As the college scene breeds antisemitism and delegitimizes Israel across the US, IDF veterans are battling for truth by sharing their personal stories of valor, tragedy and triumph—the collective story of Israelis in Israel. In a Belev Echad-sponsored mission in cooperation with Chabad on Campus, a group of IDF veterans who were wounded in action travel across US college campuses where they meet Jewish American peers and share their experiences both as Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers defending their people and homeland.
Tony, a Penn State University sophomore, shares: “Meeting IDF soldiers right around my age who’ve experienced so much has inspired me and totally changed my attitude. They know what it means to give to defend their homeland and people.”
2020 and 2021 saw an uptick in antisemitic incidents in the US, causing many Jewish students to feel marginalized and conceal their Jewish identity.
“One of the chief problems is that, often, these incidents don’t take the form of classic antisemitism,” says Rabbi Uriel Vigler, co-founder of Belev Echad, the nonprofit organization and advocacy group sponsoring the campus mission. “Pro-Palestinian or BDS-affiliated parties proclaim, ‘We’re not against Jews, just the State of Israel.’ But practically, they object to anything Jewish-related, making every Jewish student feel threatened.”
Recently, Dana Ophir and Matan Rutger toured close to a dozen colleges on the East Coast, sharing their personal stories with hundreds of students who were deeply impacted by their commitment and sacrifice.
Matan Rutger of Kfir Brigade, was run over by a Palestinian terrorist with intent to kill. Matan survived, but required multiple surgeries and spent months in intensive rehabilitation.
Lieutenant Dana Ophir was injured in a vicious car-ramming that left four friends dead and Dana confined to a wheelchair. “I’m a walking miracle. From running ten miles without losing my breath, I became a total invalid. But I refused to succumb to fate and with titanium instead of bones in my body, taught myself to take one baby step at a time,” she relates.
“When I visit the campuses, I see young people who are open to hearing us,” says Rutger. “When they hear what I went through, they identify, connect. They understand that military service is not about aggression or occupation, but about defending my own family and countrymen and that we’d so much rather live in peace than carry weapons. This opens their heart.”
Matan and Dana spoke with us from Penn State where 80 students assembled in the hall to hear their stories of courage and heroism.
Rabbi Hershy Gourarie of Penn State Chabad-Undergrads says, "Hosting Belev Echad was an absolute pleasure. It’s amazing for students see true dedication, heroism and what it means to overcome obstacles and really defend your homeland.”
“Using my personal miracle to open eyes to the truth of life in Israel has become my mission!” declares Dana. “Some colleges we visited reacted with barrages of protests, but I’m not afraid. We’re committed to fighting this war for truth.”