July 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Young IDF Heroes Fight BDS on US College Campuses

(Courtesy of Belev Echad) In July 20, 2014, Amit Zohar, a soldier in the special forces of the Golani Brigade, was seriously injured in Gaza when terrorists fired a bomb at his unit and riddled his body with shrapnel. He spent the next few months in rehabilitation, unsure if he’d ever recover and no idea where his life was headed.

Less than a year after his injury, Amit was invited for a Belev Echad-sponsored ten-day tour of NYC, where he was deeply moved by the care, support and solidarity expressed by his Jewish brothers in America and the organization’s dedication to helping physically and emotionally-scarred IDF veterans reintegrate into civilian life. On the flip side, his eyes were opened to the truth of what’s happening on U.S. college campuses and how BDS, blatant antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments have infiltrated the educational scene in America. Since then, he’s joined Belev Echad’s joint initiative with Chabad on Campus, visiting colleges around the U.S., where he meets Jewish American kids, many who are right around his age. He shares his experiences both as an Israeli civilian and soldier defending his people and homeland, and exposes them to the truth of what’s really happening in Israel.

On a weeklong tour in the last week of January that took him down the East Coast, Amit visited Brooklyn College, University of Berkeley, Union College, Vanderbilt University, University of Georgia, University of Miami and Florida Gulf Coast University, where he met hundreds of kids and spoke about his experiences.

“I met students who are so far from the battlefield that they don’t have a clue that we’re fighting 6,000 miles away in Israel,” shares the young veteran. “The battle I fought in Gaza was against the weapons of Hamas, against grenades and missiles, but now I’m fighting for my country in a whole different type of way—spreading the warmth, light and truth about Israel and the IDF. When these students hear my story and what I’ve been through, I can see the hunger for more knowledge about Israel in their eyes. These students are living in another world. They’re so far from us with their fraternity parties and football games, that my mission here has become about fighting a war against nonchalance and apathy. Unfortunately, I’ve had to deal with protests, but this only proves to me how badly we have to fight for these college students and their thirst for more knowledge of Israel.”

In the past few years, American college campuses have become a breeding ground for rabid antisemitism, BDS activists, and anti-Israel sentiments that cause Jewish students nationwide to feel marginalized and insecure. Bombarded with constant negative information and misinformation about Israel and the Middle East, even those with inbred Jewish pride and strong Jewish identities can vacillate and wonder where they stand on critical socio-political issues closely related to their heritage.

“The fight for the truth is a daily battle and a constant struggle. Unfortunately, our enemies continue to lie and spread false stories about Israel and its soldiers,” says Belev Echad co-founder Rabbi Uriel Vigler. “Our IDF soldiers, who used to fight Hamas with weapons, tanks, missiles and machine guns, are now fighting the battle against lies, falsehoods and world opinion. We’re seeing wounded soldiers and veterans constantly rising to the battle and performing outstandingly.”

Dana Ophir is another IDF soldier who participated in the tour co-sponsored by Belev Echad and Chabad on Campus. Back in January 2017, Dana had been working hard to become a combat trainer officer in the IDF and was days away from landing the coveted title when she was the victim of a terrorist car-ramming that left her with a shattered pelvis and confined to a wheelchair. “From someone who could run ten miles without losing my breath, I became a total invalid. The doctors didn’t know if I’d ever walk again, but I refused to succumb to fate and with titanium in my body where my bones had once been, taught myself to take one baby step at a time. After four months, I was walking again on my own feet.”

Dana didn’t surrender her dream and was committed to return to the army and combat training. “It was a long, arduous process, but today, I’m relearning how to be a trainer and am advancing at an amazing pace. I’ve also joined Belev Echad’s initiative to engage, connect and educate contemporary college youth about the reality and truth about Israel and the IDF, and this is very meaningful for me.“

“Campus tours are not only beacons of light, truth and Jewish pride in a place that needs it most, but they’re also opportunities for our soldiers to become empowered as givers. These tours grant our soldiers incredible motivation and courage, allowing them to be ambassadors of truth and hope,” expresses Vigler’s wife and co-founder Shevy.

Ryan Bauman, a sophomore at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University, was touched and inspired by his meeting with Amit and Dana. “This was one of the most influential experiences I’ve had here so far—talking to two IDF soldiers, hearing how they were injured, how they went from laying in a hospital bed and not knowing what the future would be. From giving their lives, their injuries and service to the State of Israel to what they are today—fluent in English, interacting with us as students, sharing their stories and trying to present Israel from a different perspective. So often, we get the political view; we get the business view; but this is a more human perspective. Personally, I went to Jewish day school. I’m fluent in Hebrew. I know a lot of Israelis, and I’ve been to Israel a lot, but I’ve never had an experience that moved me like this has, and it’s one of the things I will remember and cherish for a long time.”

“The college campus visits are incredible because the soldiers make an indelible impression upon students and provide a new appreciation for the struggles and challenges Israel faces every day,” says Rabbi Yossy Gordon, CEO of Chabad on Campus International.

“Over the course of 10 days, we visited 7 campuses on the East Coast, where we met hundreds of Jewish students who are thirsting to hear first-hand about what’s happening in the country that’s so dear to their hearts,” relates Bentzi Sasson, who escorted Belev Echad’s delegation on their campus tours. “The stories that they heard from Amit, who was injured in Protective Edge, and Dana, who was almost killed in a vicious car-ramming, gives them a different perspective on the narrative that they watch on the news and hear daily in college.”

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