I was raised in a world where Israel was always at the forefront of my mind. I spent 14 years of schooling in a place where Israel was a daily topic of conversation, a way of life. SAR Academy and High School indoctrinated me with a sense of Zionism, pride, and awareness for a country across the world. Before I could read and write, I knew the words to כחול ולבן. To me, Israel was never a question, never a conflict that I had to learn to defend.

Yet, as I remain on my college campus in the Midwest, heartbroken over terror attacks that have hit so close to home, I can’t help but hear the silence echoing across campus. How do my professors go on with their days? How do my classmates continue to motivate themselves, to participate, to dare have fun and enjoy themselves? Why don’t they all know, why aren’t they crying? My Jewish friends, why aren’t they aching for their homeland? It hurts to feel alone here in my sadness. I mourn our country, I mourn for my friends who have lost one of their brothers, I mourn for our community which has lost a truly innocent soul.

It’s taken me a few days to really figure out how to put my feelings into words. I never knew Ezra Schwartz, and yet I feel as though I have lost a brother, a family member. As so many members of our communities have mentioned, any of us could have been in Ezra’s shoes.

On a gap year, actively involved in chessed and learning, enjoying such an amazing and inspiring year with friends. Half of the faculty members from my gap year program lived in Alon Shvut: I cannot count the amount of times I had driven down those exact roads to visit different faculty at their homes during my gap year.

I feel selfish that I am able to attend university, able to go home and see my family for thanksgiving, able to return to Israel this summer b”H, while Ezra will unfortunately never get the chance. Out of the darkness of these past few days, I’ve attempted to see the tiny, flickering light. All of us feel a sense of Achdut and a connection to Ezra, as much or as little as we were able to know this boy.

Our community has come together to share, reflect, mourn, and pray for peace. The fact that so many of my friends and family are mobilizing to social media and tehillim and sharing their stories and feelings, sharing their connections and broken hearts, is something so unique to our amazing community of Am Yisrael. The light here is that we have the ability to make a difference: our voices matter. In all of this mourning, I yearn that this outpouring of love, support, and respect ringing through our community right now sheds light on the amazing, intelligent, warm, and loving brothers and sisters that make up our nation. This week, as we mourn those who have so intimately touched a part of our lives, our souls and hearts have come together from across the world: I hope that soon enough, our joint light can overcome this dark period.