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Promoting Volunteering among the Ultra-Orthodox during Wartime

Tel Aviv University Haredi researcher sees “a real change”.

Minutes after Shabbat ended on what Israelis now call “Black Saturday”—the 7th of October, 2023—Dr. Nechumi Yaffe, researcher and senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Public Policy, began organizing what became the “Unity War Room”—one of the largest efforts of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population for volunteering in the country’s toughest times. Yaffe was the right woman for the job. Coming from a Hasidic family and being a trailblazing ultra-Orthodox researcher in Israeli academia, she has an established network of connections within Haredi communities throughout the country. She was able to mobilize these contacts to quickly establish a massive organized group of volunteers. About 14,000 volunteers joined the initiative within the first few days of the war. This kind of engagement was remarkable given the attitude of isolation and non-involvement the ultra-Orthodox population usually adopts toward any State-affiliated outreach.
“I believe what moved them was a feeling of responsibility of being part of the Jewish people—we’re at war, we’re in crisis, we need to help,” Yaffe explains.
It was an opportunity to engage hearts and change minds among Haredim about being an integral part of Israeli society, she says. “It is as though the ultra-Orthodox suddenly woke up to the notion of citizenship and solidarity,” Yaffe recently commented to the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.  
Haredi youth running the Unity War Room command center (photo: Nechumi Yaffe)

Essential Help

Unity War Room’s goals center on three projects. The first is finding people to cook meals and procure whatever is needed by the thousands of evacuees and soldiers called up to serve on the front lines. In the first weeks of the war, the initiative’s volunteers cooked over 100,000 meals and raised close to 9 million shekels to purchase and deliver the necessary supplies. The second arm of the effort is providing support to families during funerals and mourning periods (shivas) and also on happy occasions when a family may have no resources to organize a celebration. The volunteers make sure families have everything they need. So far, over 4,000 volunteers attended funerals and accompanied mourners. The third part of the initiative is finding people to help on farms and other workplaces that have been left short-staffed. Unity War Room enlisted the help of various seminaries and yeshivas to participate, and they joined in with over 6540 people who have volunteered thus far.

Historic Change

To put the network on track toward operating efficiently, Yaffe and her team (which included her daughters and friends), organized improvised trainings for some of the ultra-Orthodox youth to learn how to manage basic Excel sheets and computer work. “Now we have people in charge for every region of the country, and I don’t need to be personally involved anymore,” Yaffe proudly notes. Throughout the process, Yaffe, who researches the Ultra-Orthodox population, is observing, measuring, and recording.
“I can’t stop, I’m addicted to data,” she jokes. Then adds solemnly, “We’re seeing a real change here.”
Yaffe has run 11 surveys since the start of the war, and she says the data show a marked shift in attitudes among the Haredi volunteers towards nationalism and solidarity. “The sharp increase may be temporary, but I’m sure that things will not be the same in the ultra-Orthodox segment of the population after the war is over,” she concludes.

Extending a Helping Hand to Farmers in Israel’s South

Tel Aviv University’s students, staff and faculty work the fields near the Gazan border.

In the last seven weeks about 800 TAU students, faculty and staff have traveled to farms near the Israeli-Gaza border to provide much-needed assistance in agricultural work. Farmers in border communities found themselves among the groups most affected by war ever since it began on October 7th. “Ever since the University started organizing volunteering activities, we saw that some of the most urgent calls came from local farmers who were left without workers and were struggling for help,” explains Meirav Levy, the head of Tel Aviv University’s Community Outreach at the Equity and Diversity Commission. The initial connection between TAU volunteer coordinators and farmers on the ground was made through Prof. Yftah Gepner of TAU’s School of Public Health. Gepner, who lives down south near the small town of Ein haBesor, was involved in the horrific events there on October 7th and saved his injured brother from the terrorists. “Prof. Gepner connected us with the farmers, and since then our coordinators have been in direct contact with them, determining their needs in real-time and directing efforts accordingly,” Levy explains. Three times a week a bus with about 40 TAU volunteers arrives at the farm that needs it most to salvage the harvest or help sow a new one. Many volunteers return again and again, getting to know the farmers better and forming personal bonds.
“I’d rather be here, helping out, than sitting far away in front of my computer and reading the news,” says Ari Spielman, a student in the International MA in Environmental Studies Program at TAU’s Lowy International School.
Spielman arrived in Israel from New York the day after the war broke out and decided to stay. Since then he has been active in many volunteering initiatives, even forming a non-profit to collect money abroad for purchasing essential supplies for the evacuees. It’s his third time helping on a farm.
The Tel Aviv University group of volunteers, including international students, research students, faculty and staff
Many other international and Israeli students volunteer on the farms, as well as Israeli doctoral and post-doc students, faculty and staff.
“I recommend to anyone who can – go out into the fields and help out our farmers. They are in dire need of capable hands. I spent a day picking beautiful tomatoes, and for us volunteers, the feeling is great and very rewarding, but of course, this is a very temporary solution. If something is not done to systematically help out Israeli agriculture, our food security could be at risk in the next crisis,” says Adi Walzer, Head of Content at TAU’s Marketing Division.
Levy of TAU’s Community Outreach believes that the assistance to farms in the periphery not only addresses an immediate need but also fosters strong connections with the agricultural community for the long term.

Ignoring the Sexual Violence of October 7 Endangers All Women

Tamar Herzig, Vice Dean for Research of the Entin Faculty of Humanities at Tel Aviv University explains:

“The cruel sexual violence inflicted on Jewish girls and women in the course of Hamas’ attack on Southern Israel was filmed by body cameras and uploaded to social media by the perpetrators and their collaborators on October 7. In these videos, the terrorists are heard discussing plans to rape specific girls. They are also seen parading the rape victims that they kidnapped to Gaza, with their clothes ripped off and blood gushing from between their legs. Raped victims who were rescued from the massacre and brought to the Israeli acute response center testified to the assaults that they underwent. Over the next few weeks, forensic evidence collected from bodies of murdered Israeli girls indicated that they, too, had been brutally raped; in some cases, in such a violent manner that their legs and pelvis bones were broken. Survivors of the massacre testified to having witnessed the group raping and cutting off of the breasts of a young Israeli woman. Rescue team members attested to the mutilation of the genitals of murdered Israeli girls who were found stripped naked and covered with blood and semen in their own bedrooms.
All this accumulated evidence, however, did not convince the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), or any other UN body, for that matter, to condemn the horrendous sexual violence meted on Israeli civilians, from girls to elderly women, on October 7.
The statement that the CEDAW finally issued almost two weeks later referred only vaguely to the “gendered dimensions of [the] conflict” between Israelis and Palestinians in general. This statement refrained from explicitly recognizing the mass raping of female Israelis that took place during the massacre of October 7 and—more importantly—from providing the raped Israelis who are still held as hostages in Gaza the urgent medical treatment they require and from protecting them from further sexual assault. The deafening silence of global feminist organizations that were expected to spearhead the acknowledgment of gender-based violence in its most severe manifestations was followed by a denial campaign. This was led by activists such as Samantha Pearson, director of the University of Alberta’s sexual violence center, who disputed the rapes executed by members of Hamas in Israel.
There is, of course, nothing new in discrediting claims of sexual abuse per se. What is astonishing is the willingness of feminist activists and organizations to abandon what came to be regarded as the sacrosanct motto of the #MeToo era: “I believe you.” How can we explain the fact that those very same women, who would insist on recognizing the sexual harassment of a woman based solely on her claim that she was molested, even in the absence of corroborative evidence, refuse to accept the abundant evidence—including, but certainly not limited to, testimonies of female survivors of the massacre—attesting to the horrific assault on Israeli girls and women?
This is all the more puzzling in light of the important advances in the efforts to redress rape as a prosecutable war crime, over the past thirty years.

The History of Wartime Rape

Wartime rape has a long history; we may trace its early manifestation in the myth of the founding of Ancient Rome, by means of the serial raping of women of the neighboring tribe, known as the Rape of the Sabine Women, in the eighth century BCE. Yet it was only in the wake of the war in Bosnia (in 1992-1994) that the rape of enemy women during armed conflicts became a prosecutable crime and, when perpetuated systematically, also recognized as a crime against humanity. This, as feminist legal historian Catharine MacKinnon reminds us, amounted to the recognition that when a woman is raped, the humanity of a human being is severely violated. But while it is commonly used as an effective strategy of war, research has shown that rape in armed conflicts is not inevitable and that its frequency and severity vary considerably. In her powerful 2020 book Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: War through the Lives of Women, Christina Lamb reminds us that rape remains the world’s most neglected war crime. When people think about war and when journalists discuss ethnic or national conflicts, what they refer to as ‘casualties’ is those who were killed, not those who were ‘just’ brutally raped. As a form of violence that is targeted primarily at women, wartime rape is easily forgotten and its significance is belittled. In a recent study, I have shown how the brutal group raping of Jewish women from North Africa, who were captured by Italian corsairs in 1610, was intentionally erased from the archival record shortly after it occurred. Then, as now, the intersection of sexual violence, gender, and ethnicity ignited erasure. Interestingly, Lamb notes the almost complete avoidance of rape in the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from 1948 until 2019. And indeed, before October 7, 2023, the occurrence of rape in this prolonged conflict was so rare, that one anthropological study even focused on the possible causes of its almost complete avoidance. According to American political scientist Elisabeth Jean Wood, it is unlikely that the rarity of known rapes perpetuated by both parties in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict—before the systematic raping of October 7—reflects underreporting, given the intensity of international scrutiny on their behavior. As Wood observes, close monitoring by human rights organizations does not seem to deter both sides in other practices, such as the killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers and of Israeli civilians by Palestinian groups and individuals.
The sexual violence that took place on October 7, then, constitutes a dramatic watershed in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, one that should have called for a massive mobilization of feminist outrage. Instead, it has met with silence and discrediting. Denying its occurrence not only adds to the suffering inflicted on its female victims but also undermines the most significant achievements of global feminism in the last half century, thereby endangering girls and women across the world.”

Tamar Herzig is the Konrad Adenauer Professor of Comparative European History and Vice Dean for Research of the Entin Faculty of Humanities at Tel Aviv University. She is a 2019 laureate of the Kadar Family Award for Outstanding Research.


TAU Announces Second Round of Assistance for Every Student on Reserve Duty

Tel Aviv University announces: 6,000 students called up to reserve duty will receive a second round of financial assistance – between 2,000 and 9,000 NIS, based on needs and the type and duration of service in the reserves.

As previously reported, when the war broke out TAU announced the first round of assistance – an immediate grant of 1,000 NIS for every student called up to reserve duty. In the second round TAU will considerably increase the grant:

  • Every student called up to reserve duty will receive 2,000-6,000 NIS based on needs and the type and duration of service in the reserves.
  • Combatants will receive a minimum of 3,000 NIS and up to 9,000 NIS.
  • Students who live in the TAU dormitories and have been called up will be exempt from rent payments for October, November, and December.

In addition, TAU will offer dedicated grants to students who have not been recruited in several different situations: students encountering financial difficulties due to the war, and students personally injured or otherwise directly impacted, or whose families were directly affected by the hostilities. Hundreds of scholarships based on socioeconomic status will be offered to students residing in the dormitories who have not been called up, to help them pay the rent.

Data collected by the university indicate that about 6,000 TAU students have been called up since the beginning of the war. All will be awarded grants in appreciation for their service, and in the understanding that when they do come back, they will have to focus on their studies, with less time for earning a living.

The grants will be paid from the Emergency Fund established by TAU immediately after the war broke out, financed by the university’s donors.

International Admissions 2024/25 Now Open

Start Your Academic Journey at Tel Aviv University.

The Lowy International School of Tel Aviv University is now accepting applications for degree programs for next year. In 2024/25, TAU will be offering four undergraduate and twenty graduate degrees taught entirely in English. International students are invited to choose from a variety of interdisciplinary fields, ranging from humanities to disaster management and sustainability. Classes in most programs will begin in late October – early November 2024. This fall, while delaying the start of Hebrew programs due to the war, TAU successfully kicked off its international programs, reflecting the university’s resilience and the determination of its diverse community to pursue academic goals.
“We take pride in our amazing management team, dedicated faculty, and resilient students who, despite the challenges of the ongoing war, successfully launched the program on schedule. They’ve gained firsthand experience in crisis management,” — Prof. Jakie Goren, Head of the Sofaer Global MBA program
She adds: “Seeing international students here on campus is amazing and inspiring — it’s a true picture of winning. The students see our classes as a safe zone for everyone.” Sofaer Global MBA students with Prof. Goren, the head of the program Some international students are not currently in Israel and several Israeli students have been recruited to their reserve military service. In such cases, the teaching is handled in a hybrid mode – in person in classes and to a Zoom audience at the same time, or through Zoom only. All classes are recorded, and all materials are uploaded to the TAU site to support the learning process. “We are glad to share that all planned classes are taking place, 75% of the students are joining the classes and we are on the right track,” comments Prof. Eviatar Matania, Head of the Cyber Politics and Government MA Program. Suzanna Mesa Uribe arrived in Israel from Colombia at the beginning of November, two weeks after the start of classes in the Sofaer MBA program. For her, being in the classroom with other students is important so she was happy to switch from Zoom to in-person studies.
“I feel amazingly safe here.”
“I thought I would come to do a test run and in the first two days I decided that I am going to stay.”

Beyond the Classroom: Learning Through Social Action

Current events have effectively been incorporated into the learning experiences this year, with Disaster Management majors joining a hands-on session on first aid, or MBA students tackling wartime fake news during a hackathon. What is more, international students at TAU have started their own volunteer initiatives, contributing to university-wide efforts.   A meeting of the student task force One of the most prominent student initiatives is a social media task force to combat misinformation online and oppose terror. Another initiative, Operation Manna, aims to raise funds to buy essential supplies for evacuated and affected families. Many international students also volunteer at the farms to help farmers from the south of the country, donate blood, and meet with affected Israeli families on and off campus to offer their support and solidarity. Through these activities, students gain a unique experience of community involvement and valuable additions to their portfolios and professional skill sets.

Building a Community on Campus

Students also have a chance to engage in any of the numerous events led by the Lowy student life team, who are in the dorms around the clock to ensure that international students feel at ease at the university. “There are a lot of activities organized by students themselves but also by student life teams – they are constantly in touch with us through authorized WhatsApp groups and emails, checking upon us and welcoming us to visit them at the university if we need anything or just to talk over a coffee. They have been helpful and nice,” comments Dhanashree Mundhe, a PostDoc from India

Stand Together. Discover Together. Study Together

In these challenging times, considering a study opportunity at TAU is more than an academic pursuit; it becomes a statement of solidarity. Choosing to study in Israel stands as a symbolic act of support, countering the rising tide of antisemitism worldwide. TAU encourages prospective students to join a community that values diversity and the pursuit of knowledge in the face of adversity.
“While it has been a very challenging time for us, we have never been more committed to providing students from around the world a first-class education. Together, we will not only prevail but excel.” — Maureen Meyer Adiri, the Director of the Lowy International School
As applications open, Tel Aviv University invites aspiring students from around the globe to be part of an academic journey that transcends challenges and cultivates resilience, empathy, and global citizenship. Prospective students can visit the official website to explore programs, application details, and the opportunities awaiting them at Tel Aviv University.

45 Days into the War — An Update from the TAU President

The challenges awaiting us in the near and more distant future.

Nov. 20, 2023

Dear staff and faculty members, students, alumni and friends of TAU,

Time passes, yet our grief over the calamity of October 7 refuses to fade. Every day we learn more about the atrocities committed by the Hamas murderers and about the bravery of women and men who risked their lives to save others. The events of that cursed Shabbat remain excruciatingly real. To these we add the pain over the loss of our finest sons and daughters in the ongoing war, intermingled with the tormenting worry about those who have been kidnapped.  Sometimes it seems that our hearts simply cannot contain so much sorrow and pain.

But as the war goes on, we have no choice but to adapt our daily lives to a “wartime routine,” and, perhaps even more important, to prepare for the future. This is our reality here in Israel and Tel Aviv University is no exception. About a week ago a report on volunteering on campus was sent out to the TAU community. For details please see the TAU website. If you have not volunteered so far, please consider options here. We recently adopted a school from Kiryat Shmona in the north, with hundreds of students, and they are now studying on our campus. We are also assisting Sapir College which, since it is located near the border with Gaza, suffered enormous losses in the massacre. We adopted preschools, invited evacuees to reside in our dormitories, and much more.

In this letter I would like to list some of the challenges awaiting us in the near and more distant future. Most are shared by all academic institutions in Israel, and some are broad national challenges in which academia has a stake.

Reservists. We have a profound obligation to support thousands of TAU students now serving in the IDF reserves. We have raised donations to help them now, in this difficult hour, and also when they return and resume their studies. For details please click here. The university, under the leadership of the Rector and Deans, is also getting ready to provide them with any needed academic assistance once the academic year begins. We call upon our faculty members to contribute to this effort by volunteering to teach beyond their regular hours. The Rector and I, together with many other faculty members, have already announced that we will do so.

Relations between Jews and Arabs. A major concern as we prepare for resuming studies is the tension between Jews and Arabs on campus. Needless to say, Arab Israelis had nothing to do with the horrors of October 7 – no more than any other Israeli citizen. But despite this obvious truth, a number of opportunists are using the situation to spread venom and hatred against Arabs. Speaking with faculty members and students from both sectors, I found that some of the Jews fear Arabs, while some of the Arabs fear Jews. Some Arabs told me that they avoid using public transportation and speaking Arabic in public, for fear of being harassed or even attacked. Such a destabilization of the already delicate relations between Jews and Arabs is not only an injustice to all citizens of Israel, but a real strategic threat to our future. The Israeli government must assume responsibility for this problem and rebuild trust among all citizens.

As we prepare to resume studies on campus, we must make the necessary plans to ensure the personal safety of all members of the TAU community – Jews and Arabs, on campus and in the dormitories. TAU’s VP for Equity, Diversity and Community, the Dean of Students, and unit heads are working together to preempt any tensions that might erupt on campus. We will spare no effort to make sure that each and every member of our community feels safe at TAU. This is our common home, shared by all. The management and all members of the TAU community have a responsibility to keep it safe and peaceful.

This last matter also has to do with freedom of expression. Democracy is not suspended in wartime. If anything, its importance increases. Therefore, freedom of expression will continue to be upheld so long as it does not involve any imminent danger of violence or incitement. But beyond this basic rule, we need to maintain an unaggressive atmosphere on campus and to keep peace in our home; let us all refrain from saying or doing anything – even if supposedly permissible – that might exacerbate tensions.  At this time especially, let us be sensitive toward one another.

The independence of academic institutions. The independence of academia is the lifeblood of democracy.  But even now, as the war rages, we see attempts to undermine this independence, to supposedly “restore order” to the academic institutions. We, the Heads of Israeli Universities, are on our guard in this respect as well.

Budget. War is a costly affair and will probably lead to substantial cuts in the budgets of the government’s ministries. Funding for higher education might be reduced. In addition, we do not yet know how the war will affect donations to scholarships and research when many donors may prefer to support Israel’s most urgent, frontline needs. I call on both the government and our TAU supporters to understand that Israel’s universities are not a peacetime luxury but a key and central component of the country’s most critical foundations: the economy, technology, medical capabilities, security, education, and culture.

Threats to democracy. As we all remember, this war was preceded by a deep crisis in Israeli society. Right now, at least at first sight, the crisis seems to be over, and unity is the order of the day. We all hope that this unity is here to stay, but there is no guarantee. In fact, some occurrences are greatly disturbing in this respect. First, we have recently seen attempts to limit the public’s freedom of speech and right to protest. Second, violent acts perpetrated by Jewish extremists against Palestinians in Judea and Samaria are not treated with suitable firmness. Third, we see extensive efforts to hand out firearms to large segments of the population, under the pretext that this is a lesson learned from the events of October 7. It is doubtful whether the enormous risks of widespread possession of firearms by civilians (such as shooting accidents due to unprofessional handling, and criminals gaining access to guns) have been seriously considered. One especially troubling concern is that, after the war, these firearms might make legitimate political disputes or demonstrations especially volatile and dangerous.

It is our duty to alert the public to these threats, even if its attention is now naturally focused on other matters.

These are just some of the challenges that Israeli academia will face in the coming months and years. We will all do everything in our power to overcome them.

Let us all hope for better days, for the swift return of the children, women and men kidnapped by Hamas, for the healing of the wounded in body and spirit, and for the success and safety of our soldiers.


Ariel Porat

Offering Support to Survivors of October 7th

TAU Social Work student Ella Roim works with survivors, says all Israel is helping recovery.

As Israel struggles through a war set off by one of the worst events in its history, families from victimized communities have been evacuated from their homes and are just beginning to process what they experienced. Many are staying in venues in Tel Aviv (including in the Tel Aviv University dorms), where psychologists and social workers have been brought in to help redress their needs. One such counselor is Ella Roim, a second-year master’s student at TAU’s Bob Shapell School of Social Work. She also works with at-risk girls while training as a clinical social worker for youth. When the war broke out, Roim was assigned to a Tel Aviv hotel to work with evacuated families from Sderot, a small city near the Gaza border which was already the target of constant rocket attacks for many years before terrorists infiltrated on October 7th. Calming the Chaos “The first step has been making sure the evacuees’ most basic needs are met. Food, clothing, baby formula, toiletries. Here and there, I get the chance to talk with them and hear what they’re feeling,” Roim says. She and her fellow workers’ main task thus far has been gathering donations and recruiting volunteers.   Roim says that for the first few days, things were chaotic. Sderot is a community with many children, and parents are so emotionally and physically exhausted that helping the children stay calm is extremely difficult. On top of that, both children and parents are in a state of panic as they grapple with the recent trauma and with the uncertainty of when they will be able to return home—and whether their homes are even there anymore. “Right now, they feel like refugees.” During her talks with the survivors, Roim hears repeated expressions of fear and disillusionment. “We Israelis always felt that we were being kept safe, and that we could live our lives because we trusted the army. These people waited hours in fear for the IDF to show up…for them, that trust has been broken.” Some of the victims have trouble eating and sleeping, Roim says, and some continue to have flashbacks. Survivors at Roim’s Tel Aviv hotel release many balloons as a gesture of solidarity with the over 200 hostages still held in Gaza. Community Support  Even as things seem grim, Roim emphasizes that the Israeli people have truly come together to ensure these families can get the care they need. “Every single call I’ve put out for donations has been answered in a matter of hours. Tons of volunteers have come to help clean up the hotel, to play with the kids, to offer various treatments and services, and more.” She says that among the volunteers are professional psychologists, counselors, and even beauticians who offer things like free makeup and haircuts. “I feel like the goal of the country right now is to help survivors feel that they’re not alone and that we have their backs.” She says that though the work is very challenging and emotionally draining, she loves the people she works with and she finds strength in Israel’s communal response. Roim partially credits her studies at TAU with helping her feel prepared for her fieldwork. “The professors are also working professionals; I feel like I’m learning from people who have real experience in the field.”

‘We Need Some Light to Get Us out of the Dark We Have Been in Since October 7.’

International students hear from hostages’ families.

On November 9 and 12, TAU international students visited the Tel Aviv Museum plaza to meet with relatives of hostages held in Gaza. The visits were organized by the Lowy International Student Life team at the request of the students who have been actively participating in various volunteer initiatives since the outbreak of the war in Israel. Over 230 people of all ages and many nationalities are still held in Gaza after being captured in the October 7 surprise attack by terrorists. Families and friends of many of them gather every day at the plaza to raise global awareness of the ongoing human tragedy and to demand the immediate release of hostages. The Tel Aviv Museum plaza has effectively become the headquarters of the hostages’ families and is now dubbed the Hostage Square. Some of the people at the plaza shared their harrowing stories with the students who came to show their solidarity and support for the kidnapped and their loved ones. Itay Svirsky, originally from kibbutz Beeri, was visiting his parents at the kibbutz over the Sukkot holidays, as is customary in Israel. On Saturday morning, Itay was with his mother Orit in their safe room. Orit and her husband, Itay’s father, were murdered. Itay was initially declared missing, but a couple of days later, the family received a notification from the IDF that he had been taken to Gaza.   “We don’t know anything about his physical condition, but in the past two years, Itay has learned many tools that can help him treat himself and others.
I have no doubt that if his physical condition allows him, this is what he is doing now – supporting himself and the people around him and spreading his amazing light wherever he is.
We are praying and waiting for him to come back because we also need some light to get us out of the dark we have been in since October 7,” said Itay’s friend and colleague.     The neighbor of Adina Moshe, a 72-year-old hostage from Nir Oz, related the losses that their kibbutz had suffered, with about 70 people kidnapped and 30 more killed out of the population of 400. “That’s a quarter of our population gone now. We still have no news and we hear nothing about the kidnapped. Terrorists dragged Adina through the window of the safe room after killing her husband. They put her on a motorcycle between themselves and took her to Gaza. We don’t know what her condition is – she is not so healthy, she has a heart problem, and we don’t know if she’s getting any medicine or food, or if she is sleeping ok.
We want her back. Today.”
  It was a moving experience for the students, and some stayed at the plaza until late evening to absorb it all and to join the relatives in their prayers and talks.

Erica Katzin (US/Israel), student in Sustainable Development master’s program, commented:

“Learning the full extent of the situation after the initial attack was just devastating. We went to sleep on October 6 and we woke up to rockets. We live in Israel, we signed up for rockets, but no one signs up for this, for the kidnappings. I can’t believe the reality of it. October 6 feels like ages ago.
I can’t stop thinking about the hostages. I think about them every day.
So many people are not OK. I think about the babies– they need basic things like milk, clean diapers. It’s very hard for me.”    

Voices of TAU: “It is Important to Try to Change Public Opinion and to Talk about the Hostages”

TAU PhD student is advocating for the release of Israeli hostages in Gaza.

The Lowy International Bulletin has talked to Neta Fibeesh, a neurobiology PhD candidate at TAU who is researching Parkinson’s disease under the supervision of Dr. Ben Maoz and Prof. Uri Ashery.

You are involved in a project in the UK helping to raise awareness of the hostages. Can you tell us about it?

I have been one the organisers of a grassroots initiative, which is advocating for the release of the hostages. Our website is The initiative began in America where two artists, Dede Bandaid and Nitzan Mintz, designed posters which could be printed and stuck up to raise awareness of the hostage crisis. Two Israelis in London, Yair Oshman and Eyal Biram, bought this initiative to the UK and since then the project has been exponentially growing. We currently have almost 2,000 volunteers in our WhatsApp group, who not only stick up the  posters in the streets of London but also attend our solidarity rallies. To date we have organised three rallies, including: a human chain where volunteers held posters of the hostages in Trafalgar Square; a similar event outside the Qatar embassy; and, most recently, a huge event in Parliament Square where key speakers attended to call for the release of the hostages. The main goal of these initiatives are: most importantly to demand the release of the hostages, to increase international pressure and assistance with such, and also to gain global recognition that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that has kidnapped innocent children, women and elderly civilians.

Why did you decide to get involved?

I arrived back in London [from Israel] on 10.10.23, three days after the war began, because my parents and brother live in London. When I landed, I was completely devastated. I saw most of my friends and cousins either still in the IDF or recruited to military reserves, and I felt helpless. On my first day in London, we went to visit a close friend of my parents, Michal Cohen-Sagi. Michal is married to Noam Sagi. They are Israelis who live in London and Noam is originally from Kibbutz Nir Oz. His 75-year-old mother, Ada Sagi, a Hebrew and Arabic teacher, has been taken hostage.
The news about the hostages is heartbreaking whether you know someone who has been kidnapped or not.
Whilst I sat with Michal, I was so unbelievably upset that my parents’ dear friends were going through this. I had heard that Eyal and Yair were distributing posters in London that afternoon and, initially, I was unsure whether to go because I was a bit concerned about the antisemitism. But after seeing Michal, I decided I must do something to help, even if it is just to stick up posters and raise awareness.

When you were putting up signs, you were confronted by people trying to tear them down. What went through your mind at that moment?

I think the first thing I felt was shocked and scared. I was stunned by the aggression of the people tearing down the posters. They did not stop and ask a question or even attempt to engage in a meaningful debate about the situation; they were  simply hostile and full of hatred.
The complete lack of empathy and anger was just beyond my understanding …
All we wanted was to raise awareness and advocate for the hostages in a peaceful and non-threatening manner, but – having been in Israel and [having] had friends and family personally affected by the situation – my emotional capacity was  too low to argue with them any further, so we waited until they left and picked up the posters which had been torn down and stuck them up again. I did not expect the video I took to instantly become viral, but for the next few days news reporters across the world were interviewing me. I remember consulting with my parents whether to do the interviews or not because I was worried about the antisemitism, but I decided that this was precisely their aim: to stop us from voicing our opinions and sharing the terrible tragedy the Israeli nation has experienced. [I realized] that it is important to try to change public opinion and use these platforms to talk about the hostages.

Do you have a message you would like to share with the world about the hostages?

I would like to remind the world that this escalation was initiated when Hamas committed crimes against humanity on 07.10.23. To kidnap innocent civilians of all ages – women and men, Israelis and non-Israelis – is a barbaric atrocity.
Try to imagine the anguish that the affected families are experiencing.
Even though all of us in Israel are consumed by this, there are times of the day where we may stop thinking about it for a few minutes. These families cannot stop thinking about it. It is their 24/7. They do not know if their children are being looked after. They do not know if their elderly family members are receiving their medications. They do not know if they will ever see their loved ones again or find out what happened to them. There is no greater disaster and tragedy than this constant unknown. We cannot even begin to comprehend how these families feel, let alone what the hostages are going through.
People in the world who care about human rights, who claim to be progressive liberals, who are loving family members or friends, must not forget this and we must continue to demand that the hostages are released.

Message from the University President Ariel Porat

240 hostages, including babies, children, and elderly civilians are being held by Hamas since October 7, 2023. Many were snatched from their beds or captured in the midst of a pastoral music festival during the barbaric attack by Hamas terrorist, where over 1,300 Israelis were murdered.
These people are still held hostage, in clear violation of international law.
No one knows where they are, or what their condition is. Hamas is preventing the Red Cross from visiting them. These 240 hostages have rights. First and foremost, they have the right to live; and with each day that passes, the threat to their lives increases. Imagine being held captive by a terrorist organization, unable to communicate with your family, constantly fearing for your life. No person can, and no person should: this horror is beyond the limits of human imagination. And yet this is the day-to-day reality of these 240 people.
Think about their families, torn between hope and despair, having no information about their loved ones. We must help them.
Irrespective of one’s opinion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the world cannot remain silent in the face of pure evil. This is not, by any means, ‘legitimate resistance.’ This is a clear crime against humanity, and one that we must condemn and fight.
We ask that you don’t stay silent. Demand their immediate release.
Speak for the hostages, since they are deprived of the right to speak to the world. Be their voice. Now. Ariel Porat Tel Aviv University President


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