Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The Jewish Community in the Diaspora is Failing to Fight for Israel

By: Aiden Harow  |  May 24, 2024

By Aiden Harow, Opinions Editor 

YU has long struggled with caring about people who don’t live in its immediate vicinity. As an out-of-towner, I have heard countless complaints circulating throughout YU’s non-tri-state-area community about the lack of sensitivity shown towards students who are far from home. Travel days are on Fridays, making out-of-towners choose between paying exorbitant markups on Friday flights, losing Shabbos and/or Chaggim with their families, or leaving school early, missing a day or more of class. Moreover, classes start on Thursdays, forcing out-of-towners to choose between forfeiting an entire weekend at home to make it back for a single day of class or falling behind in their studies. There is a distinct lack of vibrant Shabbos programming on campus, sending out-of-towners on a weekly scramble to find somewhere to go or risk being stranded and friendless on campus. Just last week, I tried to use the gym on the final day of classes before break, a regular school day, only to find it locked with a group of angry students futilely standing outside. Security’s explanation: many local students go home early for break, so the school didn’t consider it necessary to pay a student worker to supervise the gym. Apparently YU prices the satisfaction of its outlanders below sixteen dollars-an-hour. 

For out-of-towners, apathy is nothing new at YU. But it isn’t just us who feel its effects, nor is it limited to the administration. YU in general, administrators, rabbis, teachers, and students, has a serious problem with caring, and recent events have made that more evident than ever. Because there is a different sort of out-of-towner that YU has been neglecting, and the stakes are much higher than a lost class period or workout. 

In the wake of the horrific events of October 7, students returned to a different institution than the one they left for Sukkot break just a couple short weeks before. Tehillim and Avinu Malkeinu were recited frantically at each and every minyan. Group chats were flooded with opportunities to volunteer, whether it be by tying tzitzit for IDF soldiers or writing letters of support for them and their families. Morning seder in the Zysman Beit Midrash was paused for fifteen minutes every day so everyone learning could say Tehillim together. Operation Torah Shield 3 sent over three dozen students to Israel to volunteer and support depleted Batei Midrash at various yeshivas. Pro-Israel advocates and educators were brought in regularly to address assemblies ranging from dozens to hundreds of attendees. Classes were suspended so that students could attend pro-Israel rallies, most notably the March for Israel rally in Washington D.C., to which YU sent over 1400 students and faculty on over 30 buses. There was electricity in the air and the momentum was palpable. Everyone wanted to do their part. Everyone was bought in, committed to the Jewish state and the Jewish people. It felt like it would never end. That is until, slowly but surely, it did. 

The WhatsApp messages slowed down, before stopping almost entirely. Additional prayers began to be jettisoned against the instructions of the roshei yeshiva. Tehillim, once said passionately and with conviction, became viewed as an inconvenience, with many hustling to get out of the room to avoid getting “stuck” praying for the future of their people and their land. Some shiurim even avoided being in the room for Tehillim! Rallies became less and less frequent, and when they did happen, class schedules remained unchanged, forcing passionate students to choose between their nation and their studies. Casual conversation shifted away from what was going on and what we could be doing to help Israel, and went back to mundane, unremarkable topics such as classes and internships. Mentioning the war felt almost taboo, like it was “old news.” 

The energy that had seemed so powerful in the immediate aftermath of October 7 was gone, replaced with a pernicious sense of jaded cynicism that comes with trying to behave as if everything is normal when it so clearly is not. 

It will never be again. 

I too felt the fatigue as the war dragged on, despite my father having been drafted by the IDF on October 7 and remaining in Israel for almost three months and my countless other relatives and friends on the front lines, some of whom may never return. When Tehillim time rolled around each morning, I found myself fighting the urge to roll my eyes. When volunteer opportunities popped up, I ignored them, convinced of the fallacious notion that I somehow had more important things to do with my time. I was involved in activism, but I tried to act like life was business as usual, afraid that if I confronted the horrors of the current situation, I would not be able to function. If I could just wait this thing out, Israel would destroy Hamas, my family and friends would be safe again, and we would get back to regularly scheduled programming. After all, this conflict, while weighing heavily on the minds of Jews everywhere, only threatened the physical safety of Jews over there. We, the Americans, didn’t have to worry. We could lend our support with donations and well-meaning approbations while our brothers and sisters risked life and limb for our country. We could tell ourselves that “there was only so much we could do.” We could afford to wait. 

Well, I’m ashamed to say we waited too long. And now, we are being punished for our complacency. 

College campuses around the country have erupted into hateful protests eerily reminiscent of 1930s Germany, with masked agitators forming human chains to bar Jewish students and law enforcement from public property and vitriolic mobs calling for the deaths of Zionists and Jews. While Hamas, Qatar, and leaders around the world drag their feet, the hostages in Gaza are dying, and soon, if a deal is not reached, there will be none left. Iran launched a direct attack on Israel that, if not for the assistance of a hastily-assembled ragtag Arab/U.S. coalition, would have left thousands of Israelis dead. Hezbollah too is ready for war, firing dozens of rockets while waiting for the order to swarm across the border. My dad is going back to fight them off along with thousands of other reservists, husbands, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. 

To deny that this is our fight too is to deny reality. It’s time to start doing whatever we can to do our part in this war. If there is one thing we can learn from these horrific nationwide protests, it’s what it looks like to care enough about a cause to sacrifice comfort, physical safety, and even future career opportunities for it. Until we care as much about our people, our nation, as these misguided protesters do about a group that most of them have no relation to, we have no chance of making a difference. 

I write these articles knowing that only a handful of people will read them because I believe that every single person can change the world on any given day. If you’ve made it this far, I am begging you to ask yourself: what can I do to fight for my people? Because this is a fight for our dignity, for our freedom, and for our lives. We can’t afford to sit this one out. Ask college students in 1930s Berlin what happened the last time we tried that.