Jewish groups sued over sand fly bites during youth trip to Israel

Two Jewish groups that led a youth trip to Israel last summer failed to warn and protect students in their care about sand flies that infested the region, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

The parents of four Los Angeles County high school students filed suit on behalf of their children against the Union for Reform Judaism and the North American Federation of Temple Youth, the organized youth group of Reform Judaism. The groups "planned, hosted, conducted, led and supervised" the trip, the suit states.


The lawsuit alleges the teenagers were repeatedly bitten by sand flies and contracted Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that causes painful skin ulcers.

The students received no warning about sand flies before the trip, the suit alleges. Though the Jewish groups "expressly agreed" to monitor and protect the minors while abroad, they did not provide protection against sand flies, such as insecticides and insect netting, and gave the students bug-infested bedding, the suit states.

The students, all minors, were listed only by their initials in the civil suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday. Neither their parents' full names nor their cities of residence were listed in court documents.

The North American Federation of Temple Youth and the Union for Reform Judaism did not return requests for comment.

The complaint alleges negligence, breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and willful misconduct. The parents are seeking unspecified damages.

The trip coordinators "represented to the plaintiffs that they would adequately warn the children in their care to protect them from known dangers and would instruct the children on how to protect themselves from known risks in the area," but failed to do so, the suit states.

John C. Taylor,  an attorney representing the parents, said the students have had "ongoing medical treatment with little success."

In the year since the trip, many of their lesions have not healed or have left scars, and some of the teenagers keep having new outbreaks, he said.

Taylor said the Jewish groups "had previous problems" with sand flies on past trips, but they shared no information about the threat with the parents or participants.

"They had no clue," Taylor said.

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