An international Hanukka ceremony at IDC

The event was designed to give encouragement to foreign students in Israel in light of growing anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel on university campuses abroad.

December 13, 2015 02:59
RECANATI INTERNATIONAL School student Amit Rose (right) was honored at a special hanukkia candle-lig

RECANATI INTERNATIONAL School student Amit Rose (right) was honored at a special hanukkia candle-lighting ceremony in Herzliya Thursday night. Also pictured is Hillel Israel CEO Alon Friedman.. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN)

A unique Hanukka candle-lighting event was staged at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya Thursday night in which international students from Jewish communities around the world joined with Israeli students to light the hanukkia on the fifth night of the holiday.

The event, which was held in conjunction with Hillel Israel, the Israeli branch of Hillel International, the world’s largest Jewish student organization, and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, was designed to give encouragement to foreign students in Israel in light of growing anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel on university campuses abroad.

“It is extremely moving to see Jewish students from across the globe gather together, led by the wonderful organization of Hillel, to light the hanukkia as a symbol of illuminating hope for unity and a future that enables Jews around the world to be proud of their heritage and Jewish identity,” said Dvir Kahana, director-general of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.

There are currently 1,700 students from 80 countries around the globe attending the IDC’s Recanati International School. Data indicate that some 70 percent of students in the program either make aliya or remain living in Israel for significant periods of time, with many joining the IDF and building families and businesses in Israel. Students who return to their communities abroad become ambassadors of good will for Israel and the Jewish nation.

Among the students lighting a candle was Shir Boaron, 25, an Israeli student at the IDC who, in 2012, worked as a counselor at Camp Yavne in New Hampshire, which recent terrorism victim Ezra Schwartz attended that same year.

Schwartz, a US citizen, was killed in a Palestinian terrorist attack in the Etzion region of the West Bank last month.

Boaron said that although she had not known Schwartz well, she was connected with many friends and counselors of his via Facebook and that when his death became known her Facebook feed was flooded with messages from people expressing their shock and sadness over his murder.

“I cried all night, I went into shock when I realized what had happened even though I didn’t know him well; it brought home to me the closeness of Jews from around the world who come to Israel to contribute,” she said.

Boaron added that terrorist attacks in Israel, like the one in which Schwartz died, act as an even stronger motivator for Jewish youth to visit Israel in order to experience the country and understand it.

Jessica Cohen, 24, who made aliya from Buenos Aires and is studying at the International School also lit one of the hanukkia lights, noted that Thursday was a critical day for Argentina’s Jewish community because it was the day the country’s new president, Mauricio Macri, was sworn in replacing outgoing president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

M acri has said he will act to cancel an agreement by Kirchner to jointly investigate the 1994 AMIA bombing Jewish center in Buenos Aires with Iran in which 85 people were killed and hundreds injured.

It is believed that the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah terrorist and guerrilla organization carried out the attack with the assistance of the Iranian government, including senior Iranian political figures such as Ahmad Vahidi, who has served as commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and as Iran’s defense minister from 2009 to 2013.

Cohen described the AMIA bombing as “a big and open wound” in the collective identity of the Jewish community in Argentina, saying many people in the community are close with victims and relatives of victims from the terrorist attack. She herself had a friend who lost a parent in the attack.

She and much of the Argentinean- Jewish community now hope that those responsible for the attack will be brought to justice and that efforts to whitewash the incident by the outgoing Argentinean government will be stopped.

Cohen said that although she never felt any anti-Semitism in Argentina, making aliya after her five-month trip to Israel with the Masa Israel program was like coming home.

“Ever since I have lived in Israel I feel safer,” said Cohen. “I’m with people who share the same values, and I relate to people more here. We’re lighting Hanukka lights together at the university – that’s something that doesn’t happen in Argentina.

“I love the energy of Israel. When you first come you feel a different energy, it’s like your body tells you that this is right.

There’s a different atmosphere, it’s like magic, something that draws you into this country and doesn’t want to let you go.”

Alon Friedman, CEO of Hillel Israel, said the organization here deals mostly with Israeli students, specifically in linking them to Jewish communities abroad to strengthen their Jewish identity by exposing them to Jewish life abroad.

Friedman asserted that non-religious Jewish youth have a negative image of Judaism because of their associations of religion with the different conflicts between the religion and the state in Israel, and that exposing them to the more liberal, pluralist attitudes of Jews in the Diaspora helps show them a different way of being Jewish and reinforces their identity as Jews.

“It’s also important for Israeli students to be aware of the fact that half of our family lives outside the homeland and that we have mutual responsibility between us and the other half of the family who don’t live at home,” said Friedman.

“This mutual responsibility has been held for 3,000 years and shows how important it is to preserve one dialogue with Diaspora Jewry as opposed to the two monologues we’ve seen in recent years that have been drifting apart.”

Hillel’s efforts abroad, said Friedman, include promoting to Jewish students the idea that, as the only Jewish state in the world, Israel’s legitimacy and right to exist Israel’s must be unchallenged but that at the same time criticism of Israel and its actions is also legitimate.

“No Jew should be expected to say Israel is perfect. At the same time, what is problematic is if Israel does something wrong it does not take away its right to exist, and this is what we must promote.”

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