30% of university students are called up for reserve duty

Israeli universities step up to support students in reserves, war effort

Aside from grants and other aid, institutes of higher education open campuses for assistance efforts, evacuee lodging

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Ben Gurion University of the Negev students work at a logistic center set up on campus, in an undated photo during the 2023 Israel-Hamas war. (Courtesy)
Ben Gurion University of the Negev students work at a logistic center set up on campus, in an undated photo during the 2023 Israel-Hamas war. (Courtesy)

As the Israel-Hamas war continues and with the academic year on hold, Israel’s major universities have all announced multi-million shekel emergency funds, while turning their campuses into logistical and housing centers.

Since the war broke out on October 7 with Hamas slaughtering 1,400 people in southern Israel, most of them civilians, and abducting over 240,  the country has been on a war footing. About 360,000 reserve soldiers have been called up for service, and a further 250,000 people have been displaced from communities around the Gaza Strip and the northern border with Lebanon.

About 30% of all university students have been called up for reserve duty during the current crisis, along with thousands of university faculty and staff, according to the Association of University Heads.

At Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, enrolled students called up for reserve duty will receive a NIS 1,200 ($300) grant and a postponement of their rental fees if they were living in university dormitories, among other benefits.

Bar-Ilan University announced grants of NIS 1,000-5000 ($250-$1250) for the more than 6,000 registered students who are now serving in the military. The grant is to be “applied towards housing and tuition, emotional support, and additional study hours during the academic year,” the university said in a statement.

The over 5,000 students from Tel Aviv University who have been called up will receive grants of NIS 1,000 ($250), the university announced last week.

“TAU intends, moreover, to make substantial additional grants, especially for those serving in combat or combat-support units. TAU will also provide additional aid to students on reserve duty or those from the north and south of Israel who are now facing immediate financial problems,” the university said.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced Sunday it has allocated a NIS 15 million ($3.82 million) emergency fund that would support its 4,000 students “serving in the reserves, residents of the Gaza envelope affected by a recent terrorist attack, and evacuees from the northern region.”

Students at Tel Aviv University on the first day of the academic year, October 10, 2021. (Flash90, via JTA)

The Hebrew University declined to state how much it would grant to individual students.

Other universities have announced emergency funds with similar endowments, drawn from their pools of donors. The University of Haifa had announced in the first week of the conflict a grant of NIS 2000 ($516) for reservist students.

At the Technion in Haifa, an aid package was announced in the early days of the war, including grants to students, special housing dispensations, and other benefits.

The Weizmann Institute of Science, a research institute where all students already receive a full scholarship, announced last week a special fund “for those who encounter financial difficulties due to the war in Israel and the situation on the home front.”

Students serving in the reserves are to receive academic credit for their efforts, depending on the amount of time they serve, a spokesperson for Ariel University told Times of Israel. This is in addition to a host of other services, including subsidized rent for student housing, expanded financial aid, and special tutoring.

With classes not yet in session, the main institutes of higher education have opened their campuses in various ways to the war effort.

The Hebrew University has opened its Jerusalem and Eilat campuses to provide housing to evacuees, donated 450 computers to evacuee children, and directed medical, dental, and law students and staff to provide assistance in those fields, among other initiatives.

A campus view of the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology, in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, on February 19, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The other universities have announced similar measures. The Technion is hosting around 60 people who were evacuated from the Gaza area in its facility.

The Weizmann Institute of Science has even mobilized its logistical team, complete with moving vans and personnel, to help transport equipment and donations all over the country.

Ben Gurion University, its location in Beersheba making it the closest major university to the Gaza border, “immediately opened its campus and dormitories to soldiers, doctors, and visiting family members at no cost… A variety of psychological services are also available to students, faculty and staff,” the university said in a statement to The Times of Israel.

The academic year, originally scheduled to begin on October 15, has been pushed back to at least December 3, contingent on the student soldiers being released from their IDF wartime service.

Official government statements have cautioned the public that the war effort could extend for months, however. A source at the Hebrew University said that it was “too soon” to begin talking about what will happen academically if the start of the year is delayed further.

However, a few of the international programs that teach in English have already begun their classes on Zoom or will begin teaching soon.

The Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University has already started its semester, and in Herzliya, the Raphael Recanati International School of Reichman University said this week that it would begin a hybrid distance learning/in-person semester on November 19.

“Hundreds of international school students have remained in Israel, and participate in volunteering and outreach activities on campus,” the school said.

In addition, the Recanati school has received “about a dozen very serious inquiries” from Jewish students in Europe and the US, who are considering leaving their universities due to the current environment on their campuses and come to study in Israel instead, Recanati head Jonathan Davis told The Times of Israel.

University leadership as a whole has been proactive in addressing the rising anti-Semitic incidents seen on campuses worldwide. In a strongly worded open letter last week addressed to universities in the USA and Europe, the Association of University Heads called for a “sea change” in academia in regard to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The letter stressed that Hamas “shares no values with any Western academic institution” and the terror group shouldn’t be a “cause célèbre” for college students while “Israel is demonized.”

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