Jonathan Davis

Kibbutz Kfar Aza at Reichman University

Prof. Uriel Reichman, Founding President  & Chairperson of the Board of Directors, Amanda Ronson, Jonathan Davis

Photo: Alon Gilboa
Prof. Uriel Reichman, Founding President & Chairperson of the Board of Directors, Amanda Ronson, Jonathan Davis Photo: Alon Gilboa

In the Heart of the Western Negev

Situated near the Gaza Strip, Kibbutz Kfar Aza stands as a testament to resilience amidst adversity. Established along the 1948 armistice lines after the War of Independence, this kibbutz faced ongoing security threats spanning cross-border infiltrations, laying of mines, burning of fields, firing of light weapons, and rocket attacks. Despite being on the frontlines of conflict since the 1950s, the community steadfastly upheld Zionist values, weathering the storm of challenges.

On the morning of October 7, 2023, during Simchat Torah, Kfar Aza fell victim to a surprise attack by hundreds of marauding Hamas terrorists. The massacre resulted in the loss of over 1200 lives, marking the darkest chapter in Israel’s history since the Holocaust. The three-day slaughter mirrored the brutality of ISIS-Nazis, leaving devastation in its wake. Over seventy were murdered at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, including children, babies, and the elderly. Eighteen were forcibly taken to Gaza as hostages.

Following a prolonged battle with IDF troops, the kibbutz was eventually liberated, but the scars ran deep. Residents became modern-day Jewish refugees, seeking shelter across Israel.

Enter Prof. Uriel Reichman

Enter Prof. Uriel Reichman, the visionary behind Reichman University, who, hearing of their plight, made it his duty to extend a helping hand. Prof. Reichman, the ultimate academic entrepreneur in Israel, successfully transformed a rundown former anti-aircraft base in Herzliya into a thriving private and non-profit university. Prof. Reichman navigated the challenging Israeli bureaucratic system for over three decades, facing obstacles from civil servants who initially opposed the approval of our undergraduate, graduate, and PhD degrees. Despite the hurdles, he persevered, securing recognition for the university as a fully-fledged private and non-profit institution in Israel. Additionally, he collaborated with the Recanati Family to establish the largest international school in the country, offering full-time undergraduate and graduate programs taught in English to over 2400 students at the Raphael Recanati International School.

 Welcoming the Residents

The Ronson Dormitory, a state-of-the-art facility on campus, opened its doors to the displaced members of Kibbutz Kfar Aza. In a ceremony at Reichman University, Prof. Reichman welcomed the residents to their temporary home. Present at the ceremony were Prof. Boaz Ganor and top management, along with faculty and staff. Prof. Reichman’s speech echoed the principles of the university, rooted in the Declaration of Independence, emphasizing freedom, responsibility, and humanistic Zionist values.

He highlighted the university’s commitment to its Zionist values, emphasizing preferential treatment for officers from elite units during the acceptance process and going the extra mile to support reservists. When Prof. Reichman realized that the completion of the new Ronson dorm aligned with the needs of Kfar Aza residents, he swiftly responded to the call, viewing it as a manifestation of Zionist social responsibility. This connection was described as a perfect match, akin to a “marriage made in heaven” and “besheirt.”

At the ceremony, Adi Sagi a seasoned kindergarten teacher with decades of experience in the neighboring kibbutz of Nachal Oz, expressed profound gratitude to Prof. Reichman. Reflecting on her role as a kindergarten teacher, she emphasized her dedication to supporting children who required extra assistance. Drawing parallels, she noted the shared Zionist values between the kibbutz and Prof. Reichman. She tearfully recounted the hardships faced by her and her friends on the kibbutz—losses of loved ones, hostages, and the lack of a roof over their heads. Both individuals exemplify the spirit of Zionism, contributing in their unique ways to the creation and sustenance of the State of Israel.

The London Connection: Sir Gerald Ronson

Five years ago, I had the honor of meeting Sir Gerald Ronson in his London office for the first time. I felt humbled that such a prominent figure in the business world, dedicated to Zionism, positive change, and supporting those in need, was willing to see me. Given our outstanding Institute for Counterterrorism at Reichman University, we were well aware of Sir Ronson’s tireless efforts to enhance and secure the safety of individuals and Jewish institutions in the UK through his establishment of the Community Security Trust.

During a winter mission to London on behalf of Prof. Reichman and the university, Sir Ronson shared insights into his endeavors and generously presented me with a signed copy of his book, “LEADING FROM THE FRONT.” The book portrayed the journey of a British tycoon who faced failures but resiliently climbed back to the top, driven by his commitment to being a Jew, especially hailing from the East End, a sentiment close to my heart as my late Grandpa David shared the same Cockney accent.

In presenting the university and Prof. Reichman’s mission, I boldly asked Sir Ronson to consider naming our fourth dormitory after Recanati, Cramer, and Arison. His response reflected genuine interest in supporting students in need and exploring how this could be achieved. The joyous moment was sealed with a firm handshake.

An Unexpected Chapter: Kfar Aza Residents Move In

As Dame Gail and Sir Gerald Ronson later met Prof. Reichman in person in the spring, we couldn’t have imagined that shortly after the completion of this dormitory, members of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, in need of shelter, would move in. This tale unfolds the connection between a Zionist university founder, a dedicated kindergarten teacher from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, and a remarkable Zionist philanthropist from London, creating an unexpected chapter in the university’s history.

Settling In: The New Residents’ Arrival

As Kfar Aza residents settled into their new apartments, the support extended beyond shelter. Upon arrival, the new residents occupied 20 furnished apartments within the Ronson dorm. Essential items such as bedding, and kitchenware were generously provided by our esteemed alum, Tzachi Arabov, right down to flowers adorning the tables. On Friday night, an anonymous donor from London contributed a bottle of Israel’s finest wine.

A Message of Resilience

In synagogues worldwide, the reading of Exodus Chapter 12, verse 1 resonates: “But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.” Despite affliction, Kfar Aza’s residents will multiply, grow, and contribute to another chapter in the tapestry of modern Zionist history.

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.
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