Reflections on My Recent Visit of BGU and Sites of 10/7

Linda Slotin, a volunteer and lay leader from the BGU Canada Ottawa Chapter, recently embarked on a journey to Israel. In her testimonial below, she shares her experiences, which encompassed visiting Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), exploring the sites of the October 7th attacks in Kfar Aza and Nova, and participating in volunteer work.

Ben-Gurion University Resilience  

“Traveling to Israel during a war was not a difficult decision for me. I have always been a strong advocate for Israel. In fact, I wanted to go during the 1967 war, but circumstances didn’t allow it. Israel is an integral part of my identity as a Jew, and I have a deep attachment to my Judaism and Jewish life. It was crucial for me to support our beleaguered people, bear witness to the ongoing challenges, contribute to relief efforts, and show solidarity with Israelis.

During my recent visit to Israel with two solidarity missions, I had the privilege of experiencing the spirit and resilience of Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Be'er Sheva. 

Ben-Gurion University is situated in Be’er Sheva, in the Negev, not far from the Gaza border. The Negev bore the brunt of the horrific losses on October 7, impacting the BGU family deeply. While the following statistics from November 2023 are not exhaustive, they provide insight into a university on the front lines:

  • 16 BGU community members, including students, staff, faculty, and retirees, were tragically lost.
  • 4 hostages were held in captivity in Gaza
  • 45 close relatives of the BGU community members also perished.
  • The university experienced the deployment of one-third of its student body
  • Thousands were displaced from their homes.

Despite the tragic losses suffered by the BGU family on October 7th,  the university stood strong. On January 17th, as I walked through its revitalized campus, I witnessed classes resuming and the community moving forward.

One of the highlights was meeting Vered Sarusi Katz, Director of the Community Action Department. Her work with diverse groups in Be'er Sheva, from the disabled to Holocaust survivors, showcases BGU's commitment to societal upliftment. The university's partnership with underprivileged communities, coupled with innovative initiatives like BGU AI for Social Welfare and Resilience R&D led by Dr. Talia Schwartz-Tayri, reflects a deep-rooted dedication to social progress.

Visiting the Field Family Medical Simulation Centre highlighted BGU's contribution to healthcare. The advanced simulation rooms and training programs not only prepare medical professionals but also address critical community health needs, especially during challenging times.

My visit to Soroka University Medical Centre, where I witnessedwitnessing the dedication of Professor Moti Klein and his team toin saving lives amidst overwhelming circumstances, further underscored BGU's integral role in regional healthcare.

Journey Through Sderot, Kfar Aza and Nova: Witnessing the Realities of Conflict


It didn’t take long to feel the gruesome reality of war, particularly when we were in the Gaza envelope. We were on a hilltop. To the right was the fence Hamas had breached. In the distance were the plumes of smoke from Israeli bombs being dropped in Gaza. The ground was shaking.

It is one thing to see and read about these atrocities from a distance, but it is much more emotional to be there on the ground, and witness these gruesome realities first hand.


We went to Kfar Aza, a kibbutz obliterated on October 7th. On the main thoroughfare we witnessed home after home riddled with bullet holes and destruction. A rabbi was chanting prayers for the dead, and in the middle of it all, a father whose son had died in Gaza approached our group and told us we must tell the Jews of the diaspora and the world. In this way, his son would not have died in vain. He was in tears, and so were we.


We were also at the Nova site. It is somber. Like the others there, we quietly walked among the pictures of the dead participants of that fateful day. An emotional exhibition at a convention center in Tel Aviv tells the story of what happened at this festival. It recreated the Nova site including: the porta-potties riddled with bullet holes where concert-goers were taking refuge, piles of burned cars atop one another where terrorists shot people as they attempted to escape.One of the most heartbreaking scenes was the section of clothes, purses, backpacks, eyeglasses, hats, shoes left behind, belonging to attendees, waiting to be claimed by their families.

Volunteering in Israel

More than anything, I wanted to help, and I didn’t care what I did or how mundane it was. We spent most of one day harvesting oranges. Once we picked the low-hanging oranges, we worked on the ones at the top of the trees. I worked in tandem with another woman who climbed up the tree and would throw the oranges to me. Our group must have picked tons of oranges.

I will never forget working on a conveyor belt in a big warehouse. We were packing Kosher le Pesach K-rations for the soldiers. We would put messages in as many of them as we could. This is very routine, boring work, but the group relieved the boredom by spontaneously dancing and singing songs on the spot.  

So many  kibbutzim have been evacuated around Gaza and in the north. We could see their residents in the lobby of our hotel. In the evening, the children would come to the lobby in their pajamas. After all, this was their home at the moment. But there was some movement to get them back home. I was at Kibbutz Gvulot, close to Gaza. We were there fixing up the kibbutz to prepare classrooms for children in the surrounding area. I was assigned to a 1967 bomb shelter. We were cleaning it up. It was so old it had no ventilation. 

From there, my group went into a classroom where we had to disassemble cribs, shrink-wrap all the parts together to be put into storage. While we were working on these tasks, others were painting classrooms, cleaning them up, working outdoors cleaning and weeding. Since then, 350-370 residents out of the 420 were moved back home, the kibbutz is up and running, and both the elementary and high school are open. Over 436 kids are in school with the demand for more spaces from families returning home to the region.

“Reflecting on David Ben-Gurion's vision for the Negev, I saw BGU as a living embodiment of his dream, integrating education, community support, and healthcare to fulfill its role in Eretz Yisrael.”

Through this experience, I witnessed firsthand the resilience and courage of Israelis facing adversity. My trip to Israel reinforced the interconnectedness of the Jewish community worldwide. It underscored the importance of standing together in times of crisis and reaffirming the bond between Israel and the diaspora. As we navigate the challenging times ahead, let us continue to support one another and uphold our shared Jewish commitments.

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