April 9, 2024
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Former Oct. 7 Hamas Hostage Mia Schem Faces the World With Call to Action

Courageous young woman draws largest crowd in YU’s Stern College history.

Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University (seated), listens to Keren Scharf Schem, Mia’s mother, and Ilay Schem, Mia’s brother, talk to YU students at Stern College for Women on March 12.

(Courtesy of YU) Fifty-five days in hellish captivity and her arm still raw from gunshot wounds, Mia Schem knew it would be difficult but she had made a promise to the others. After being shot in the arm while escaping the Nova Music Festival massacre, kidnapped to Gaza and spending 51 days in a Palestinian civilian’s home where she was harassed, mocked and neglected, Mia was then transferred to a dark tunnel system where she met five other women hostages. After spending four days in the tunnel, she was given 10 minutes to get ready to leave in the negotiated truce in late November. She turned to the other captives and promised them to make a huge balagan (a great ruckus) when she returned home.

Fast forward to early March: Mia came to America to fulfill that promise. Still wounded and reeling from trauma, Mia nonetheless embarked upon a warrior-level circuit across the U.S. to some of the greatest power centers in the country, seeking to advocate for and vindicate the hostages remaining in Gaza.

Her first stop on the tour was at the State of the Union address in Washington D.C. on March 7. At the special invitation of House Speaker Mike Johnson, Mia met with 40-50 bipartisan members of Congress; had a moving discussion in Hebrew with Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. special envoy to combat antisemitism; and met the Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog, before attending the State of the Union address that evening. Mia was graciously welcomed and comforted by all the members of Congress she met.

(l-r): Keren Scharf Schem; Mia Schem; Kelly Johnson, wife of the Speaker; House Speaker Mike Johnson; and Rabbi Shay Schachter of YU attend the State of the Union address at Congress on March 7.

After the Washington D.C. visit, Mia went to the Oscars on March 10 and attended Elton John’s Oscar party to advocate for the hostages.

Mia then traveled to New York where her family drew the largest crowd in YU’s Stern College history. On March 12, more than 700 people turned out to hear Keren Scharf Schem, Mia’s mother, and Ilay Schem, Mia’s brother, speak about Mia’s story of survival in Gaza and her efforts to advocate for freeing the remainder of the hostages held by Hamas. The family was welcomed by Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University; Rabbi Shay Schachter, Judaic studies professor at YU; and Shoshana Schechter, associate dean of Stern College for Women.

“In the holiday of Purim, the key moment in the text is when Esther says to Mordechai, ‘Gather everyone,’ because when a Jew is in trouble, we are all in trouble; when Jews are mourning, we are all mourning,” said Berman. “We celebrate together, we cry together; that is our core. Tonight, the students of YU’s Stern College for Women came together for Mia Schem to share that we carry Mia in our hearts wherever we go. She is our sister. We love her and are here for her.”

Rabbi Schachter was instrumental in arranging Mia’s trip to America, attending all the events with her and providing important emotional and logistical support. He also scheduled a visit to his synagogue, Young Israel of Woodmere. The event was attended by more than 2,000 people who sang “Am Israel Chai” with Mia and heard her talk about the miracles that kept her going in Gaza.

In moments of complete despair, realizing the chances were bleak, Mia said she could viscerally feel the prayers of Am Israel while she was in captivity. She also saw signs from God that reassured her that she would make it. At one point, she was briefly allowed to listen to a radio and heard in a row three special songs that she had been singing to give herself strength, including “Yihye Tov” that emphasized everything will be OK. Finally, she saw her mother on TV and this gave her the determination to survive.

“The biggest impact of Mia’s trip to America was the intense feeling of Jewish unity,” said Rabbi Schachter. “Jews from all backgrounds and denominations came together to hear Mia speak and be inspired by her words. Jews have transcended the divides of secular and religious to recognize ourselves as a unified culture of faith and miracles. Our fight for survival and to bring the hostages home has united us like nothing before in our shared identity as Jews.”

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