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Reflections on Straus Center Israel Trip

As part of the Yeshiva University's Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, I had the privilege to travel to Israel with my fellow students and spend four days immersed in study at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.
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February 7, 2024
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On Oct. 7th, I woke up in my  brother’s apartment in East Jerusalem to the sound of sirens. Despite what my family and I wanted to believe, the horrors unfolding in the south were not figments of our sleep-addled imaginations. Rockets were flying overhead, Hamas terrorists were dragging women’s bodies through the streets of Gaza, and for a moment I had the sense that I had somehow traveled back in time, to the Belarusian shtetl of my grandparents’ youth, and I was watching it burn. Catching whispered fragments of information in the stairwell, I thought that I finally understood what my family had run away from. But it was only days later, when college students took to the streets of Manhattan and London, justifying the murder of innocents and calling for the eradication of the world’s only Jewish state, that I began to see the shape of antisemitism’s ugly head. And it was not until last week that I realized how the Jewish future could overcome such darkness and illuminate the path forward.

As part of the Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, I had the privilege to travel to Israel with my fellow students and spend four days immersed in study at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. Under the guidance of our esteemed professors and guest speakers, we explored the most pressing topics of our current moment. In awe, I listened as Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik spoke to Natan Sharansky about the interconnectedness of Jewish souls, and in wonder, I watched as the young men and women studying beside me raised their hands to ask about the role of Jewish students today. Lahav Harkov and Gil Troy — figures who have paved the way for me and my peers — impressed upon us the importance of integrity and the power of storytelling. We examined the fifth chapter of Judges, reading the song of Deborah not only as products of the modern Orthodox educational system but also as Jews witnessing a war unfold on Israeli soil. We danced with displaced children from southern Israeli cities, witnessing in their quiet strength the makings of true heroes.

This, I realized with stunning clarity, is what the Jewish future looks like. I was part of a group of young men and women committed to intellectual discovery and imbued with an immutable faith — a group of future leaders. But these qualities are emblematic of a common nature the Jewish people shares, a nature that has blossomed and emerged over the past one hundred days in the midst of utter tragedy and demoralization. As pro-Palestine rallies reached levels of frightening hostility, almost three hundred thousand Jews and Israel supporters marched through the National Mall, linking arms and singing “Acheinu,” the chorus of which loosely translates to: “May the All-present have mercy upon [sufferers], and bring them forth from trouble to enlargement, from darkness to light, and from subjection to redemption, now speedily and at a near time.” 

As protesters replaced the fight for Palestinian self-determination with a hateful crusade against cancer hospitals, we gathered together to signify the first birthday of Kfir Bibas, the youngest hostage held in Hamas captivity. I understand that this dichotomy is simplistically rendered, and thus limiting, but the core difference between the Jewish response to the Oct. 7th massacres and the shamelessness of Hamas supporters is the difference between light and darkness. Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, once stated, “We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.” Nasrallah’s premise can be extended to our present: The Jews are instructed to love and improve this world, and those who stand against us seek to radically dismantle it. In my classmates, I recognized this love and a commitment to preserving it. In my classmates, I saw a profound respect for history and a reverence for the future, and because of them, I feel hopeful.  

I am a long way from the village of my ancestors, and my generation is far removed from the death camps of generations past. But when Hamas slaughtered innocent civilians and captured our brothers and sisters, my peers and I heard, for the first time, an ancient call. 

I am a long way from the village of my ancestors, and my generation is far removed from the death camps of generations past. But when Hamas slaughtered innocent civilians and captured our brothers and sisters, my peers and I heard, for the first time, an ancient call. We have been summoned, not only to fight for our country but to speak for it. We have been tasked with honoring the memories of those who have fallen, those whose lives have been stolen from them, those who wait in Hamas captivity for the salvation they deserve. This responsibility is not one we shy away from, and we refuse to join a frenzied pursuit of hatred. Instead, my classmates and I will look to the past as we work to realize a peaceful future for all.


Rebecca Guzman is a Straus Scholar at Stern College for Women.

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