If We Cannot Win Here, We Cannot Win Anywhere - An Open Letter to the Student Body
We attend Yeshiva University, the premier institution for a fusion of Torah study and higher education in the country and arguably the world. Our campus proudly flies the Israeli flag above our heads day in and day out. We are blessed to not be faced with anti-Semitism in any of its forms that you now readily find on nearly every college campus around the county. We have an undergraduate student body of over 2,100 Zionists -- or so I thought. When I took on my role as head of the Israel Club at the beginning of the year I quickly realized our greatest challenge is Zionist apathy. This student body does not care about Zionism. At all.
Too many are unaware, uninvolved, and unengaged.
As a club we bring in all sorts of speakers and run all sorts of events that should cater to every single Zionist student of Yeshiva University. There are events about diverse topics such as Gaza, Aliyah, and AIPAC. We even bring in Members of Knesset. We ran a kumzitz in Times Square in solidarity with Israel. All this among so much more. Yet there is one constant throughout nearly every event we run. Small turnout. 20 here, 3 there. For a member of Knesset about 100 will turn out, unless its Danny Danon, and then its less than 50. Imagine that on a campus of 2,100+ Zionists less than 2% showed up to an event that students on a normal campus would be lining up for--the chance to hear and ask questions to a foreign dignitary. But not just a member of government from some random country, one from the place that many of us call home. The place we vacation. The place our aunts, uncles and cousins live. The place about 80% of us lived and studied in for a year. But, you know, Game of Thrones was on.
Two events in particular stick out in my memory. In my opinion these events were probably the best events I have been to in my years at YU. I’m sure that opinion is shared with nearly all the attendees. But you will be hard pressed to find out about them, because collectively less than 50 students showed up to these events.
The first of those two events was toward the end of last semester. Those in attendance were lucky enough to hear from Izzy Ezagui an amazing speaker with an even more amazing story and a hero of Israel and the Jewish people. After volunteering to serve in the IDF he was injured on the border of Gaza his first day in the field. The injury resulted in him losing his left arm, but did not stop him and he still serves in miluim, reserves, as a sharpshooter. After the event he asked me why there were so few people, explaining that he had spoken the day before to a packed room of over 200 people at Brandeis the night before. I explained to him that unfortunately this was not an uncommon occurrence at our event and he was dumbfounded. How could it be that on the Zionist campus so many people were apathetic, so few people cared?
The other event took place in the Koch Auditorium just a few weeks ago. It featured Rabbi Jeremy Gimpel of World Mizrachi and a former candidate on the Bayit Yehudi list. He was to speak about an end to the conflict in ways that do not involve the two-state solution. Due to the pathetic turnout, the speech turned into a round table discussion. While many of the attendees did not agree with the opinions of Rabbi Gimpel, all were welcome and encouraged to express their opinions and participate. This created one of the most interesting dialogues I have ever taken part of. In my opinion this is probably the best event, structurally, to have taken place on campus in my time here. Yet 99% of you all missed it. How can that be the norm?
I cannot present the answer. I do not have the faintest idea why none of you come. It could be you do not care, although I doubt it. It could be the very time-consuming schedule we have here, but I do not believe for one minute you do not have an hour to spare every other week. I do not ask you to come to all of our events, even I am not able to do that. We offer so many events, in such variety in hope that there will be something that sparks the interest of every single one of you.
On every other campus in the country we are fighting a battle. Jews do not feel safe walking around while publicly identifying as Jewish. On some campuses, while walking to class Jewish students are heckled and spat at. It is not because they are draped in Israeli flags and other Zionist propaganda, it is purely because they are Jewish. Open anti-Semitism is back.
Not only is it your right, but it is your duty to stand up and say “I Stand With Israel” because if we cannot do it here where we stand unopposed, how are our brothers and sisters going to stand up for themselves when they face opposition everywhere else?
You are offered the opportunity of a lifetime here on campus. You can shape the conversation or you can just be apart of it. You can shake hands with the lawmakers of Israel one week and you can turn around and make hummus with those same hands the next. You can ask questions, voice your opinion and sing the songs of our people.
All you have to do is show up.
Michael Osborne is the President of the Yeshiva University Israel Club as well as a delegate for the Zionist Spring in the World Zionist Congress. He also serves as the Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah fellow on campus and is involved with many pro Israel and Israeli political organizations such as World Mizrachi and American Friends of Likud.