By Rivka Inger, Senior Features Editor
In the days and weeks following the outbreak of war in Israel and Gaza, the same question rang through the heads of nearly everybody that I know: “What can I do to help?” Donating to various Israeli organizations is always an option, but many felt that they wanted to support Israel on the front lines, whether in the literal sense or by directly interacting with the people of Israel to help them fight terrorism, rebuild, and sustain a positive attitude throughout the ordeal. As such, applications opened for the tremendous opportunity for students to travel to Israel for a week in order to do chessed (charity) for Israeli citizens, farmers, organizations, and armed forces during this time of great need.
From November 19 to 26, approximately thirty carefully selected students embarked on a mission to accomplish exactly this goal. Operation Torah Shield 3, as the trip was called, is a misnomer, as it’s in truth the fourth time that a cohort of students was sent to provide support to Israel in a time of war. The trip was dynamic, inspiring, and even fun, with one description sharing “YU students make food for displaced families in Beit Shemesh and are extremely happy about it.”
The Operation Torah Shield Instagram served as a hub of live information as to the activities of the trip. In their initial post, they stated that their goals throughout the mission included, but were not limited to, “supporting disabled families, helping farmers harvest crops, special events for children of displaced families, mechazek (encouraging) our soldiers, [and] support the Israeli economy.” As is seen through their posts, the students were truly working tirelessly day and night, traveling around the country to not only help in the aforementioned ways, but in any way that they could. In one heartwarming video, the group passed by a soldier on his way into Gaza, and made a pit stop to dance with him and give him some encouragement.
Though the main focus of the mission was undoubtedly the chessed and providing help to Israelis in need and Israel as a whole, the students also attended a number of meaningful trips and shiurim (lectures) at various locations to fully appreciate the tragedy that had unfolded. Of course, numerous stops at the Western Wall were essential, connecting to the spiritual side of Israel and remembering that, despite everything, it’s still G-d’s land which was handpicked for us as His nation. On the topic of the spiritual side of the war, Yedidya Schechter (YC ‘24) had to say, “The power of resilience and inner strength of Israeli people was something we all witnessed first hand and were amazed by. To see individuals living their life and pursuing their values even when it is unimaginably difficult, is infinitely inspiring and makes us think about what higher values we live for.”
This changed the mission’s focus from solely concentrating on aiding the Israelis to also learning about the perseverance of the Jewish people, particularly those in Israel, and experiencing pivotal moments from these historic periods. Tehila Bitton (SCW ‘24) recalls visiting the site where the Nova Festival massacre occurred, and seeing the eeriness of cars still sitting in the desert, ridden with bullets. The group also went to the now abandoned town of Sderot, where Tehila spoke about the appalling amount of destruction in the wake of Hamas’ invasion. It goes without saying that experiencing these sights first hand was an incredibly surreal experience, one which the participants of the trip- or all of Israel, for that matter, are unlikely to ever forget.
If there was one message to take from the entire trip, Tehila summarized it perfectly: “Just like the rain clears the dust, [h]ard times clear away all the hate and animosity. Leaving behind only love and unity.” No matter what the Jewish people go through, they always persist. They are undoubtedly people of hope who know how to both help themselves and are eager to help one another, as is so clear from the commitment of the students on Operation Torah Shield. Even in the hardest times, we never stop being there for one another.