April 19, 2024
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Stern Students Join YU Israel Solidarity Mission

The best ambassadors are eyewitnesses, those who have “been there” to tell the tale. With this in mind, Yeshiva University enabled 20 stellar undergraduate students to spend their winter break on a mission to Israel from January 17-24. The agenda of the mission was threefold: To demonstrate solidarity with our Israeli brethren during these tenuous times of vicious, lone wolf attacks upon innocent victims; to meet with political experts, military personnel and Israeli citizens to gain a better understanding of the conflict; and to volunteer with an array of organizations across the country that assist victims of terror and their families.

“The goal of this mission,” in the words of Rabbi Kenneth Brander, vice president for university and community life, “is to provide the students with rare opportunities to connect with the situation intellectually, emotionally and practically, as well as take ownership and become part of the solution in their own unique and creative ways.”

Students applying to the mission were required to fill out an application and go through a personal interview. Of the 80 applicants, 20 were selected to join the mission, ostensibly those whom the committee felt were most likely to “ give back.”

Among the participants were two Stern college students from our local area, Shaina Hourizadeh from Englewood and Merav Gold from Teaneck. During their interviews for this article, both young ladies expressed gratitude at the opportunity to share the crucial elements that they learned on the trip with our community.

Shaina Hourizadeh is a junior at Stern, majoring in psychology with the goal of applying to law school. Her previous trip to Israel was 2 ½ years ago under the auspices of Birthright. “That was the trip to which I responded that I had a great time. This is the trip that I respond to as real, serious and requiring maturity.”

Hourizadeh regards the shiva call made to Natan Meir and his family in Otniel as one of the highlights and an experience that set the stage for the rest of the mission. She felt that sharing in the family’s grief at the tragic death of beloved wife and mother Dafna Hy”d was a moment during which she and her fellow trip mates could truly show solidarity with their Israeli brethren. From this emotional experience they were able to proceed with a better understanding of the conflict and how to respond to the opposition. The workshop at Stand With Us was highly informational and the films at the Maale Film School explored the underlying emotions of families conflicted by mandated evacuations and checkpoints at their borders.

For Hourizadeh, the visit to the Arab-Israeli school sponsored by Yad B’Yad was an eye-opener. Students of Jewish, Arab and Christian descent sit side-by-side in classrooms taught by pairs of Jewish and Arab instructors and learn about the cultures and even the holidays of each religion. Though not all the participants agreed in principle with the concept of the school, all agreed that the children were able to interact with each other as individuals and not hostile enemies.

Merav Gold of Teaneck is majoring in Judaic Studies with a concentration in Jewish history. Her minor is biology and she has aspirations of attending medical school. For Gold, the trip enabled her to “see the picture firsthand, not just the snapshot.” Now she can fully represent the people of Israel to her peers.

For Gold, two contrasting images come to mind when re-visiting the trip. The first were the stirring words of inspiration from Rabbanit Chana Henkin who addressed the group in her Kiryat Moshe apartment. She spoke of her beloved son, Rabbi Eitam Henkin Hy”d, who despite his youth had accomplished so much in Torah and community service together with his beloved wife, Naama Hy”d. “Rabbanit Henkin urged us to go on in their spirits and accomplish in the world of Torah and community, never hesitating or turning back.” This moment stands in sharp contrast but was equally intense to her visit to a Judaica store in the mall. The proprietor was delighted to see two American young ladies shopping for mezuzot. Hailing from Detroit and then Philadelphia, this proprietor greeted the girls with optimism and positivity, proclaiming, “Israel is the one and only place for the Jewish people.” For Gold, this was the message she would bring back.

At the shiva call in Otniel, Gold was overwhelmed when the oldest Meir daughter, who had been a firsthand witness to her mother’s brutal murder, was bemoaning her lack of preparation for an upcoming math test. “For these people, life goes on in the midst of tragedy.”

Both young ladies were very taken with the visit to the Jerusalem headquarters of One Family Fund. There they spoke with Santos, a former policeman who had been injured and traumatized in a terror attack, leaving him unable to continue working. Instead, he volunteers his time at One Family where he teaches jewelry making to the participants and visitors. The jewelry created is sold and the proceeds are used to finance other projects at the center. For Santos, “something does not have to be “shalem” to be perfect. If it is perfect to you, then it is.”

For both participants, the optimism of the average citizen and their hope for peace with their Arab neighbors is the lesson they will work on conveying to their peers at YU as well as their communities. “We took inspiration from the Rami Levy model of coexistence, cooperation and community service.”

By Pearl Markovitz

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