Making a Difference in Israel: The View from a Student in Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim
As a seminary student in Israel during this war, there are both no words and too many to express. What has transpired is harrowing, yet there has been light in all the darkness. To sum up those experiences on paper is impossible. But I do want to try.
On Friday night, Oct. 6, Simchat Torah was beginning. Hearts beaming with joy, my friends and I watched as the hakafot began. Sifrei Torah held high in the air, songs of Hallel sung proudly in the streets, children running around with candy in their hands; the feeling of pure happiness was evident. We went back to our seminary, Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY), and slept that night, anticipating an uplifting and beautiful day ahead.
But that didn’t come to be.
I was woken up in the morning by sirens. Hearing rockets exploding in the air, my friends and I ran to the bomb shelter, confused and nervous. What was going on? Throughout the day, we ran into the bomb shelter eight times. News of war began to spread, but no one knew the truth. We were just seminary girls without phones; what could we know?
As the day went on, the av and eim bayit of my seminary spoke to us about the situation, giving us guidance and information. But once the day ended, the girls who were only observing one day of the chag turned their phones on. That’s when we began to hear what was really occurring.
When I heard the news of the thousands murdered, kidnapped and wounded, I felt nauseous, disgusted and anxious. The more we heard, the more confused we became. Why was this all happening? How could other human beings commit such horrific acts? What will the fate of the soldiers and those kidnapped be? Who is going to make it out alive?
Throughout that night and the following day (my second day of chag), many staff members visited us, giving us instruction and support (as well as lunch and dinner). We were suffering, but we were not suffering alone. We were terrified, but we had people to hold our hands.
As the following days materialized, every girl in my seminary stepped up to the plate. We ran carnivals and playgroups for the children in the neighborhood, babysat for families, cooked and cleaned homes, packed supplies for soldiers, wrote letters to soldiers, made baked goods for soldiers, made tzitzit for the soldiers, donated blood and more. And every day since Oct. 8, we have not stopped. We will not stop. During this tragedy for the Jewish people, there is an endless amount of good we can do. As seminary girls, no, we are not soldiers, and we are not influencers, but we can still make a difference.
Not only does this apply to the girls in my seminary, but every Israeli stood up and continues to stand. Walking around my neighborhood of Baka in Yerushalayim, the makolets and bakeries have been donating to the soldiers and displaced families. Israelis all over the world have been flocking back to Israel to protect the country they love. There have been hundreds of blood drives, food and supplies drives, Tehillim initiatives and so much more during only a few weeks. To see how Medinat Yisrael has united is so beautiful, and it moves me to tears.
This leads me to wonder, though, why do we put aside our differences and unite only in the face of tragedy and immediate danger? It is uplifting to see the unity of the Jewish people during this time, but why only now? Why do we only realize what's missing when so much is gone? We are one nation with one heart and soul. If we suffer together, we must rejoice together.
Every moment of the day, my thoughts turn to the soldiers: boys and girls my age hugging their parents as they go to fight. Fathers leaving their children and wives behind. Teachers and rabbeim fighting so their students can have a future in this country. Every one of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers are heroes. I dedicate each ounce of my learning and tefillah to them and the thousands wounded, murdered and kidnapped.
Many people asked me why I am staying in Israel right now, as many girls and boys my age have left. I have thought a lot about my answer. We are in a war, and life is not easy. There have been moments when I felt I was living in a nightmare, just waiting to wake up.
But the more I think about this question, the more secure I am in my answer, which is two-fold: First of all, I love this country. Correction — I love my country. Should I leave my country when things get hard? Should I abandon my brothers and sisters here who are suffering? Additionally, I am in my shana bet year, something which was not planned or guaranteed. I had an unequivocal path — one year of seminary, and then YU. But once I came to seminary, everything changed, including my plans. Only a slight percentage of girls across the board stay a second year, and I happened to be one of them. Why? Hashem must have put me here, at this particular time, for a reason.
I am taking it day by day. If I feel that I need to leave, then so be it. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to go. But for right now, my answer stands.
Be’ezrat Hashem, this war will be over soon. Be’ezrat Hashem, the murder of thousands of our brothers and sisters will end. And Be’ezrat Hashem, we will be united, not through tragedy, but through geulah. Together, we will witness the glory of the Beit HaMikdash and stand hand in hand, crying not tears of heartbreak but tears of joy.
The writer is currently spending her gap year in Israel at Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim as part of the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program
Photo Caption: A sign in Jerusalem says “If my nation is not for me, who is for me?”
Photo Credit: Ruti Frohlich