Bringing Reality to Campus

This week, I’m handing the forum off to Rachel Soloff, our Community Relations Council Associate. Rachel (far right in the first picture below) writes:

Last month I had the incredible opportunity to lead ten students from Pitt and CMU to Israel on the Campus Ambassadors mission. This trip, created in collaboration with Hillel JUC, gave students the chance to visit Israel and bear witness to the tragic events that occurred on and after October 7 to return to campus and combat the antisemitism and anti-Zionism that is all too common now.

In the face of antisemitism and hate on campus, these students display remarkable passion for Israel. Many of these students had pushed through protestors to hear former IDF soldier Yadin Gellman speak on campus. Others told me they had lost friends and social media followers for standing up in the face of hatred and misinformation. It’s a difficult time to be a Zionist on campus and despite this, these students were willing to learn more. They chose to spend their spring breaks educating themselves and facing the tragedy of the ongoing war in Israel while their peers went on vacation. At the end of the trip, they were teeming with ideas on how to share what they learned with others once they returned to their campuses, creating tangible solutions to the seemingly intangible problems they faced. Below are some images of our trip.

We started the trip in Jerusalem, touring the Supreme Court and discussing the judicial overhaul, a main point of contention in the country before October 7. The students also had the opportunity to tour the Knesset and meet with a sitting member, Idan Roll, who gave the students context as to what it is like to be in the Israeli parliament in a time of crisis. We spent time in the North, participating in a military decision-making simulation at the Alma Center as well as driving along the Green Line to discuss the terrorist threats from Hezbollah. Lastly, we went to Tel Aviv and the South, visited the hostage square, and gained more understanding about the impact of October 7.

The speakers truly rounded out the trip. We intentionally got speakers who provided different perspectives, some who were academics such as Hebrew University professor Dr. Reuven Hazan, who gave a clear background to the complexity that is Israeli politics. Others mixed their work experience with their loved ones. Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab journalist, has been covering Hamas for most of his career. He remarked to the students that despite speaking to leaders of a terror organization, he says he fears the American college campus more right now than anything else in his career. Lucy Aharish, one of the first Arab-Muslim women on Israeli television, spoke of an early childhood memory when a terrorist threw a Molotov cocktail into her family’s car after a shopping trip in Gaza just because they had an Israeli license plate.

The most impactful part of the trip was the time spent in the South. We volunteered with HaShomer HaChadash at Beit Ezra planting kohlrabi to assist the farmers as many farms have been struggling to stay afloat since October 7.

We then traveled to K’far Aza, where we spoke with Chen Kolter and her sister, residents of the kibbutz whose lives have been irrevocably changed since October 7. Walking through the young adult housing block that sat right near the border with Gaza, we looked at the destroyed roofs, burned kitchens and homemade barricades where people hid for safety. After that, many of the students remarked that it was even harder to reason with the denial and downplaying of October 7 that is prominent on their college campuses. Hearing from Chen’s sister who hid with her husband and four children for 20 hours without food or water while her neighbors and friends were murdered and taken hostage is something no one should ever have to go through, but was the reality for her.

In Re’im, the site of the Nova music festival, there were memorials everywhere you stepped to commemorate those murdered and taken hostage, many of whom were the same ages as the students. As the sun was setting, a man sat by his son’s memorial and played guitar, displaying the dichotomy of beauty and pain that defines Israel and the Jewish people.

To conclude, I want to share a quote from one of the students who wrote an incredible op-ed for the Chronicle about the trip and what’s to come:

“As we get back to campus, each of us will continue to carry perspectives learned while we fight our own battles on our own fronts, trying once again to argue a case for our undeniable right to exist.”

Shabbat Shalom.

Stay Informed


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.