As Operation Protective Edge continues in Israel, Hillel Israel has gathered the stories of several students impacted by the conflict. Below are the personal experiences of students from Hillel at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev.
Together but Apart: Katerina and Matan
“Hillel BGU couple” Matan and Katerina met during their mandatory military service and have been together ever since. Outside of their army service, Katerina is a second year student of Politics and Governance, and Matan is second year student of Computer Science and Philosophy. Both are officers in the Israel Defense Forces, and were called for reserve duty shortly after the war began.
Matan is with the intelligence forces, and Katerina serves in the medical corps as a “casualty officer.” Her job is to register, track and maintain contact with injured soldiers and with families of those who have fallen. She is currently posted at a hospital outside of Ramat Gan. "I have to admit that I can’t always visit the hospitalized soldiers because sometimes the sights are too difficult to handle," says Katerina.
As both Katerina and Matan are serving 12 hour shifts, they hardly find the time to speak with each other. In addition to her serious responsibilities with the army, Katerina works with at-risk youth. “I can't neglect my work just because I was called to the army, so in between shifts I try to catch up on my work back home. It’s very stressful and exhausting."
Katerina and Matan are also responsible for their dog, Tofi. “I feel like my parents were recruited to reserve duty as well, since they have to babysit for Tofi as long as both of us are in active service, and they also drive me to the hospital and back almost every day... It may sound weird for a student to say this, but I can't wait to have final exams again and to just go back to my routine life.”
Serving the local community: Gady K.
“As a result of the frequent bombing from Gaza, many of my friends have left their student apartments in Be’er Sheva and gone home to their parents in the central and northern parts of the country. Although my parents don't live in Be’er Sheva, I decided to stay here and not go "back home." I decided that this is my home now and I don't want to "run away." Especially as I have not been called for reserve duty, I want to fulfill my civic duty and help others during these hard times.
Therefore, since the operation began I have been volunteering with the elderly population in the city. Many are afraid to leave their homes and be caught outside when the sirens go off, so I volunteer with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, visiting the elderly at their homes and delivering groceries and medicines. I also volunteer with the Be’er Sheva municipality hotline. Many citizens call the line when in distress during and after the sirens, and there are an overflowing number of calls from Russian speaking citizens. As I speak Russian, I am able to help and serve as a liaison between them and the municipality."
Gady is a second year MA student in Biomedical Engineering, and active in the "Phoenix" program (in conjunction with Genesis Philanthropy Group) at Hillel BGU.
Day-to-day life: Pola O.
”My brother-in-law serves in the air force and has been away from home for almost two weeks. My sister lives in Ashkelon with their two boys, a 2 year old and a 5 month old. Since exams were canceled at Ben Gurion University due to the situation, I've spent most of the past two weeks with my sister and nephews. It's been very challenging to not only cope with two energetic toddlers, but also to deal with their anxieties and questions surrounding the situation, questions like, "where is daddy?" and "why do the sirens go off all the time?"
It's also difficult to keep them entertained when going out, as even going to the nearby park is too dangerous. Today, it "rained missiles" heavily in Ashkelon and we were reminded once again at how ‘real’ the situation is when rocket shells fell literally into our garden, after being destroyed in the in the sky above us by ‘Iron Dome.’ Luckily, the kids were safe inside when this happened. It's very weird when all at once, and with no warning, your life stops revolving around school and day to day stuff and starts revolving around keeping your loved ones safe."
Pola is a second year student of Political Science and the Zachor v'Kabed (Remember and Honor) program coordinator at Hillel BGU.
Student activism through social media: Alona G.
“In light of the recent events in Israel, students at IDC Herzliya have started a Facebook group where local and foreign students focused on spreading facts, trying to battle biased international media coverage. Due to its success, the Facebook page has developed into an organized center which now works in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson, and the National Information Directorate of the Prime Minister's office. We've already reached 70,000 likes for our "Israel Under Fire" page, and we are reaching more and more people each day. Mostly what I do is review international sites covering the operation and try to learn how it's being covered in the international media. I also share links in Hebrew and English with accurate and relevant information to tell our true story.”
Alona's family lives in Rishon L'Tzion, where she's been staying since the operation started. She travels each day to IDC Herzliya, where she spends hours staffing the center.
"There are two things that are very hard for me with this situation," says Alona. "The first is reading the international news and learning how much hatred exists towards Israel. The second is the uncertainty. Exams were canceled with no renewal in sight, and missiles whistling everyday over Rishon are keeping me on edge.”
Alona is a second year student of Anthropology, Sociology and Governance and a Hillel BGU activist. For more about her work, visit “Israel Under Fire” on Facebook and on Twitter.
Helping from the “Back Lines”: David I.
It all started when a friend of mine was called for reserve duty. After a few days in Gaza, we learned that he was a bit short on necessities such as underwear and socks. We assumed he wasn’t the only one in need of these supplies, so we started approaching businesses all over the country to donate food and supplies. We got huge donations of ice cream, cakes and drinks from stores at the Tel Aviv Port, 500 pita breads from a bakery in Nes Tziona, 15 boxes of food and supplies from department stores, and more. As I’m writing, the Israeli police are helping us deliver more than 40 boxes of supplies to a military base in the Negev, and from there it will cross the fence into Gaza, straight into the hands of our fighting friends. I served as a combat fighter during my mandatory service, and as I wasn't called for reserve duty yet, I decided that helping from the “back lines” will be my reserve duty for now.
David is a second year Mathematics and Computer Science student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and an active participant in Hillel BGU’s ”Zachor v'Kabed” (Remember and Honor) program.