death toll including both Israelis and Palestinians has surpassed 1,800.

The New York Times has reported that at least 50 foreign nationals have been killed or captured since the start of the violence. Eleven U.S. citizens have been killed, and an unknown number of Americans are missing.

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.