A difficult summer is coming to a close, but it’s not quite over yet for the students of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The Beersheba-based university announced that its summer semester and end-of-year exams will resume on August 26, as approved by the Home Front Command.
Due to rocket fire from Gaza, the southern university — along with other Israeli universities and colleges — was forced to interrupt its regular summer schedule and postpone the dates of its final exams for security reasons. Now schedules are returning to normal, but most students feel frustrated by the inconvenient timing of the exams, after having lost an entire summer.
At Sapir College in Sderot, the summer semester began a few weeks ago, and the fall semester is being postponed by one week, said Ruth Eitan, head of the foreign affairs unit.
“We have a lot of experience at working under difficult conditions, and our students understand the situation perfectly,” said Eitan. The school announced that classes and exams were canceled Wednesday because of renewed rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
Jerusalem’s Hebrew University did not have any major changes in the regular schedule, said spokesperson Dov Smith. A third exam period was added for all students, and a fourth exam period was offered to those who were called for reserve duty.
Israeli universities generally offer two semesters per year, and at the end of each semester, students can utilize two different exam periods. The spring semester is generally over at the end of June, and students take exams through July. Their summer vacation is in August and September, until the end of the high holidays, when the fall semester begins.
This summer, though, everything was different.
“I’ve been in reserve duty for 40 days. I got called right at the beginning of the operation,” said Oz Ohayon, 25, a first-year political science and education student at Ben-Gurion University.
Ohayon, who had planned to go to Ireland for a hiking trip with two other friends, was forced to cancel his summer plans and spend several weeks in and out of Gaza.
“I’ll be honest,” said Ohayon, an army sergeant who is still wearing his green uniform. “I’m not in a mood to study. When reserve duty will be over, I’ll have five more exams to take.”
The Ben-Gurion University campus was deserted for the entire duration of the Gaza operation in July, said Ehud Waldoks, the university’s foreign press spokesperson.
“There were more cats than people,” said Waldoks.
The nearby Soroka Medical Center, the teaching hospital affiliated with Ben-Gurion University’s faculty of Health Sciences and the largest health care facility in the southern region, was packed with injured soldiers and visitors throughout the month of July, making it the busiest section of the campus.
Most of the restaurants and coffee bars on campus were closed, added Faye Bittker, director of the department of publications and media relations. One of the two Aroma cafes operated half days while a campus cafeteria was open until 3 p.m.
Students said they appreciated the efforts by BGU and the students’ union to make the situation as easy as possible. The university kept everybody informed of developments, offered psychological counseling, and began a $1 million campaign to help out students called for reserve duty over the summer. The university also made sure to offer additional examination dates as the regular schedule resumes.
“We tried our best to reduce the potential damage of the war on the students in general, and specifically on those who are in reserve duty,” said the Ben-Gurion University student union in an official statement.
Ohayon said he feels at a disadvantage compared to his peers, who were able to study over the summer. Yet even students who weren’t called for reserve duty said they had a hard time focusing on their studies.
Psychology student Inbal Dori, 24, said the summer was challenging. Her parents live in the US, and she had to face the war-time situation without any family support. She chose to stay in the Negev and to help the civilians continue their regular routines, particularly with yoga classes she teaches regularly.
“I feel bad about complaining,” said Dori, referring to the students who were on reserve duty. “But my daily life has been difficult in the past month.”
There were BGU students, however, who did not find the university supportive enough.
“We wish that the university went easier on us, since we have to take the exams all over again,” said Yaara Markus, 24, an information science student.
“I left Beersheba and moved to my parents’ house in Rishon Lezion during the Operation,” said Markus. “Since I work in Beersheba, I didn’t get a salary for the entire summer.”
Other students decided to take a proactive approach over the course of the truncated summer session. Shachar Liran, 26, started a Facebook group, explaining to her peers how to represent Israel through social media. With the help of the university, a situation room was started on campus.
“We are not trying to delete the pain of the people in Gaza, but we are trying to balance the narrative of the war,” said Liran, whose completion of her degree was delayed by the war. The Facebook group now counts 25,000 members, and every morning Liran posts instructions, links and information to be shared, and graphics that explain the current situation.
BGU wasn’t the only university to set up a situation room — there were similar campaigns at IDC Herzliya and Bar-Ilan University — but the BGU version focused on the life of the citizens of Israel’s south, said Liran.
Despite the difficulties of the season, BGU students and professors will return to their regular routine next week.
If the rockets resume, however, said BGU’s Waldoks, Ben-Gurion University will have to postpone the summer exams once again.