In the aftermath of October 7th, BGU University doubles down on its efforts

Source: The Jerusalem Post

Doug Seserman, CEO of Americans for BGU, highlights the university’s unwavering commitment to the development of Israel's south ahead of the webinar 'Remarkable Resilience' on May 8.

On January 22, Israel experienced one of the darkest moments since the beginning of the war in the Gaza Strip Twenty-one Israeli soldiers were killed in a single day of fighting. One of them was Sgt.-Maj. (res.) Adam Bismut, 35.

Adam attended Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) as an undergraduate; he later returned for his MBA and subsequently as a lecturer; and established his own start-up, SIGHTBIT.

“Adam created an AI lifeguard system to prevent people from drowning and helped save lives,” Doug Seserman, CEO of Americans for Ben-Gurion University (A4BGU), recalled. “I remember meeting Adam in my office when he was in New York raising funds for his company. “And now he is no longer with us.”

The BGU community has been disproportionately impacted by the events of Oct. 7 and the ensuing war, with 111 people killed (including fallen soldiers, students, and immediate relatives), 29 wounded, eight missing or kidnapped, 1,000 displaced from their homes, and more than 6,600 called to reserve duty, with several hundred still in active service.

Adam perfectly embodied BGU, a place where the Israel of the future is built every day, spearheaded by remarkable people pursuing groundbreaking ideas to make the world a better place – a mission that the university has uncompromisingly continued to pursue even after Oct. 7.

In order to celebrate the university’s efforts and raise awareness of its role as the central institution to the well-being of Israel’s South, A4BGU is hosting a webinar event titled “Remarkable Resilience – Leading the Way Forward,” on May 8, at 12 p.m. EST (7 p.m. Israel).

Dr. Galit Katarivas Levy - Researcher in biomaterials and 3D printing. (credit: DANI MACHLIS/BGU)

The event will showcase unique contributions by students, professors, and staff members to the war efforts and the strengthening of Israel’s civil society, such as biomaterials and 3D printing researcher Dr. Galit Katarivas Levy’s 3D printed solution for carrying medication in war, currently in use by the IDF; and Spitzer Social Work Department Dr. Talia Meital Schwartz-Tayri’s AI bot to support mental health in survivors, soldiers, and families of abductees. Schwartz-Tayri is also faculty and head of the BGU AI for Social Work at BGU Research and Development Lab.

Some featured speakers will also share their experiences in the field as fighters and first responders. Among them are industrial engineering and management second-year student Alon Jacobs and Dr. Oren Wacht, the head of the Department of Emergency Medicine and an experienced EMT. Both were called up for reserve duty on the morning of Oct. 7. Jacobs, a member of the special forces, was wounded in the fighting.

“In my opinion, the two most important organizations in Israel today are the Israel Defense Forces because they are the only ones who can protect the nation, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev,” said Seserman. “The Negev encompasses over 60% of the Jewish state’s landmass with only 10% of its population and is integral to any vision of Israel’s future. BGU is crucial for its development.”

Seserman stressed that BGU does not carry the name of Israel’s first leader as a mere tribute to him.

“It is not uncommon for universities around the world to be named after historic presidents or prime ministers, but in our case, there is more,” he said. “We are the true manifestation of David Ben-Gurion’s ideas for the Jewish people and the Jewish state. If we stay true to those ideas, we can build a way forward as a nation.”

According to Seserman, the desert and its university should represent the focal point of 21st-century Zionism.

“From a 21st-century Zionist vision standpoint, we should not be arguing about what’s wrong with Israel, but rallying around what’s right. The work of BGU perfectly exemplifies it. We can think about the diversity of its student body, with Arab Israelis, Jewish Israelis, international students, and Bedouins going to classes together to improve their upward mobility. We’re Israel’s third largest university and the fastest growing of the major research universities, leading the way in areas like climate change, medicine, engineering, and cybersecurity.”

To provide an example, Seserman pointed out that while the world woke up to the issues related to global warming only in the past few years, Ben-Gurion University has been developing desert technologies for half a century, gifting the planet inventions such as drip irrigation. More recently, one of its teams developed a technology to 3D print artificial corals and carry out a reforestation campaign in the Red Sea seabed.

“Ben Gurion knew that Israel’s future would emerge from the Negev, but also that it would take a great university to create the right ripple effect,” he added. “The same way Stanford contributed to producing Silicon Valley, we are the Negev’s anchor institution, doing applied sciences, generating knowledge, and channeling it into creating companies and jobs.” The “Remarkable Resilience” event is designed to explain all of this to American and international audiences.

Dr. Oren Wacht - Head of the Department of Emergency Medicine and academic director of BGU’s Field Medical Simulation Center. (credit: DANI MACHLIS/BGU)

A university in the 'psychological periphery'

“UNFORTUNATELY, THERE is not enough awareness about the role of Ben-Gurion University,” Seserman noted. “The university is still located in what I call the ‘psychological periphery’ of Israel, despite the fact that Beersheba, where our main campus stands, is positioned at the country’s geographic center.”

Seserman visited Israel and the university a few weeks ago and explained that he saw the country as he had never seen it before, over dozens of previous trips. “Our president, Prof. Daniel Chamowitz, says that Israel is both strong and broken, two polarizing concepts that live side by side,” he said. “As an American Jew who loves Israel, my personal observation is that the country is traumatized.”

Seserman recalled how a BGU student, 26-year-old Noa Argamani, has become one of the faces of the hostage tragedy as the images of her brutal kidnapping widely circulated on traditional and social media.

“Since then, I carry Noa’s picture everywhere I go,” he said. At the same time, the university has been working to support the war’s victims and evacuees from day one, opening its dorms, providing financial assistance, and more. Within 24 hours of the Oct. 7 attacks, the BGU Department of Psychology’s Community Clinic sprang into action, led by Prof. Gary Diamond, delivering psychological first aid to survivors of the massacre. Diamond will be one of the speakers at the “Remarkable Resilience” webinar.

“As a university, we are responsible for the Negev region, and it is our job not to live in an ‘ivory tower’ but to uplift its community,” he added. “This is exactly what we have been doing.”

Seserman remarked how this is a crucial time for all Israel’s supporters abroad to stand with the Jewish state – and for the Jewish state to be ready to accept help.

“This is a watershed moment in the history of the Jewish people, where we need to rely on each other to drive our shared future forward together via Israel and its place in the world,” he said. “If we in the US distance ourselves from Israel, no good will come of that – but it is important that Israel also understands it needs our help.”

“Despite the hardships, there are silver linings; Israelis, including Arab Israelis, are increasingly uniting and coming together,” he concluded optimistically. “I believe we can look forward to a brighter future.”

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