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IDF soldiers wounded on Oct. 7, in New York for medical treatment, say support from other injured troops crucial for recovery

(New York Jewish Week) – On Oct. 7, Yonatan Pinto was stationed on the Gaza border near the Israeli communities of Nirim and Nir Oz. At around 7 a.m., as Hamas terrorists launched their surprise attack, Pinto’s tank was hit by a missile, blinding him, spraying him with shrapnel and causing serious burns to his body.

Fellow soldiers from his battalion evacuated Pinto on an armored personnel carrier, but the vehicle hit a mine and stalled, and was then attacked. The assailants fired seven projectiles at the vehicle but were fought off by the troops. Pinto, still unable to see, then ran three kilometers, holding onto a friend’s shoulder for guidance, until he reached safety. He arrived at a hospital at 3:40 p.m.

“I remember everything,” Pinto told the New York Jewish Week on Monday at a gala for Belev Echad, a New York-based nonprofit founded in 2009 that supports wounded IDF soldiers. “An eight-hour journey of trying to survive, trying to escape, all blinded.

“When I got to the hospital bed I started to let go — the adrenaline started dropping and I started feeling a little pain,” he said. “The stress started to go away but it was a relief, a huge relief. I’m saved.”

Pinto, 20, still has a long road ahead. He has undergone a number of surgeries in recent weeks to remove shrapnel and treat his eyes, and he has also started physical therapy. But he remains mostly blind, wearing dark glasses indoors and struggling to navigate using a cane.

Pinto and two other wounded soldiers, Yarden Chamo and Daniel Zaidman, came to the U.S. this week to receive further medical and psychological treatment in the New York area. The men said one of the keys to coping with the attack and its aftermath were the bonds they had formed with other wounded soldiers, both those injured on Oct. 7 and others who had tread the same difficult path before them.

“It really helps me and strengthens me,” said Chamo, who sustained injuries on Oct. 7 to his arms, legs and face, pointing to his friend Zaidman. “He knows what I’m feeling and I know what he’s feeling.” Zaidman was shot in the arm while fighting in the farming community of Netiv Ha’asara on Oct. 7 and took shrapnel to his hand and face.

“We know exactly how to help each other because we experience the same pain,” said Chamo, 21, who is still using a crutch and coping with PTSD.

Belev Echad runs a house with amenities for wounded soldiers in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kiryat Ono, and its activists visit the injured in hospitals, organize medical treatments and provide other services such as martial arts lessons. The group was assisting some 600 veterans before Oct. 7, and has added 500 more to its rolls since the attack, said Belev Echad’s director, Rabbi Uriel Vigler.

While in New York, the three soldiers, who had pink scars still visible on their skin, spoke at the nonprofit’s annual gala to raise funds for the group. Around 1,500 people, most of them Jews, packed into the the swanky Cipriani event space on Wall Street for the event, hearing the soldiers’ stories, pledging funds to the organization and sympathizing with the troops and their families. Some of the funds will go to a hyperbaric pressure chamber used to treat brain injuries, Vigler said. The gala and fundraising efforts surrounding the event raised a total of around $4.3 million. Orthodox singer Yaakov Shwekey performed and actress Swell Ariel Or of Netflix’s “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem” delivered a speech.

The event was dedicated to Raz Mizrahi, a Border Police trooper whose back was badly wounded when an attacker rammed her with a vehicle in East Jerusalem in 2021. She recovered from her injury after four months of rehabilitation, rejoined her unit, became an officer and completed her service. After her release from the military, she joined the staff of Belev Echad, becoming the keynote speaker at the organization’s New York gala last year and connecting with local Jewish communities. She last visited New York in September.

Mizrahi, 21, was at the Supernova music festival near kibbutz Re’im on Oct. 7. She sought safety in a bomb shelter with two friends as rockets streaked out of Gaza, calling her family from the scene. She was missing after the attack as her panicked family scrambled to find information; her body was identified three days later.

“I sometimes think she’s on a trip and needs to come back. I have so many conversations with her. I think that’s what I miss the most,” her mother, Nirit Mizrahi, said in a video played at the event that brought some in the audience to tears.

“Raz is not an ordinary girl. She has a light in her face,” her mother said in the video, which showed Mizrahi in interviews, at the previous year’s gala, and then showed her funeral.

“She would like us to keep living and keep laughing and not fall into sadness,” her mother said. “If I could tell her something, it would be that I’m proud of her.”

Pinto’s mother, Carmit Pinto, was also struggling with the aftermath of the attack.

“We’ve been through ups and downs. Very optimistic, but still crying. It’s not easy,” she told the New York Jewish Week. “We try to focus on the present and not on the future. To go through the medical stuff and to pray that he’ll see again.”

Pinto took a lighter tone, joking that “I’m a little bit disappointed that my first visit in America or in New York is going to be when I can’t see anything.”

“There are times I remember suddenly, ‘Oh, I can’t see,’” he added. “But then I’m saying to myself, ‘No, don’t think about it, move on.”

Despite his optimism, doctors in Israel said Pinto’s vision may or may not improve, and if it does get better, it’s unclear to what extent he will recover. Pinto’s medical files were translated to English and sent to doctors in New York, who will also assess his condition and offer an opinion on a way forward. Details about the soldiers’ procedures in the United States were kept confidential.

Pinto’s mother also said support from other wounded veterans was a crucial part of his recovery. When Pinto was first released from the hospital, friends, former teachers and others came to visit him, but at other times, he was left alone, unable to read the news or use his phone. He was reluctant at first to leave the house for physical therapy, but found a safe space with others who had gone through, or were going through, similar experiences.

“It’s not just therapy, it’s also and most importantly the people,” his mother said. “The people that know exactly what he’s been through because they’ve been through the same thing. It makes him feel good.”

Pinto said he had connected with other soldiers who were injured in different areas on Oct. 7, and had pieced together the bigger picture of the attack, and his place in the story. “I fit here — it’s not like I need to play pretend. I don’t need to make a fake smile,” he said, adding that soldiers injured in past battles knew the way forward. “These people understand me better than I probably understand myself because they’ve been through the same thing and they already got over most of the things I’m going through right now.”

Chamo, a soldier in the Golani infantry brigade, was stationed on the Gaza border on Oct. 7 when he heard the first “red alert” rocket sirens at 6:30 a.m. He and eight other soldiers were told that terrorists had attacked the nearby kibbutz of Nir Am and headed to the community in an armored personnel carrier.

On their way there, attackers opened fire on the vehicle with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. During a running battle, one of the soldiers exposed himself to fire back, was shot in his eye, and fell back into the vehicle. Before the soldiers had time to react, an attacker hurled a grenade into the carrier. One of the troopers apologized to the others and jumped onto the explosive. He was killed, but likely saved the lives of the others, who were still wounded by the shrapnel. Chamo continued fighting, gunning down another terrorist, before another grenade exploded next to him, injuring his arms, legs and face. A gas grenade then landed in the vehicle, temporarily blinding them.

“I’m injured, I have one dead, another injured in the vehicle. The soldiers who are with me are in shock,” Chamo told the rapt audience while standing next to his mother, who also accompanied him to New York. “I’m looking death in the eye, but I didn’t give up. I opened the emergency door so the gas could get out. Another terrorist stood in front of me and I eliminated him.”

The terrorists had fortified themselves in the kibbutz by that point, and before going in, Chamo sent a farewell video to his family and close friends. After an hour and a half of fighting, he received medical attention for his wounds and survived. His mother recounted to the audience how she had driven south, through rocket fire, to find her son in an emergency room covered in blood.

Chamo pointed to Shuri Moyal, a Belev Echad staff member at the event who was injured by a rocket propelled grenade blast in Gaza in 2014, as a source of support.

“I met him a month ago and I feel like he’s my older brother,” Chamo said. “He experienced it 10 years ago and now he helps me get through it like I need to. He’s showing me the way.”

The post IDF soldiers wounded on Oct. 7, in New York for medical treatment, say support from other injured troops crucial for recovery appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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