Jonathan Davis

Campus resilience and the rise of woke culture

Justin Galitzer from the USA is a third-year government student

The rise of “Woke Culture,” “Cancel Culture,” and the erosion of traditional values have left students on many campuses grappling with a sense of unease and apprehension. Of particular concern is the surge in instances of anti-Zionism and antisemitism, increasingly visible in academic settings. As the specter of intolerance looms large, students find themselves navigating a precarious terrain where the free exchange of ideas is often stifled by fear of ostracization and reprisal.

Campuses are witnessing chants such as “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” insinuating the destruction of Israel, along with mentions of genocide and accusations of Jews perpetrating acts akin to those of the Nazis. Instances of minimizing the Holocaust, justifications for violent acts, disruptions of freedom of speech, and the tearing down of posters depicting hostages in Gaza are disturbingly prevalent. These images, broadcast from overseas in our media in Israel, present a stark contrast to the principles of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, which upholds freedom of press and speech.

As Israel’s only private but non-profit university, Reichman University is dedicated to strengthening and nurturing the State of Israel and the Jewish world. The founder of our university, Professor Uriel Reichman, established the university’s charter based on Zionism and the values of the country’s forefathers, including Herzl, Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, and Begin. These values encompass the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the philosophy of a nation “by the people, for the people, with the minority in mind.”

In practical terms, this translates to preferential treatment for those who serve in national defense. And indeed many students on our campus have served in reserves, reflecting a deeply ingrained commitment to the nation’s security. With a significant proportion of students having served in this war, our university faces the challenge of supporting returning reservists academically and psychologically, embodying the philosophy of assisting those who serve.

Shani Birnbaum, originally from Germany and currently a third-year psychology student says, “I was fortunate enough to serve actively in the Homefront command and was later pulled into a branch responsible for civilian affairs during my reserve duty. My role involved assisting our units’ missions with a focus on our civilians. I was ‘lucky’ to manage shifts that allowed me to balance reserve duty and schooling simultaneously. Though the transition was daunting, the support I received from the university, including my professors, alleviated my fears of returning to school. They reassured me that I wasn’t alone and pledged their support academically and personally. Even after completing my reserve service, the understanding and support from professors continued unabated, making it easier to manage assignments and other responsibilities despite lingering distractions.”

Justin Galitzer from the USA is a third-year government student specializing in business. “Following October 7th, I began delivering necessary and life-saving equipment to soldiers in the North and South of Israel while waiting to find a placement in reserves. About two weeks into the war, I was placed in a unit in Hebron where we were tasked with carrying out [and] thwarting imminent attacks, finding wanted terrorists, Hamas/Palestinian Islamic Jihad affiliates, and search operations. Following the fourth month of reserve duty, the transition was drastically different than what I had experienced during my active duty or “sadir” duty. I didn’t have the necessary time to acclimate from being a soldier to a student, from getting orders in uniform to getting lectured by a professor, however, after speaking to many individuals in the same boat, we understood the most efficient way to acclimate was by jumping right back in. I was released over Shabbat and began my studies already Sunday morning following meetings with the university. Fortunately, a bridge was created between the university and its reserve students returning from a variety of places and it created a softer landing in understanding our personal and specific situation. Currently, I have been catching up on recorded classes while speaking to classmates as well who have been a huge help and assistance tool. Although daunting at first, the transition of returning to be a student during this time has highlighted for me only more the special and unique reality in Israel. One day I was in gear in a uniform with a weapon protecting the country and its citizens, the next I was in a university classroom with my computer learning about business organization management.”

Our international students also displayed bravery and resilience in the face of the war. Orly Davidov originally from Canada and in her first year studying government said about living in Israel during this time, “Being in Israel during the war was a challenging experience for me, however it strengthened me mentally more than I would have ever known. The first few days were dark, but almost immediately after my neighborhood was filled with Jewish people collecting food, clothing and money for people in displaced homes, and collecting equipment for soldiers. It inspired me to cook for a group of 50 soldiers, guarding in the north and raised money for their brigade. This is the true definition of Jewish unity in Israel.”

Gal Ben Aharon, in his second year studying communications, made Aliya from Ecuador, seven years ago. “I was here from the start of the war and it was a very complex experience. It wasn’t easy to be here, but I channeled that into volunteering as much as I could. I felt I was part of an incredible society that works together to help out, a society that will give everything for its people, a society that gets stronger as ever when they work together. That’s an amazing thing to see. All the strength and the good energy as a society was why I stayed here. I made a lot of new friends, became much closer to my friends and I really feel this war made every person in Israel stronger.”

The campus atmosphere is one of resilience, underscored by a commitment to remembering the plight of hostages in Gaza. Reservists returning to campus are embraced by students, faculty, and staff alike, fostering a sense of community and support.

In a sense, our university has become a modern-day “City of Refuge,” protecting those who express opinions, embrace their Jewish and Zionist identity, and respect minority groups. It is our fervent hope to avoid the scenes witnessed on many other college campuses. As I gaze out of my window at our gorgeous green campus, I am grateful to be part of a setting that honors the legacy of past Zionists while nurturing a new generation committed to defending those values for decades to come.

About the Author
Jonathan Davis is head of the international school at Reichman University (formerly the IDC) and vice president of external relations there. He is also a member of the advisory board of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism. Mr. Davis also serves as a Lieutenant Colonel (Res) in the IDF Spokesman’s office.