Returning to campus from Israel with pride
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OpinionGuest columnist

Returning to campus from Israel with pride

Amid tragedy, there is always room for grief.

On Oct. 10, I opened my law school email account to a message from my student bar association president cheering on the horrific acts of Hamas terrorists and blaming Israel for the unprovoked slaughter of 1,200 of its own people, mostly civilians.

On Jan. 7, I danced with IDF soldiers on a southern Israel military base who had been fighting in Gaza since before that email was sent.

In the 94 days that passed between that email arriving in my inbox and my visit to the IDF base, I had countless conversations with Jewish friends sharing feelings of grief, anger and fear. Since returning from Israel, my grief has not subsided. My anger remains. My fear, however, is replaced by pride and faith — pride in my ever-strengthened Zionism and faith in the strength and resilience of the Israeli people and Jews across the Diaspora.

I left for Israel shortly after a semester full of uneasiness. Across our country, Zionists were made to feel unwelcome and unsafe on university campuses. I, like many others, struggled with the choice of suppressing my unwavering love and support for Israel or facing alienation from a blindly incensed and self-righteous student body. I spent hours each day reading news articles sharing the names and stories of terror victims and the gruesome details of Hamas’ atrocities, all while avoiding anti-Zionist protests while walking to class.

As my frustration grew, my connection to Israel grew stronger. As I witnessed the outpouring of hate and violence facing the Jewish people, I was drawn to reconnect with our shared heritage. I embarked on a volunteer trip to Israel, bringing with me not only the deep desire to help, but also to find reassurance that our people can and will persevere.

While my visit to Israel was not without moments of joy and laughter, those moments were accompanied by tears and mourning. I, along with 20 other volunteers from across the world, spent my days working on a moshav from where the workforce had fled or been forced to leave following Oct. 7. Each day, we were joined by Israeli volunteers who, like us, wanted to do whatever they could to help. We heard from survivors of Oct. 7, from people who lost family members, from people who could not return to their homes because there was nothing — and no one — left. We visited memorials and exhibitions detailing the horrifying events of Oct. 7.

Amid tragedy, there is always room for grief, and we joined the nation of Israel in grieving. Although the grief we felt and still feel is heavy, the strength of the Israeli people is heavier. Through every tearful testimony we were reassured: We will prevail.

I returned to America, to my campus rife with anti-Zionist zealots, with my head high. As Jews, hatred and persecution is not new to us. Nor is undying perseverance. While the Israeli brothers and sisters I danced with are called back to combat, we are called to support them.

I will remember the tragedies I bore witness to, but I will also remember, as Justice Louis Brandeis proclaimed, “Zionism finds in it, for the Jews, a reason to raise their heads, and, taking their stand upon the past, to gaze straightforwardly into the future.”

In times like this, it can be easy to lose hope, to succumb to feelings of helplessness. I write now to urge you, as I urged myself: Do not lose hope, we are not helpless. As Elie Wiesel wrote, “Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.”

I was gifted profound hope during my time in Israel, and this gift is one I will never stop sharing. I call on my fellow Jews: Share in my hope, share in my pride, share in my faith.

The people of Israel live — am Yisrael chai — and we must always stand with them. PJC

Jacob Wecht of Fox Chapel is a student at New York University School of Law.

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