Education in a Terror Zone

My last few days were spent among our students and faculty at Touro College in Israel, based in Jerusalem. Before I head back to New York, I wanted to share some personal observations and reflections. Making my way through a group of students in the hallway, I hear talk of a new "must have" item on the school supply list. Along with book bags and cellphones, these days the students won't leave home without pepper spray. Their eyes dart to the corners of the room and the feeling is one of high alert.

Over the last few weeks, our students, along with the rest of the citizens of Israel, have heard multiple news reports detailing terror attacks that left 10 Israelis murdered and 78 injured. These attacks, which took place mainly in Jerusalem, included 35 stabbings, four shootings and four vehicular attacks. And yet, our students get up each day and head to school. Over 100 students, mostly Americans and some other foreign nationals attend Touro College in Israel. When the first spate of attacks happened, we decided we would stay open as long as the Jerusalem school system did. So far, neither Touro nor the school system has closed and most of our students enrolled this semester. I'm told the mood a few weeks ago was one of heightened anxiety and fear.

Now, due to increased police presence and the resilience of the human spirit, the students are certainly cautious but slowly becoming more comfortable with the new reality. Instead of freely hopping on city buses, many are opting to take cabs. They are determined in their resolve to continue their studies unabated, even if it means changing their routines. I am struck by the bravery and maturity of these young men and women who are able to be vigilant and yet, carry on. Clearly, they are learning to compartmentalize -- what's going on outside stays outside while they are inside the college and focused on their studies. The school community is offering the students an intellectually stimulating environment that takes them away from the chaos around them and into a world where ideas matter and a premium is placed on learning and sharing new concepts. As always, this makes me think of the critical role education plays in creating civilized societies.

When asked recently how the longstanding conflict between Israelis and Palestinians can be solved, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, had one word to say--"education." Learning to think for oneself, listening carefully to both sides of an argument and seeking out the facts and collaborative solutions, rather than getting caught up in rhetoric are all skills and values we try to teach our students. As the next generation of doctors, teachers, professionals and leaders, I hope they will incorporate these skills into their own repertoire of life experience and live up to Touro's mission of creating responsive and responsible societies.