Menahem Ben Sasson's letter



Friday, August 1, 2014

Dear Friends,

This morning began with a new hope as a cease-fire was declared for 72 hours; all parties agreed to this and we had hoped for the first peaceful weekend in a month. Unfortunately, the cease-fire lasted for less than 3 hours.

We know that you’ve been closely following recent events in Israel, and we appreciate the outpouring of concern and solidarity we’ve received from our friends around the world.  I hope in this letter to update you as to how these events have affected our University, to tell you what we’ve been doing to support those on the front lines, and to answer the question that so many of you have asked us over the last few weeks: “How can we help?” Some of the items I refer to below were mentioned in several communiqués during the last month, but in spite of the possibility of being repetitive, I believe it important to reiterate these items for the inclusiveness of this communiqué.

Here at the Hebrew University, we, too, have been following the escalation of conflict with great concern: concern for the hundreds of our students - and staff - called up to reserve duty, for the children of our staff who are in the army or in the reserves, and concern for students and their families who live in areas close to the front lines. 

The home front has been united in expressions of solidarity and our campus reflects this: Just last week students and staff donated thousands of much needed socks, t-shirts, underwear, hygiene products and food items and packed them up for immediate delivery to soldiers on the front lines.  The Edmond J. Safra campus hosted a group of children from the south for a fun science day and a break from the rockets and sirens -- made possible thanks to support from our Canadian Friends.   In addition, six of the student-cadets on our Elite Military Medicine program accompanied Prof. David Gertz, head of the program, and IDF Chief Medical Officer Brigadier General Itzik Kreis to visit wounded soldiers at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem. 

This is just a small sampling of what has been going on here. We are proud of our Hebrew University family.

As many of you know, this crisis found us in the midst of our exam period, and we have been trying to enable normal academic life as much as possible, within security guidelines. This means that exams have been taking place in protected areas where necessary, and we are giving special considerations for exam dates and deadlines to  students affected by this crisis, in particular those called up for reserve duty.   In the Mechina program, students on reserve duty will also be offered an extended and more flexible exam period, and we, along with our colleagues at other universities, have committed to allowing those students on the front lines to apply for university studies up until the very last minute, since they would normally be applying now and cannot.

To ensure safety on our campuses, information on security as well as counseling services was sent out to all of our students – in Hebrew, Arabic, and English - and we also offered briefing meetings about security precautions and instructions for alerts.  Our bomb shelters are opened and prepared.  We’ve taken precautions too with our summer camps – making sure that activities are in safe locations and that everyone is aware of emergency procedures.  

Our Rothberg International School hosted some 360 students on summer programs, and fewer than 20 chose to leave early.  Students received security briefings, were encouraged to voice their concerns, and were offered many on campus activities to keep them in safe areas.  However, unfortunately, student enrollment is down. Insurance companies working with students from abroad have demanded their return to their home countries, which has caused some universities to call their students back to their home campuses.   In addition, the US State Department’s travel warning and the cancellation of many flights over the last week have caused many students to cancel their registration – whether for our summer programs, or for the September Ulpan, or for study abroad in the coming year.

During the past few weeks we have often been ask ed by our many friends worldwide: how can you help?  After careful and responsible consideration (for linking financial support to a war is not a decision we take lightly), we have made a decision, and our request for help will follow soon in a letter from Vice President Ronnie Friedman.

We are proud of our campuses on which students from across the breadth of Israeli society – Jews, Muslims, and Christians, those from the center and those from the periphery, Israelis and international students from over 70 countries – study side by side.  We are proud of our teaching programs which enlighten, and of our research which improves and saves lives. We are proud of our commitment to equal opportunity for men and women, Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazim and Sephardim – for all.

Hebrew University’s mission statement remains true to Einstein’s vision of so long ago, stating: “The Hebrew University is a pluralistic institution, where science and knowledge are developed for the benefit of humankind, in an atmosphere free of discrimination and prejudice.” 

We will continue to work undeterred towards this mission.

We pray that this conflict will be resolved soon, that no child will have to fear sirens and bombs, and that all peoples of this region will live in peace. 

Click here to download a letter detailing the two worthwhile projects for which we are asking for your help at this time.

Thank you for your friendship and support.


Menahem Ben-Sasson