"If you don't struggle with life, and with God, you cannot continue in this world. You need to be strong enough to be able to struggle; not to overcome, but to struggle."
These are the words that former Hillel Director Rabbi Seth Mandell imparted to several hundred Jewish professionals at the 2003 Hillel International Professional Staff Conference in Princeton, N.J.
Mandell, former Hillel director at Penn State University and the University of Maryland, College Park, made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel in 1996. On May 8, 2001, Mandell's 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by Palestinian terrorists while hiking with his friend.
For the first time, Mandell spoke to his colleagues about the tragedy that befell his family in a session titled "Healing Myself, Helping Others."
"My response was to act: I had to allow the tragedy to change me, to force me to be someone I wasn't," said Mandell.
In 2002, Seth Mandell and his wife Sherri founded the Koby Mandell Foundation to provide the families of terror victims with camps and support groups. He credited his success in creating the foundation to his experiences as a Hillel professional.
"My connection to the Hillel world was nurturing and meaningful. One of the things that we know as Hillel directors is how to put things together," said Mandell. "It also helped us, to use my son's life, to take the pain and anguish that we feel, and to do something good with his memory."
Mandell thanked the Hillel professionals who expressed their support for his family throughout their ordeal and who visited them during the mourning period.
"My job as a human being is to take Koby's name, his spirit and continue his kiddush hashem (honoring God)."