Student volunteers at IDC Herzliya Hillel show their support by sorting care packages for IDF soldiers.
As this winter's situation in Gaza escalated, Hillel students around the world found themselves increasing their own activities in support of Israel, peace and stability in the Middle East.
Closest to the fighting, Hillels across Israel mobilized to assuage the impacts of war occurring in their backyard. Students and staff at Sapir College in Sderot, mere miles from the front lines, collected toys and blankets for both Israeli and Palestinian children affected by the fighting and staged movie screenings in bomb shelters to distract children from the long days inside. In Herzliya, the Hillel at the Interdisciplinary Center created over 200 care packages for soldiers fighting in Gaza. The examples of support go on and on.
"All of the Hillel Israel centers have worked hard during the Gaza crisis, whether it was collecting hot water urns for Sderot bomb shelters, sending humanitarian aid to children in Gaza, or preparing packages of warm scarves and gloves for Israel's soldiers,” explained Hillel Israel's Director General, Rabbi Yossie Goldman.” We also received many expressions of support from our colleagues and from Hillel students around the world. There are many ways that Hillel students and staff show how much they care."
Across the globe in Brazil, Hillel Rio collaborated with the city's top Middle East specialists to develop a series of panels and debates about the situation in Gaza. These programs gave students tools to address the rising anti-Israel sentiment in the city.
“It is important for us who are constantly under fire from public opinion to gain knowledge and information so we can respond to any false accusation,” explained Marcela Liberman, a student from the Rural University of Rio de Janeiro.
The well-attended evening series created an open space to express thoughts and feelings about the conflict.
"I feel I can engage in any discussion about this conflict because now I have information and real arguments as my ammunition to defend Israel,” said Liberman following the conclusion of a debate.
Far north across the equator, over 1000 students and community members rallied in Toronto, Canada to show their support for Israel hours after the mid-month ceasefire agreement, reported Toronto's The Star newspaper. Donning Israeli flags, singing, cheering, and dancing, the coalition of student groups from Toronto's York University took pride in their turnout.
Daniel Ferman, President of York University Hillel and a student member of Hillel International's Board of Directors was an organizer of the rally.
"Look at this,"exclaimed Ferman to a local Toronto reporter. "We're all here to show our support and pride for Israel."
In Moscow, Ilya Pestrikov, Regional Director of Hillel Russia, was one of hundreds to attend a pro-Israel rally arranged by Hillel in partnership with other student organizations. Over 300 Hillel volunteers, Taglit- Birthright Israel alumni, and Jewish community members showed their support for Israel's right to defend itself at this grassroots initiative.
"The reason they organized the rally was their wish to break silence of Moscow Jews during the crisis,"reflected Pestrikov.
The impact of the war was also felt by Hillels across the United States. As previously reported by Hillel News in January 2009, Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois held a candle-lit memorial service for the Israelis that perished in Gaza and arranged "Sharing Prayers for Mideast Peace”, an event co-sponsored with the Muslim Students Association, Hindu Students Association, EVOKE (Encouraging Vocation through Knowledge and Experience) and the University Ministry.
Also in the United States, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) decided to create "The Peace Initiative"as a result of a co-sponsored peace rally between Hillel and MSA.
"Students' voices are the voices of change," explained Hillels of Richmond Director, KB Levin. "This gives them a chance to really show that and to really create that change themselves."