Israeli Soldiers Take On Rising Antisemitism with Campus Tour Across America

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Photo by Belev Echad on 14 February, 2024
By Pesach Benson • 14 February, 2024

 

Jerusalem, 14 February, 2024 (TPS) — Aiming to combat rising antisemitism and provide insight into the realities of Israeli military service, a delegation of injured Israeli soldiers took their stories to American college campuses.

The October 7 Hamas attacks shocked the world, as Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis, abducted 240 hostages, and left thousands more injured. However, the tragedy quickly faded from headlines, replaced by anti-Israel rhetoric, particularly on US college campuses. According to the US-based Anti-Defamation League, which fights antsemitism, incidents of antisemitism on US campuses have increased dramatically, with 73% of Jewish students experiencing or witnessing such acts. Many Jewish students feel marginalized and hide their identity, Jewish groups report.

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The delegation’s whirlwind 13-day speaking tour in February was organized by Belev Echad, a New York-based non-profit that supports Israeli soldiers wounded in action, providing respite, rehabilitation, and emotional support. The soldiers shared their stories on campuses in New York, Oregon, Washington and Florida.

“So many people view the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] as aggressors, but it’s simply not true. We’re young men and women who are simply defending our right to exist, keeping our brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents safe,” explained Alon Elbaz. The 20-year army medic was at Kibbutz Nir Am when Hamas attacked. He is currently recovering from shrapnel injuries he sustained while treating other injured Israelis.

He described seeing more terrorists than he could count swarming through the kibbutz’s fence as rockets flew overhead, treating a close friend with shrapnel wounds in his head, and later setting up a field hospital at a traffic junction.

“There was no time to think, no time to breathe. It was just a matter of save lives, save lives, save lives. Stopping for even one minute meant that someone could die,” Elbaz recalled.

Reacting to the soldiers’ stories, Mike, a junior studying Computer and Information Sciences, said, “I’m Jewish, but I pride myself on being liberal, and I always looked askance at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Meeting soldiers around my age who’ve been through so much in the past few months has changed my attitude, and I realized that this is not a fight for sovereignty but for the safety of innocent civilians.”

Osher Pardo, another injured army medic participating in the tour said, “When we meet others face-to-face and share our personal stories — which for me included losing over 60 buddies and getting very close to losing my life to Hamas terrorists — they are suddenly so much more accepting and willing to hearing the Israeli perspective, which is the perspective of truth.”

The 21-year-old was injured at Kibbutz Nahal Oz and described being woken on the morning of October 7 by the sound of rocket fire, treating injured soldiers in a bomb shelter, running out of ammunition, and collapsing on the ground after his knee was hit by shrapnel.

“That morning, we’d been 90 soldiers in our base in Nahal Oz. By night, we were only 25. We lost a lot of friends that day, but our commander did survive. In the hospital, I was approached by Belev Echad and I’m still in rehab, recovering physically and emotionally from the trauma. But most important, I’m here, representing my country and friends for those who didn’t make it.”

Rabbi Uriel Vigler, who co-founded Belev Echad with his wife, Shevy, explained, “This campus tour has been an eye-opening experience for hundreds of American students who joined the meetings. I don’t think there’s any better way of presenting the Israeli perspective to American college kids than through the eyes of their Israeli peers who, instead of going to college and earning degrees are, at the age of 18, 19 and 20, putting their lives on the line to defend their families and fellow citizens.”

In addition to giving American students a better understanding of the war, Elbaz noted that recounting their stories has been beneficial to the soldiers as well.

“Allowing us to share our challenges, tragedies and victories with our American peers also enabled us to see, firsthand, what Jewish students in the U.S. deal with, and we appreciate their support.”

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