July 21, 2024
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Migdal Gap Year Students Navigate Conflict With Determination

The war in Israel has brought to the forefront the resilience and unwavering determination of many Jewish gap year students. Unlike their peers around the world, they find themselves in the midst of a tumultuous period, facing a situation that has forced them to confront the reality of living in a region impacted by conflict. Three Migdal students, Mo Wasserman, Coby Farkovits and Judah Belgrade have chosen to give us insight into their experiences and fears, and their current plans for their year in Israel. May their stories be an inspiration and a reassurance to us all that Am Yisrael Chai!

The abruptness of the conflict’s eruption has left a mark on all of us, shared Mo. Coby and I, along with our other friends, had been hanging out in a park until 4:30 in the morning, laughing, joking and getting ready to transition back to yeshiva post-bein hazmanim. Instead of walking back to his apartment, Coby had decided to spend the night in my apartment, closer to the park than his.

Sharing his initial shock, Coby recalled, “I woke up to you at 6:30 a.m. telling me that Israel was at war and we had to get to a bomb shelter.” He admitted that initially he didn’t believe me but as he turned over to go back to sleep, the distant booms of explosions quickly shattered any disbelief.

Thankfully, those explosions remain distant. As many Migdal students have pointed out to me, we have the privilege of being in Modi’in. As Judah pointed out, “We hear all the rockets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem” which can be quite jarring but for the most part he knows “[He’s] safe and nothing has changed much in the yeshiva schedule.”

Either way, as the morning proceeded, Migdal students began to pool together in yeshiva for Shacharit and for safety purposes. The uncertainty of the situation gradually became more apparent as they arrived at yeshiva and started to piece together the horrific events unfolding down south. The situation and all of its unknowns were obviously pikuach nefesh, allowing the use of phones by a select few to piece together what exactly was happening and whether or not we in Modi’in were in danger.

I myself had the unfortunate responsibility to determine what exactly was going on, and was faced with sobering news and media that threatened to heavily dampen my Simchat Torah. Thankfully, the congregants of Tzeirei Modi’in stayed strong and continued with their plans for kiddush. We finished the holiday strong as a yeshiva, playing games, reading books and enjoying the company of our peers. However, as the chag ended we were all confronted with a choice: do we go home or stay in Israel?

Mo’s family’s presence in Israel when the conflict began added an extra layer of complexity to his experience. “My family was actually in Israel, and I left them to go back to yeshiva for Shabbat,” he said. His mother offered to take him home with them, and he found himself torn between the desire to be with his family during this challenging time and his commitment to continue his studies. His family’s flight was delayed twice, raising even more questions about whether he should leave. However, Mo “committed to be here” and the safety of Modi’in compared to other locations ultimately led him to stay. Mo grappled with the dissonance between his experience and the perceptions of those who support Hamas from afar. He questioned, “Have you ever had to hear bombs outside your apartment or be seconds away from running into a bomb shelter?” Mo, like his peers, is left puzzled by advocacy for a terrorist group that has brought violence and fear into their lives.

Coby, while acknowledging some fear, remained steadfast in his commitment to his gap year. “I’m safe in Modi’in right now,” he affirmed. His parents’ financial and emotional investment in his gap year and his personal desire to continue this journey keep him grounded. While he acknowledged that the situation is challenging, he hopes that it will improve. Coby is committed to remaining in yeshiva unless the situation takes the unlikely path to greater danger.

Judah, for his part, appears largely unfazed by the current circumstances. He doesn’t “really feel closed in,” stuck inside Modi’in because “it’s just a nice city.” Modi’in is walkable and has all the amenities any of us need, and we are continuing our daily routines without a discernible shift in schedule.

While the conflict has altered their daily lives in some ways, politics are a popular topic and reports/stories of the conflict are abundant, but it has not deterred any of the yeshiva students from their path. These students have faith in the Jewish community, the Israel community, and the IDF to restore order, especially considering the tremendous outpour of Western support. It may be scary at times, but Migdal HaTorah students have the unique advantage of being in Modi’in, away from a real threat of rockets or terrorist attacks. In some ways, “there is a disconnect,” as Mo pointed out, and it’s hard to really comprehend what is happening. “I still view the conflict as an American,” Judah pointed out, and the relative quiet of Modi’in makes the conflict seem surreal at times.

The faculty at Migdal HaTorah have provided emotional support and mental health opportunities on a yeshiva, communal and national level for students during this trying time. Counseling, volunteer opportunities and an understanding staff provide Migdal students with a safe environment to continue learning, growing and assisting the state of Israel regardless of the conflict.

Migdal HaTorah Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Dvir Ginsberg notes the feeling of grief and devastation as news of the heinous attack first surfaced. “Understandably, everyone was anxious and sad;” however, as the situation became clearer, and in consultation with Israel Home Front Command, the faculty at Migdal were able to determine we were not in any imminent danger. “While still concerned, I felt comfortable under the circumstances reinforcing to the students and parents that Modi’in is safe.”

Above all, those of us at Migdal want to reassure those at home that we are safe and have faith in the IDF to keep it that way. Hamas wants us scared; Hamas wants us to be terrified and flee; but we are not scared, and we will not back down. We will continue to support the Jewish people and Israel with learning Torah, volunteering and spreading happiness in this trying time. Am Yisrael Chai!


Sam Savetsky of Bergenfield is a shana bet student studying at Migdal HaTorah in Modi’in.

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