The group of 43 university students had just landed from North America the previous evening. Now it was the end of their first full day in Jerusalem, where they had come to learn first hand about the situation in Israel. Their mission is to meet as many people as they can, to hear lectures from and have discussions with teachers, public officials, and every-day Israelis, so that they can return to their campuses armed with the tools to represent Israel among their fellow students.
Every leader and official in the Jewish community in North America will say that campus activism on behalf of Israel is one of the primary battlegrounds facing the Jewish community. These 43 students had come to Israel to receive training so that they can take their places on this battleground and help elevate Israel’s image abroad. It’s a daunting mission, but one that these students appear eager to take on.
With that in mind, the last session of their first day was devoted to meeting victims of terrorism and hearing first hand some of the harrowing experiences these people lived through.
There was Danny, a 31-year-old single guy from Jerusalem, who had gone out with four of his friends on a Saturday night to one of their favorite hangouts. At 11:00 pm, a terrorist walked into the restaurant and blew himself up. Danny and one of his friends had been outside in the courtyard of the restaurant, and both were critically wounded. Inside the restaurant, another of his friends was killed, another wounded, and one walked away unhurt.
As Danny sat in front of the group telling his story, it was painfully obvious that his left arm cannot function. “I was paralyzed for 6 months after the attack,” he told the students. “But the doctors helped me regain almost all my abilities. It’s just this arm,” he said, nodding toward his motionless left arm, “that still doesn’t work.”
Danny was followed by Devorah Margalit, a 51-year-old mother of seven boys, as she told the group with a broad smile. Devorah is very proud of her brood, with those who have reached the age of 18 all having served as combat soldiers in the IDF. But in June 2002, it was her 15-year-old son, Evyatar, who was critically hurt in an explosion when he and two of his classmates stepped on a landmine as they were helping an area farmer pick his crop of cherries.
“Evyatar loves the land,” Devorah said. “He loves going to help pick fruit. He enjoys the warm sunshine and the fragrant air.”
In the explosion, Evyatar was wounded in the legs and groin area. He spent months in the hospital, and is still in rehab. Devorah related how, as an oncology nurse, she is used to checking the condition of patients and masking her feelings so that the patient cannot tell his true condition by the look on her face. “I looked at his legs, and saw how burned they were, and how much damage had been done,” she said. “The first thing he asked me when I got to the hospital was whether he would still be able to be a combat soldier.”
The stories of the victims are very powerful reminders of what the people of Israel face when confronted by terrorism. But these stories on their own will not win a battle for the hearts and minds of university students, without a deep understanding of the complete picture. Yehuda Poch, a OneFamily representative and former campus leader in North America, helped provide the context for these stories.
“In the past five years, 1079 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in Israel,” he told the group, “and 7324 have been wounded. Out of a population of 6.9 million people. If we take that proportion and apply it to the United States, we are talking about roughly 335,000 people either killed or wounded.”
These numbers drew a few gasps from the crowd, and a few raised eyebrows. But if one is to get a complete picture of the damage that terrorism has done to the people of Israel, it is necessary to understand the full impact of the problem. It is necessary to understand just what Israel is facing in its war on terrorism. And for these students, it is necessary to bring that message back to their campuses so that others can understand why terrorism is such a huge problem and why it must be defeated through strength and determination.
It is that strength and determination that is represented by the victims of terrorism. One of the students asked Devorah Margalit why she remains in Israel. “My sons all have American citizenship, as do I,” she said. “But they are also 11th generation Israelis. I came here to live as a Jew in the Jewish state, and no terrorist is going to tell me I can’t do that.”
It is that strength and determination that the students of these fellowships will take back to their campuses and their communities, so that they can show the world how the Jewish nation will not be silent in the face of such hatred.