Updates from BGU President

Last Update: Friday, May 3, 2024

Dear Friends and Supporters of Ben-Gurion University,

The next two weeks, where we commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day for the fallen and murdered, and Independence Day, are always frought with contradicting emotions. This year even more so.

This coming week, as we commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, we find ourselves reflecting on the grave challenges facing the State of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide. Remarkably, just 80 years after the Holocaust—a period in which we vowed "Never Again"—we witnessed a wave of antisemitism on October 7, as Jews were again targeted simply for being Jews. It's a chilling reminder that despite what we have naively thought, anti-Semitism remains, often masked as anti-Israel sentiment, like a virus spreading in a global pandemic.

As we approach Holocaust Remembrance Day, I'm reminded of the Jewish academics in early 20th-century Germany. These intellectuals contributed immensely to their fields, believing in the advancement of humanity through science and thought. They thought themselves "Germans". Yet, with the rise of the Nazis, their lives were upended as colleagues turned away and their institutions betrayed them. Universities that stood as pillars of academic freedom and enlightenment—like Heidelberg, Leipzig, and the Humboldt University of Berlin—succumbed to Nazi ideology. They not only expelled Jewish academics and students but also aligned themselves with destructive doctrines that contradicted the very essence of academic integrity.

The parallel to today is stark and unsettling. The same bastions of academia that should champion reason, tolerance, and unbiased inquiry are now scenes of antisemitism and hostility toward Israeli scholars and students. The resurgence of such scenes is not just alarming; it is a betrayal of the academic mission to seek truth and foster a global community of learning and respect.

Unlike the Jewish academics of the 1930s, however, I am not a helpless observer, but president of a thriving university in a free Jewish state. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is more committed than ever to upholding the sacred values of academia: openness, creativity, and free discourse. We are dedicated to fostering a multicultural environment that cherishes the diversity of ideas and backgrounds.

We are navigating these tumultuous times with the resilience and determination that have long defined the spirit of BGU. Despite the challenges, we continue to advance our academic mission, support our community, and contribute to society's broader needs as we strive to make a positive impact on the State of Israel and the world. Let us draw strength from our shared history and the resilience that has carried us through. This Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to not only standing up for Jews in academia worldwide, but to freedom, enlightenment, and the pursuit of knowledge.

Thank you for your continued support of Ben-Gurion University. Together, we will keep striving for a brighter, more just future.

Shabbat Shalom, Danny Chamovitz

Last Update: Friday, April 26, 2024

Dear Friends,

I'm sure that you, like me, are appalled by the recent anti-Israel demonstrations across American university campuses. These protests, from Ivy League schools to West Coast institutions, have not only disrupted campus life but have also raised serious safety concerns for Jewish and Israeli students. The vitriolic nature of these demonstrations, often veering into antisemitism, represents a stark departure from western academic values.

At Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, as you well know, we've also encountered dilemmas regarding protests on campus. Our approach has always been to consult with stakeholders from all sides, and our security staff, and to allow rallies under strict guidelines designed to ensure respect and safety for all. These "rules of engagement" are meticulously crafted through dialogue with all parties involved, establishing clear boundaries for free expression while maintaining public order.

This approach has facilitated safe events, reflecting our commitment to democratic values and academic freedom. Despite at times facing significant criticism, our experience reinforces our belief in the importance of upholding a space for diverse viewpoints, managed through thoughtful, democratic processes.

Contrastingly, the response on many U.S. campuses has been markedly different. After initially allowing unchecked disruptions and open anti-semitic acts, many campus leaders have realized that extremism such as presented by those who support Hamas can only be thwarted through heavy-handed security measures, measures that unfortunately tend to exacerbate divisions and stifle the very essence of academic discourse.

The ongoing situation in the U.S. underscores the need for university administrations to adopt a more meditative approach, one that encourages inclusive dialogue and establishes clear, fair guidelines for campus engagement; one that encourages intellectual integrity in understanding the true meaning of liberal values so essential to western higher education, values that are the antithesis of the so-called Gaza liberation encampments.

The lessons from BGU’s handling of contentious events could offer a blueprint for American universities grappling with similar challenges. By fostering an environment where all voices can be heard within a framework of respect and safety, universities can better uphold their missions and reinforce their commitment to democratic principles.

Our priority remains the safety and well-being of our community, both at home and abroad. Your ongoing support and engagement are vital as we uphold our values in these challenging times, and serve as a beacon of light against those who aim to defame us.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, and for the safe return of Noa Argamani and all the hostages.


Update: Friday, March 22, 2024

Dear Friends,

This week marked a significant shift from my previous message. We had the privilege of welcoming delegations from Stanford, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Yale to our campus. These visits were more than academic exchanges; they were powerful statements of solidarity. It was important for these academics to affirm their support for Israel and the desire to maintain collaborations with Israeli academics, even in these difficult times.

I spoke with them about the challenges Ben-Gurion University has faced starting at 6:30 AM on October 7.  I also recognized the difficulties they encounter on their campuses. The narrative shift from the massacres and hostages to the war in Gaza poses its own set of challenges, which we both need to address. You can find excerpts from my speech here: LinkedIn Post.

Additionally, I had a lovely dinner with President Ron Liebowitz of Brandeis and his wife Jessica. President Liebowitz's visit to Israel was aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of our challenges, so as to enable him more effectively communicate our situation to fellow university presidents at the American Association of Universities upcoming annual meeting.

These interactions remind us that, despite the anti-Israel sentiment, we are bolstered by staunch supporters within academia and beyond, including all of you.

I urge you to join us at the upcoming annual Board of Governors meeting. This year, more than ever, it's vital that we come together in the Negev to show our unwavering support for our students, faculty, and staff. The program we've prepared is a testament to our resilience and achievements, featuring memorials and celebrations alike. At our Honorary Doctorate ceremony, we will honor individuals who have made significant contributions to society and academia, as well as our three affiliated hospitals – Soroka, Barzilai, and Assuta Ashdod – whose critical roles on October 7 and throughout the war have been nothing short of heroic.

For program details and registration, please visit: Program Details. Should you have any questions or need assistance with registration, don't hesitate to contact Aviva Barach at [email protected].

Rest assured, your safety is our utmost priority. We're committed to providing a secure and enriching experience, and I'm confident you'll be pleasantly surprised by the semblance of normalcy here.

Looking forward to welcoming you to the Negev in May.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!

Update: Friday, March 15, 2024

Dear Friends,

The past few weeks have further revealed the complexities facing our global Jewish community. Your warm responses to my observations on the challenges in the Diaspora have been a source of strength. Today's message looks at the flip side and touches upon a concerning trend affecting Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and our broader mission.

Since October 7, we've navigated the resurgence of anti-Semitism particularly evident on numerous American campuses. This issue now has been compounded by the global media's focus on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and accusations against Israel, fueling a rise in calls for boycotting Israeli academia.

A case in point, but not an isolated one, is Utrecht University in Holland, which has called for a boycott against BGU, especially targeting our collaboration with the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development. Their claims, taken from a public petition signed by hundreds of academics, include:

  • Ben-Gurion University plays a foundational role in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and violations of Palestinians’ rights.  
  • Ben-Gurion University has actively contributed to denying educational opportunities to the Bedouin Palestinian community.
  • Ben-Gurion University maintains institutional ties and collaborations with the Israeli Ministry of Defense and its military, and prominent Israeli weapon companies.
  • Ben-Gurion University collaborated with the state of Israel to relocate military bases to the Beer Sheba metropolis, encouraging thousands of career soldiers and their families to enroll in specialized degree programs.
  • Ben-Gurion University established the Gav-Yam Negev advanced technologies park….[that] houses military industries and is anticipated to become Israel’s primary research and development center. This park offers veterans prestigious employment opportunities and encourages soldiers to remain in Beer Sheba following their military service.
  • In recent years, the university’s involvement with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has only increased. Following the inauguration of the first building of the IDF Technology Campus in 2019, the University President remarked “I am looking forward to watching the rest of the army's tech campus grow, and of course to overseeing BGU’s collaboration with the military as the units themselves move south.”
  • In the President’s 2023 report, he stated "Central to the University's strategy for growth is strengthening our connections with key IDF ... technology units – in intelligence, communications and cybersecurity. Over a decade of planning and collaboration are finally paying off, as the first of several IDF schools and specialized units have relocated to the University’s Advanced Technologies Park and the surrounding areas."

They conclude with: "In light of the outlined above, we call for the suspension of the collaboration between Ben-Gurion University and the Faculty of Geoscience at Utrecht University and the closure of the three academic positions at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development."

While perhaps I should be complemented that these petitioners read my presidential reports and my posts, these snippets from a much longer document are more than just troubling. These accusations, while distressingly misrepresentative, illuminate the BDS movement's core agenda: to challenge the legitimacy of Israel as a sovereign state. As these narratives gain traction, defending the integrity of BGU becomes increasingly challenging.

Our approach has been proactive; our Rector Chaim Hames has extended invitations to critics for a firsthand look at BGU's dedication to diversity and progress. Yet, the notion that BDS could paint our university—a beacon of innovation and inclusivity—as a pariah is deeply unsettling. Now, more than ever, your support is indispensable.

Amid these trials, we must remember that not all is negative, and we continue to forge ahead with international academic connections. We're honored to award President Michael Crowe of Arizona State University an honorary doctorate soon. Additionally, Prof. Michal Bar Asher Segal, VP of Global Engagement and I will lead a delegation to the US in April to reinforce our commitment to academic collaboration and progress. I was assured, that as opposed to the fiasco of my visit to Columbia this past December, at these meetings I will also meet with the host presidents.

As we work our way through these troubling, confusing, dangerous times, let us remember that our hearts remain with Noa Argamani, the other hostages, and our brave soldiers. Their safety and return are important above all.

In solidarity and Shabbat Shalom, Danny Chamovitz

Update: Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Dear Friends,

Today has been an extraordinarily somber day for Israel and for our Ben-Gurion University community.

Tragically, twenty-one Israeli soldiers were killed on Monday in the deadliest single incident for the Israel Defense Forces since the ground operation in Gaza began.

The soldiers, part of a group of reservists, were attacked with an RPG in the southern Gaza Strip.

The resulting explosion caused the collapse of two buildings, leading to this devastating loss of life.

Among the fallen are three loved members of the BGU family:

  • Sgt. First Class (res.) Ahmad Abu Latif, 26: Ahmad worked in our security division and had been with us for the past two years. A proud father to a one-year-old girl, he volunteered for reserve duty in October. Ahmad was deeply committed to his service. When I met him in my office several weeks ago, he expressed his great pride in being a Bedouin Israeli and condemned Hamas for actions he believed desecrated his religion.
  • Sgt. Maj. (res.) Adam Bismut, 35: Adam was a shining example of the entrepreneurial spirit at BGU. A graduate of our Yazamut 360 entrepreneurship center, he co-founded SightBit, a company revolutionizing ocean safety through AI and computer vision. He remained closely connected to BGU, mentoring and lecturing, and was known for his infectious enthusiasm and dedication. I have been in touch with him regularly since he founded SightBit, and was so impressed with his commitment.
  • Sgt. First Class (res.) Yoav Levy, 29: In his final year of Materials Engineering studies, Yoav was remembered by his family for his love of travel, his quiet, loving nature, and his profound sense of patriotism.

Their loss was felt acutely today as we hosted a mission of our international community. This tragedy brought into sharp focus the inherent understanding in Israel – that we all mourn for our fallen. Each announcement of loss is a collective moment of grief, mixed with a sense of relief if the names are unknown, quickly followed by guilt for feeling relieved. Today, we knew these names. We mourn deeply for Yoav, Adam, and Ahmad, and the unfulfilled potential of their lives. These youngsters had so much potential extinguished. Now multiply this by a hundred, and our mourning comes even more into focus.

Their sacrifice, to prevent further tragedies like the October 7 massacre, is a stark reminder of the cost of conflict. We can only hope for leadership that will steer us toward resolution and security.

May their memories be a blessing and a source of strength as we continue our journey, carrying their spirit and dreams forward.

With heartfelt condolences,
Danny Chamovitz

Update: Saturday, January 20, 2024

Dear BGU Friends, 

This month marks the start of my 6th year as president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. 

Little could I have imagined what awaited me when I walked into my new office on January 1, 2019. Looking back, it's hard to fathom the rollercoaster journey we've been on since I first stepped into my office on that day. The world, Israel included, has faced extraordinary challenges: a global pandemic, political instability, the largest massacre since the Holocaust, and an ongoing war, not to mention the myriad of smaller crises. 

Yet, amidst these tumultuous times, our achievements at BGU stand as a testament to our resilience and capability. Let's take a moment to reflect on some of these key milestones. I've chosen one, some well known, some less so, for each year: 

  • Forum Alma, Fall 2019: This historic event was a catalyst for change. For the first time, our academic and administrative leaders collaboratively crafted a strategic plan, setting a new precedent for university-wide consensus and action. 
  • Covid Task Force, March 2020: Our response to the pandemic was swift and effective. Funding and supporting about 20 projects in under a month, we demonstrated our agility and innovative spirit in the face of a global crisis. This then influenced the way we worked going forward – fewer boundaries, less red tape, more impact. 
  • SSCC Senate Vote, March 2021: A significant moment in our academic evolution. The establishment of the Goldmann-Sonnenfeld School of Sustainability and Climate Change marked a new interdisciplinary, supra-faculty approach in academia, fostering collaborations across various fields. This unique academic structure is serving as a paradigm, already yielding additional interdisciplinary. 
  • Honorary Doctorate to Ursula von der Leyen, July 2022: Hosting the President of the European Commission was a global statement. Her impactful speech in our W.A. Minkoff Senate Hall, condemning antisemitism and affirming her support for Israel, elevated BGU's international standing. 
  • Sylvan Adams' $100 Million Donation, November 2023: At the " Negev Strong" gala in Toronto, this historic donation underlined Sylvan Adams' faith in our mission and significantly bolstered our commitment to the future of the Negev. 

The tragic events of October 7 have profoundly impacted our university, reinforcing the vital role BGU plays in Israel's future, particularly in the Negev. We must pass once again Ben-Gurion’s test of pioneering vigor and creativity Put simply, in response to October 7th, we must double down on two of Ben-Gurion’s prophesies: If we will not stand in the Negev,” he declared, “we will not stand in Tel Aviv.”, but standing in the Negev also included building an "Oxford in the Negev". 

In my sixth year as president, we face the dual challenge of maintaining academic excellence while addressing the Negev's needs more vigorously. It's about balancing this and that – our academic duties and our radical responsibility towards the region's development. 

As we venture into this year, I am reminded of our need to be both 'strong and broken,' a duality that speaks to our resilience and humanity. Let us now embrace this duality in building our university while building the Negev. 

Wishing everyone a peaceful and restful Shabbat. 
Danny Chamovitz

Update: Saturday, January 6, 2024

Dear Friends and Supporters,

The new academic year at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev finally commenced this past Sunday. Before classes resumed, we began Sunday morning with a modest memorial ceremony, a necessary moment of reflection to honor those we lost, those still held captive, and our brave students serving in the reserves.

Gathering at Cummings Square, thousands of us stood together in silence, a tribute to the lives tragically taken and those still fighting. The ceremony started poignantly with a recorded song by the murdered daughter and son-in-law of our Prof. Ilan Troen. My speech, unscripted and from the heart, touched upon the kaleidoscope of emotions we are experiencing: sorrow for our losses, joy in reuniting, anger at the injustices, and optimism for our return to campus.

The sadness for our lost students and the kidnapped is palpable. Their parents' wishes for their children's posthumous degrees remind us of the profound impact of our academic mission. I'm also filled with anger that some of our students couldn't join us yet. But this is tempered by pride in our resilient student community, their volunteerism, and their unwavering spirit.

Three months ago, I couldn't have imagined such a start to our academic journey, instead of our usual opening festivities. Yet, in these challenging times, our mission becomes clearer. As I emphasized in my address, our collective response to this situation must be one of action. We owe it to our returning reservists to provide unwavering support, helping them bridge their academic and emotional gaps. Our community's strength lies in our unity and our resolve to rise together.

In closing my speech, I told our students how struck I am by the extraordinary strength and courage of our 'TikTok generation' - their response to the attacks, their defense of our country, is nothing short of heroic. This gives me great hope and confidence that we will navigate this difficult semester and year successfully.

Following the ceremony, classes resumed for thousands of students. The atmosphere, while subdued, was also full of quiet excitement for reuniting with friends, and of new beginnings. The sight of lecturers and students in uniform, released for a few hours from the front lines, was an obvious change from other years. But that sight also points out our commitment to continue our so important mission.

Together, we stand in solidarity, awaiting the safe return of all our hostages and reservists.

Warm regards,

Update: Friday December 29

Dear Friends and Colleagues, 

Sunday, December 31, is a day laden with significance, both for Ben-Gurion University and for me personally. 

For BGU, it marks the delayed start of our academic year – a delay that stretches for nearly an entire semester, 11 weeks. On October 15, we had been poised to embark on what promised to be our most successful year yet. Following three years of dedicated effort under our strategic plan, we anticipated a remarkable increase in student enrollment and, thanks to our enhanced research capabilities, additional government funding. It was set to be a year of investment, a victory lap, so to say, a testament to our hard work and achievements. 

Yet, as the saying goes, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." So, we begin this academic year with mixed emotions. Our hearts are heavy for Noa Argamani, still held hostage in Gaza; for Sahar Baruch, cruelly killed in captivity; for Uri, Itai, Dvora, Yevgeny, Liav, Lior, Mark, Rinat, Shahak, Tom and Shani, students who were murdered on October 7; and for Or, Uriel, Gideon, and Roi who fell defending our country while serving in the reserves. We begin without numerous students who are still serving in the reserves. Their absence will be profoundly felt. 

But alongside this sorrow, there is strength and resilience. Thousands of students will return to our campuses, resuming their academic journeys in various fields, from engineering to psychology. We're excited to launch new programs, like occupational therapy, welcoming its first cohort in the Negev. 

We have adapted our academic plans to ensure all our students, particularly those still serving in the reserves, can fulfill their academic requirements. This includes a "refresh week" and a six-week summer session for essential course repetition. 

On a personal note, Sunday also marked the completion of my fifth year as President of BGU. When I started on January 1, 2019, it was with a mix of Zionist enthusiasm and apprehension. The challenges I anticipated paled in comparison to what lay ahead: a global pandemic, political upheaval, the worst terror attack in history, and the subsequent Gaza War. Far from the cocktail parties I had imagined! As my grandmother would say, “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht”. 

Yet, deciding to join BGU was the best decision I could have made. Your warm welcome and partnership have been invaluable. Every day, as I drive through our main gate, I am reminded of the privilege and responsibility of this role. Ben-Gurion's words ring truer than ever: " If we do not take a stand in the Negev - Tel Aviv will not stand." Post-October 7, this statement takes on a new level of urgency. BGU is central to this mission. 

As I look to my sixth year, the stakes are high. Our students, the Negev, and indeed, the wider diaspora, look to us for leadership and hope. Here's to a year of growth and achievement, where all our students can learn together in peace and safety. Here's to a year of healing, where our community knows no more sorrow. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Danny Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update: Friday December 15

Dear Friends,

As we welcome another Shabbat, I find myself reflecting on the surreal passage of time. Today marks 70 days since the war began—a war that followed the horrific attacks of October 7, an event that has indelibly changed us all.

In Hebrew, we have a term - שגרה (shigra), roughly translating to 'routine.' We talk about returning to shigra. But this routine is far from ordinary.

It's a routine where the daily news brings word of another soldier's sacrifice, another tragic discovery among the kidnapped. It's a routine where our conversations invariably turn to our children serving in the reserves. For me, this week's shigra included a shiva visit to the wife of Gideon Ilani z"l. Gideon was finishing his Ph.D. in astrophysics at BGU, after graduating in physics from BGU as part of the prestigious Shulich Leader program. As a father of 6 children, he was exempt from the reserves, but after the murderous terrorist attack he decided he had to join his paratroopers regiment and join the fight. Gideon was killed in the fighting in the southern Gaza.

Yet, it's also a routine where life's simpler joys and frustrations resume - the line outside the hummus restaurant (and the subsequent mouthwatering meal this afternoon), the infuriating traffic of Israel, the mundane and the everyday.

This duality is striking. It's a testament to our resilience, yet it also poses a danger. The normalization of war, the acceptance of loss and conflict as a regular part of life, must not happen. As we prepare to resume classes in two weeks, we are stepping into another kind of routine - academic rigor mixed with the ongoing reality of conflict.

Our return to campus is not about returning to 'normal.' We are acutely aware that while some students will be back in classrooms, engaging in research and academia, others will continue to serve on the frontlines. We cannot become desensitized to the war. We must remain focused on our objectives, just as we do in our university's development and growth.

In anticipation of our campus reopening, we have pondered over various contingencies and issues. We are fully prepared to accommodate those who have served and are still serving in the reserves. We recognize that our entire university community has undergone a collective trauma, and we are committed to easing this transition from trauma back to academic life. Our team has developed resources and tools to support our lecturers in handling the diverse and potentially challenging dynamics on campus.
Above all, we are striving to create a campus environment that provides a routine of academic rigor and a feeling of embracing. A routine that acknowledges our extraordinary circumstances yet fosters a sense of stability and progress.

As we navigate these complex times, let us remember the strength that comes from our community. Together, we will find our way through these challenges, guided by our shared commitment to education, research, and the well-being of all our members.

Wishing you a peaceful Shabbat, and that all our soldiers and kidnapped should return home in peace.

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update: Monday December 11

Dear Friends,

50 years ago today, the Israeli government officially called for the renaming of the "University of the Negev" to "Ben-Gurion University of the Negev". This was at end of the shiva for Ben-Gurion's death. So perhaps it is fitting that today we announced that the school year at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev will finally open on December 31, 2023.

This decision is very important, but not easy. On October 7, we quickly postponed the start of the school year from October 15, as we realized that so many of our students would be on reserve duty. As it became clear that the war would not be a quick one, we pushed back the date again and again.

We have over 5,000 students serving in the reserves right now. Over 25% of them are women. And the large majority are undergraduate students, and in some fields, they make up over 40% of a class. While we had hoped that perhaps all would be released before we would open the school year, further postponement is not a viable option if we wish to salvage the academic year for all our students.

As the president of Ben-Gurion University, I want to assure you that we will not leave any student in the reserves behind. Today, together with the presidents of all Israeli Universities, we met with the senior generals in charge of the reserves, who have devised a plan that will enable our students to study this year, while maintaining Israel's security needs. We have a moral obligation to ensure that every reservist graduate alongside their peers who are not in active service. This commitment reflects our dedication to the academic success and well-being of all our students.

As we light the Hanukkah candles tonight, I ask you to reflect on the question, why do we celebrate eight nights, while the miracle was actually only seven nights, with the first night obviously covered by the one portion of oil? An answer I heard was that the real miracle is that someone believed so much, that they lit the oil. They had faith that the end would be ok.

In this light (all puns intended), our decision to open the school year at Ben-Gurion University, the University of the Negev, has a huge message. During this time, we are saying to terrorism that we choose life, we choose to rebuild the Negev, and contribute to the continued development of the Negev and of the State of Israel.

If you haven't seen this, I urge you to watch our commitment to our students as we return to studies:

Wishing you all a Happy Hannukah, and a safe return for all our soldiers and hostages!

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update: Tuesday December 5

Dear Friends,

I'd like to share with you the latest developments in what continues to be a time of a swinging pendulum of contrasting experiences for our university community.

Last week, I had a planned visit to Columbia University, where I studied 40 years ago, set against the backdrop of a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism especially at Columbia, and a noticeable absence of moral leadership in condemning Hamas and its attacks on Israel. I was scheduled to meet Columbia's Vice-President along with Prof. Michal Bar-Asher Siegal, our new Vice-President for Global Engagement. The meeting, set for Friday at 4:30 PM, was intended to explore ways to move beyond the recent challenges. However, just five minutes before the meeting, Michal and I received a message from the VP explaining he was tied up in a crucial meeting with trustees about how the Columbia administration responded to antisemitism on campus, and he continued with: "I couldn’t have walked out even if I wanted to. I don’t think you would have wanted me to do that." Instead, he apologized and offered to call me. What can I say? I am still pondering my response to his message.

In stark contrast, 48 hours later, I found myself enveloped in the warmth and support of the Toronto Jewish community at a large event organized by Canadians for Ben-Gurion University. The gathering of over a thousand people was a poignant mix of memorials, tributes, and affirmations of our collective resolve. It included moving testimonials, speeches by prominent figures like former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Noa Tishbi, and a testament from one of our undergraduate students determined to continue the research of a friend lost in the October 7 attacks.

The highlight of the evening, however, was an announcement by my dear friend and esteemed Canadian-Israeli philanthropist, Sylvan Adams. In an act of extraordinary generosity and vision, Sylvan announced a transformative donation of $100 million to BGU. This magnificent gift is intended to bolster our mission of revitalizing the Negev and realizing David Ben-Gurion's vision of a flourishing future emerging from this region.

The standing ovation Sylvan received was not just for his generosity but also for his unwavering belief in our mission. His commitment has inspired others to join our family and partner with us in securing the future of Israel.

Words seem inadequate to express my gratitude to Sylvan, especially in these challenging times. His support far outweighs any disappointments we may encounter elsewhere. It is in moments like these that we truly understand who our friends are. So, to Sylvan, and to each of you who stand with us – thank you! Your belief in our cause lights the way forward and your words of support and love, give us the strength so needed in these trying times.

With warm regards and heartfelt thanks,

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update: Friday December 1

Dear Friends and Members of the BGU Community,

This week was a marked by deep emotions for all of us at Ben-Gurion University.

On Wednesday I attended the military funeral of Sergeant Tomer Ahimas, z"l,
the beloved grandson of our long-time member of the Board of Governors, Prof. Zvi Livne. Initially thought to have been kidnapped to Gaza during the October 7 battles, it was with immense sorrow that we learned of Tomer's tragic passing at the hands of terrorists. The funeral, held in the modest Lehavim cemetery, was attended by thousands, each person mourning, each holding up Tomer's memory. Despite never having the privilege to know Tomer personally, the eulogies painted a vivid picture of a vibrant young man, brimming with life and dedication, who ultimately made the greatest sacrifice for his country. I extend my heartfelt condolences to Zvi and his family during this time of indescribable loss, and I know you join me in this. May Tomer’s memory forever be a blessing and may all our brave soldiers return home safely.

The evening brought a shift in our collective emotions. We received the uplifting news that two of the hostages released Wednesday, Irena Tati and Yelena Trupanov, are the mother and grandmother of one of our alumni. And then last night, our faculty member Nili Margalit, from the department of nursing, was finally released. Nili, a nurse at Soroka, took care of other hostages during her ordeal. This news brings a measure of relief to our hearts, yet we remain in anticipation for the safe return of our students Noa Argamani and Sahar Baruch. We hope and pray for the safe return of all hostages.

This constant pendulum swing between grief and relief has become the new normal for us, shaping our emotional landscape each day. While the events of October 7 were unprecedented in their scale of disaster and sorrow, they also remind us of our capacity for resilience. It's during times like these that we must harness our patience, wisdom, and the boundless capacity of the human spirit not just for survival, but for productivity, creativity, and empathy.

In these challenging times, let's remember our strength as a community. Together, we can, and will, move past this, carrying forward the lessons of resilience and unity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update: Wednesday November 22

Dear Friends,

On the morning of October 7, 2023, Israel awoke to the jarring sound of air raid sirens, a stark signal for us to swiftly leave our beds and rush to the safety of bomb shelters. This harsh blare, followed seconds later by the loud booms of Iron Dome missiles intercepting their targets, has become the unsettling music of our lives over the past six weeks. Later, while volunteering at a tomato farm near Gaza, this soundtrack was enhanced by the low rumble of explosions from the ongoing war. The farmer referred to it as music to his ears, signifying a hope that Hamas would no longer threaten his village.

Now, six weeks into the Gaza War, the soundscape has shifted. The sirens sound less frequently, only once every few days. Remarkably, I’ve become so accustomed to them that my pulse barely quickens when I hear them. But from my office in Beersheva, a new and more foreboding sound instills a sense of dread: the rhythmic thumping of helicopter blades.

Just 400 meters from my office lies the helicopter landing pad of BGU’s affiliated Soroka University Hospital. The flight path of military medevac helicopters from Gaza, a mere 40 km away, passes directly overhead. So when we hear the helicopters, we know they carry Israeli soldiers who have been seriously wounded. Each approaching and departing helicopter is a reminder, a marker of time and lives impacted. If a helicopter departs quickly, it often signals another incoming soon after.

Whenever these helicopters approach, I momentarily pause any meeting I’m in. It’s a brief moment for us all to acknowledge the heavy price of this war. The Hamas attack on October 7th was just the beginning; the death toll of 1,200 and the kidnapping of 240 were only part of its devastating impact. Their ongoing terror must be stopped if there is ever to be hope for peace, and this has an awful human price. Hamas, with its declared aim of obliterating Israel and killing Jews, is not a mere rhetorical threat, but a harsh reality that we must acknowledge, and defeat.

Ben-Gurion University is not spared in this war. Earlier this week we buried our student, Captain (reserves) Roi Biber, z"l, who was waiting to start his second year in mechanical engineering. Both his parents are BGU alumni. We are sacrificing some of our best and brightest in the fight to ensure the safety of all Israelis, regardless of their faith. This battle is not just for the Negev but for the entirety of Israel.

As I write, I hear another helicopter approaching, each beat a stark reminder of the price we pay for our freedom.

With warm regards,

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update: Monday November 20

Dear Friends,

As we commemorate the 50th memorial of David Ben-Gurion, I want to bring to your attention a remarkable discovery that resonates with the ethos of our university and the vision of David Ben-Gurion.

Recently, an extraordinary piece of history resurfaced, bridging a gap of six decades and underscoring the enduring relevance of Ben-Gurion's ideals. A letter penned in 1963 by a young American Jewish boy, Philip Pinchas Smith, was unearthed in our very own Ben-Gurion Archives by our Vice President, Jeff Kaye. This letter, addressed to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, echoed a timeless question about the prospects for peace in the Land of Israel.

This serendipitous discovery was made as Jeff sifted through archival materials in preparation for a delegation visit. The letter, a wonderful inquiry from a child's perspective, asked: "Will there be peace in the Land of Israel, between Jews and Arabs?" A question as relevant today as it was sixty years ago.

Our efforts to locate Mr. Smith, the letter's author, demanded a blend of diligence and detective work. When found, he was deeply moved, recalling his participation in a school competition to write to notable figures. Remarkably, Ben-Gurion had responded, and this reply, preserved for decades, was also found in the archives, adding another layer to this historical tapestry.

Ben-Gurion's response, dated November 19, 1963, exactly 60 years to the day of this year's Ben-Gurion Day, encapsulates his unwavering commitment to peace and the pragmatic understanding that peace requires both desire and readiness from all parties involved. His words, affirming the Israeli aspiration for peace and the necessity of maintaining military strength, resonate with the complex realities we navigate even today.

As we reflect on this meaningful coincidence, the rediscovery of these letters around Ben-Gurion Day, we are reminded of the visionary leadership of our university's namesake. His insights into the challenges and opportunities for peace, and his unyielding hope for a better future, continue to inspire us.

This revelation is not merely a rediscovery of a historical document but a symbolic reiteration of our commitment to the values Ben-Gurion championed: the pursuit of peace, no matter how impossible this may seem, the quest for understanding, and the importance of dialogue across generations and cultures.

As we honor Ben-Gurion's legacy, let us draw inspiration from this story. It underscores our role in preserving history, fostering dialogue, and continuing the quest for peace and understanding, a mission more crucial today than ever.

With warm regards,

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update: Friday November 10

Dear Friends,

As the weekend draws near, I want to share some reflections from a recent visit to our Eilat campus. With the new academic year still on hold, our facilities have taken on a new and vital role in the wake of the October 7 attacks.
The city of Eilat, known for its hospitality, has become a refuge for some 65,000 individuals displaced by the attacks and ensuing war, who are now housed in hotels converted into temporary DP camps, with the dormitories on our campus also housing DPs. In a poignant display of adaptability, we've transformed our academic spaces into classrooms for 500 students—from kindergarten to high school—across five different schools that once served the communities around Gaza.

Watching these children, who have witnessed unimaginable violence, find comfort and camaraderie in their temporary school environment was incredibly moving. I found myself overwhelmed by emotion as I considered the magnitude of their experiences. It's both heart-wrenching and heartwarming to see their resilience. During one classroom visit, a spontaneous game broke out, with a student playfully identifying me as a "terrorist," a term now integrated into their play—much like "Ring Around the Rosie," which may have emerged amid the horrors of the bubonic plague.

Our commitment at BGU goes beyond providing immediate shelter. We're collaborating with school administrators to ensure continuity of education even as we prepare for the eventual return to our own academic schedule. Mobile homes are being set up to accommodate the influx of students, and with the support of the mayor, we're looking to construct additional dormitories to expand our capacity.

The parents I met, many of whom are part of the BGU family, express a deep desire for their children to stay together, underscoring the importance of community and stability. They're unsure of what the future holds for their living situations, but they're certain about one thing: they insist on remaining together for the sake of their children.

In the interim, these employees will return to work at our Eilat campus, connecting remotely with our main campus in Beersheva, surrounded by colleagues and the laughter of their children. It's a semblance of normalcy in these abnormal times—a testament to the strength and spirit of our community. As we look forward to the resumption of our full university operations, hopefully sometime next month, these efforts serve as a reminder of the profound impact we can have, not just academically, but in the very fabric of society.

On a more personal note, tomorrow Shira and I will don work clothes, and drive down early in the morning to Ein Habsor, just a few kilometers from the Gaza border, to help with the tomato harvest. When we finish, we'll visit one of our sons at a base in the area. If you are looking for a way to physically contribute to the war effort, come to Israel for a few days to help in agricultural work. It’s a great way of feeling like a young kibbutz volunteer again (though I'm sure my body will hurt a lot more tomorrow than it did 40 years ago!).

Shabbat Shalom, and wishing for a speedy return of the kidnapped, and the safety of our soldiers.

Warm regards,

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update: Monday November 6

Dear Friends, 

In times of crisis, humor has always been an invaluable ally to the Jews, a silver lining that has allowed us to endure through centuries of hardship. Our legacy is one rich with laughter amidst tears, a trait that has helped preserve our community’s spirit. 

It is with this spirit, and a month following the October 7 massacres, that I share with you a touch of levity emanating from Israel, a testament to our enduring resolve to face challenges with a smile. "Eretz Nehederet," our version of "Saturday Night Live," has been instrumental in providing this comic relief. 

I invite you to watch two recent skits that offer a satirical take on current events. The first pokes fun at the overtly biased coverage by the BBC regarding Israel. It’s a brilliant piece that reminds us not to lose sight of perspective when consuming news media. You can watch it here:

The second, which aired just last night, is an unapologetic look into the troubling currents of antisemitic rhetoric among seemingly liberal college students on some elite American university campuses, including a clever play on words renaming Columbia University as "Columbia Untisemity." The sketch’s biting wit and willingness to confront sensitive issues head-on are as thought-provoking as they are entertaining. View it here:

In a more serious tone, I recently expressed my frustration regarding this very issue of antisemitism on university campuses in an interview, where I questioned the paradoxical situation we're facing: "Why Can’t Jews Be Given Same Protection on Campus as Pronouns?" This became the title of the article, and this interview was not my usual composed dialogue, but rather a candid outpouring of my genuine concerns. I invite you to read the full discussion here:

Laughter and solemnity can be powerful partners. While we enjoy a much-needed respite through humor, we also remain steadfast in confronting and addressing the serious issues at hand. As I write this, 3000 of our students are defending our right to live as Israelis. While we laugh at Eretz Nehedert, we can do this because we all are ever aware of the stakes of our battle, and the price that we pay. 

And as they say at the end of every episode of Eretz Nehederet, "Don't forget, we have a wonderful country!"


Update: Wednesday November 1

Dear Friends,

In the midst of the complexities and challenges that we face, it's sometimes necessary to remind ourselves, that we are not alone in our war on Hamas. Over the past two days I've had two visits which enforce this idea.

Yesterday, I had the distinct privilege of hosting Dalia al-Aqidi in my office at Ben-Gurion University. Dalia, an immigrant to the United States from Iraq and educated in Lebanon, is the founder of the American Center for Counter Extremism. She is also currently a candidate running for Congress in Minneapolis, aiming to unseat Ilhan Omar.

Now, I want to clarify that under normal circumstances, I would maintain a careful distance from the intricacies of U.S. partisan politics. However, in light of Ilhan Omar's open support of Hamas, I allow myself to deviate from my normal caution. Our conversation highlighted the importance of a nuanced perspective on the geopolitical issues we face, particularly regarding groups such as Hamas, which are universally designated as terrorist organizations.

Dalia was interviewed on Fox News right from my office. You can watch it here: Please notice the Ben-Gurion University flag proudly displayed in the background. I encourage you to listen to what Dalia has to say. It is critical for promoting a different narrative than that played across so much of the reporting on the war.

Then earlier today, I ventured into Rahat, the largest Bedouin city situated just north of Be’er Sheva. My guide was Wachid, a retired IDF colonel hailing from Rahat. Our first stop was a Bedouin-Jewish distribution center, diligently working to provide essentials to those affected by the ongoing war. Notably, this center is managed primarily by a coalition of Bedouin and Jewish women. Witnessing such communal unity in action was genuinely inspiring. We then visited a survivor of the October 7 attack by Hamas, who was shot while working at the NOVA dance party but miraculously survived. His hand was saved by surgery at Soroka University Hospital. Our final visit was to the Ziadna family, who have four members—a father, two sons, and a 16-year-old daughter—kidnapped and taken to Gaza. They were working in one of the kibbutzim near the border when they were abducted.

A recurring sentiment expressed throughout my visit to Rahat was the residents' deep resentment, I would even call it hate, toward Hamas, whom they accuse of disgracing Islam. They fully support all of Israel's efforts to eradicate them. The locals stressed their loyalty to Israel, despite the issues they face.

Both these stories, Dalia's and those from Rahat, underscore the importance of recognizing the shades of gray in our global landscape. It is crucial that we understand the plurality of perspectives, including Muslim allies, in our fight against organizations like Hamas.

These are not simple times, nor are the solutions straightforward. However we have a crucial role in fostering nuanced understanding and unity against forces that threaten to divide us.

I thank you once again for your ongoing support and active involvement in our shared journey.


Update - Thursday October 26

Dear Members of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Community,

Today's narrative brings a breath of hope amidst the heartbreak I often write about. The story centers around Keshet School in Shaar HaNegev, a community school situated perilously close, 4 km, to the Gaza border. This school's population and families had countless casualties in the October 7th massacres, and its surviving student body was displaced. However, this is where the Israeli Spirit of BGU steps in.

Many of the families affected by this tragedy were relocated to hotels Eilat. Seeing an real need, we offered the facilities of our Eilat Campus to the school's principal. It warms my heart to report that yesterday, fifty elementary-aged students returned to Keshet School, which is now temporarily housed at our Eilat Campus. For the first time since that black, awful Saturday, these young students reunited with their friends in a place that feels like a second home. The staff told me it felt like the first day of school all over again.

Ami, our campus's administrative director, was vigilant in placing the children in classrooms adjacent to protected spaces, should they be needed. He and his team in Eilat has been incredibly proactive, creating a loving and protective environment for the children and attending to any need that arises. In the words of one staff member, the children already feel at home.

We are providing this essential service free of charge. Unlike the hotels where many displaced residents are staying, BGU has no guarantee of reimbursement. But that was never our primary concern. Our mission, as always, guides our actions. Given our initial success, sixty more students from the Eshkol Regional Council will resume their education on our Eilat Campus starting this coming Sunday.

I was recently asked what our emergency funds would be used for. My answer was both simple and complicated: nothing and everything. We activated our resources immediately, without worrying about the cost or hesitating to launch a fundraising campaign. However, any support we receive bolsters our confidence and ability to carry out such crucial missions.

Thank you for standing with us, especially in times like these. Your support allows us to be agile, responsive, and, above all, compassionate.

Stay safe, and keep believing in BGU.

Warm regards,

Update - Wednesday October 25

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, my journey of consolation led me to the David Hotel at the Dead Sea, the 5-star DP camp for the survivors of Kibbutz Beeri. In an area previously used for business meetings, families now sit Shiva.

The weight of the tragedy is palpable; Kibbutz Beeri lost over 130 lives on that fateful day of October 7th.

I sat with the father of Sophie—a pseudonym to protect the family's privacy. Both he and Sophie are graduates of BGU, and she was continuing on to postgraduate education. With kindness radiating from his eyes, he told me the harrowing tale of his daughter's final moments. Sophie's husband was killed while valiantly attempting to fend off the terrorists outside their home. She and her three sons took refuge in the mamad, the fortified room designed for protection. As the terrorists broke through the door, Sophie and her oldest son made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the younger ones: Sophie lay on the middle child, the oldest son on the youngest. Their plan worked; the younger sons survived, hidden beneath the lifeless bodies of their mother and older brother.

I was too stunned by the gravity of the story to remember the grandfather's next words, but a fleeting moment of what could only be described as tragic resilience caught my eye: the two surviving grandsons ran by, chasing a soccer ball barefoot, as is the style of kibbutz children.

As I took my leave, the grandfather embraced me, thanking me for coming. I found myself haunted by the thought that we had just discussed a real-life "Sophie's Choice," a situation no parent or grandparent should ever face.

In times like this, our roles are not just professional but deeply, inherently human. The complexities of life have become almost surreal, a painful mosaic of sorrow, resilience, and indomitable spirit. Through it all, we find strength in community, as we look to our family, friends, and the larger BGU community for support and meaning.

As always, thank you for being part of this community. Be strong with us.

Stay safe and resilient.

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Tuesday, October 24

Dear Members of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Community,

Earlier today, I got a message from a friend saying something like "I've come to dread opening your emails. Each is more heart-wrenching than the one before…". So I hope you'll find today's message a bit lighter.

Since the calamitous events of October 7, I have been on a mission to shed light on the unfolding situation in Israel through the prism of our own community. In this context, I recently had the honor of representing our community on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (click on the picture below). As an Israeli citizen and your University President, I consider this to be both my duty and an honor—a personal calling or "tzav 8 (reserves draft notice)" if you will.

Walking through our campus these days, you cannot help but notice the haunting quiet that has settled. The classrooms and communal spaces that usually teem with the lifeblood of our university—our students—are largely vacant. However, let me assure you that I am filled with the unwavering belief that these corridors will, at the appropriate time, resonate once again with the vibrant sounds of students and the invigorating exchange of ideas. Though the rhythm of normalcy may be altered, it will return.

As our nation grapples with conflict and loss, we at Ben-Gurion University have an important role to play. Discussions are underway about how we can most effectively assist our students, staff, and the wider community during these times. The steps we have taken so far are just the beginning, and your support is crucial in shaping our next actions.

Let us not forget that as we look to the future, we do so with a renewed sense of purpose. The challenges we face will test us, but we will emerge from these times with a deeper sense of community and a clearer vision for what Ben-Gurion University can and will achieve. It's your continued support that allows us to dream big, and to take the steps necessary to turn those dreams into reality.

Stay safe and resilient.

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Monday, October 23

Dear Friends,

Today, I'd like to share a story that weaves together two significant roles I hold— President of BGU and father.

This morning, my journey of consoling the mourning within our BGU family continued. I visited Aliza, who recently retired after years of devoted service as the academic secretary of the Department of Middle East Studies. She shared the heartbreaking story of her brother Eliyahu and nephew Arie, who were victims of the murderous attack on October 7. The agony of not knowing their fate for 13 days was an inhuman ordeal, she described. Their bodies were finally identified and laid to rest yesterday. One of them had even acted heroically, jumping on a grenade to save others.

As I left the shiva house, I received a call from my daughter-in-law informing me that my son, who is on reserve duty, was sleeping on the floor without a mattress. My immediate thought was to buy a field mattress for him, but where? I was in an unfamiliar part of the south, near Gaza. So, I returned to the shiva, apologized for the intrusion, and inquired if they knew of a nearby store where I could purchase a mattress. What happened next was nothing short of Israeli. Aliza's brother rose from his mourning chair, went inside, and came out with two camping mattresses—one for my son and another for anyone else in need. I was moved to tears.

After navigating several security checkpoints, I finally reached my son's location. After waiting for an additional hour, he arrived at the guard post to collect the mattresses and some snacks I had picked up along the way.

Today's journey through the western Negev connected me to both the pain of mourning and the future of Israel, as well as from my BGU family to my own. It served as a powerful reminder of the resilience and compassion that embody our community, even in the darkest of times.


Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Sunday, October 22

Dear Friends,

It has been two harrowing weeks since we all woke up to the unthinkable devastation wrought by the Hamas and Islamic Jihad led terror attack, resulting in 1,400 lives lost, over 200 people kidnapped, and tens of thousands turned into refugees.

Our BGU community has not been unscathed. While statistics can never capture the magnitude of human suffering, it is essential that you know the impact on our community: 16 students and staff, both academic and administrative, were taken from us. Additionally, 33 family members of our staff have been lost, and four remain missing or kidnapped. Families of over 200 of our employees have been displaced, now residing in repurposed hotels serving as refugee camps. A significant, yet undisclosed, number of our students have been called up for reserve duty. Nearly every family in the BGU community, including my own, has loved ones who have been called up for reserve duty, or if not, knows families whose children have been.

As we contend with these immense challenges, our hearts and prayers are with our soldiers and reservists, for their safe and speedy return.
To remember and honor those we lost, we have created a memorial page which you can visit at: In Memoriam.

We are in the early stages of discussions about the best ways to memorialize the victims of October 7th. Their memory shall forever be a blessing, guiding us as we continue to strive for a better future. Clearly, the landscape of our community has been forever altered, and as we navigate this tumultuous time, let us do so with the resilience and solidarity that defines us.

May their memory be for a blessing.

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Friday, October 20

Dear Friends,

Today's letter diverges from previous ones; it is deeply personal.

Over these past two harrowing weeks, I have found myself doing things I never could have fathomed—bearing witness to unfathomable pain, offering comfort to the inconsolable, and standing beside those in utter despair. I am not alone in this. The entire administration at BGU has demonstrated remarkable fortitude. Our presence at funerals and at Shivas has brought a glimmer of light to an overwhelmingly dark world. This experience has strengthened us all, and in turn, fortified the university. Yet, it has also exacted an emotional toll on each of us. I suspect many of you, like me, look in the mirror questioning whether you will ever be the same again.

When asked how I am, my response is "strong and broken." Remarkably, one can be both.

This duality aligns with the psychological model of "aintegration,"* originally developed by Israeli researchers studying Holocaust survivors. The theory describes the human capacity to hold cognitive and emotional complexity, to navigate incongruences, inconsistencies, and paradoxes without experiencing undue strain. I am certainly not without "undue strain" over these past two weeks, but I have found peace in accepting that I can be both strong and functional, and yet broken, without being consumed by the incongruity. By acknowledging this pain and sadness, I aim to maintain the resilience needed for the challenges that lie ahead.

As Shabbat approaches, I offer you this poem: (translated by me)

Resilience of their Heart, Nirit Yaacov Cohen

Do not think for a second
That you are doing nothing!
With each hug, with each nice word
With each retelling of a story, With each meal you make
With each tickle, With each whisper
With each moment that you are a safe haven
For all emotions that rise to surface
You are building the true "safe room" (mamad) for children

Wishing you a Shabbat of reflection, of strength, and of aintegration.

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

*If you are interested in learning more about aintegration, you can read the article here:

Update - Thursday, October 19

Dear Friends,

We are all still shocked by the enormity of the horror that is still unfolding. The stories keep coming and the number of wounded, killed, missing, and abducted continues to rise. I want to share with you a story about two from the University community, a small story within all the stories of tragedy that we hear.

Unfortunately, most of you know Noa Argamani from the picture that has been published around the world. Noa is a third-year student in Software and Information Systems Engineering at the University. From the beginning, she knew she wanted to study engineering, so she did a dedicated preparatory program. In school she is always "on it". Motivated, sharp, highly invested.
In her personal life, Noa is more relaxed. She is always surrounded by friends and is known for her willingness to help out. Noa loves to celebrate life. She goes to parties, produces parties and organizes anything good for the people around her. Apart from parties, Noa loves to walk in nature. Every semester break, she organizes a trip to some stream, sea, or forest. One of Noa's greatest loves is the sea, so many of the trips were of course to some beach. Which? No matter, leave it to Noa to plan it.

Noa plans to move in with her boyfriend, Avinatan Or, at the end of the coming school year. They've been talking about it for months.

Avinatan Or successfully completed a degree in electrical and computer engineering at Ben-Gurion University. Avinatan, 30, the second of 7siblings, grew up in Shilo and currently lives in Tel Aviv. During his studies, Avinatan volunteered both with the Perah organization and in the pediatric oncology department at Soroka. Not that studying engineering is easy, we all know it’s not, but he doesn't know how to do it any other way. Avinatan, an optimistic and funny man, who moves blithely through life, loves to party, of course mainly with Noa. When he's not partying, he likes to read books, cook, and entertain friends at home.

Avinatan saw Noa at the University Purim party and asked a friend of his to send Noa a message on Instagram (because Avinatan doesn't have Instagram).

They went on a date and became a couple.

On Saturday morning, Noa and Avinatan were at the nature party next to Reim. Of course, they would be there. Another party, good music, nature too. How could they not?

Both are now apparently kidnapped by Hamas, and we are consumed with worry and concern for them and others who are missing and kidnapped, praying for their return to us safe and sound soon.


Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Wednesday, October 18

Dear Friends,

The disheartening news regarding the equivocal, or even troubling stances taken by Presidents of some of America's most esteemed universities in connection with the murderous attacks by Hamas leaves us all dumbfounded. Equally disturbing are reports of faculty and students from Ivy League and other institutions openly supporting Hamas. I don't need to explain how this terrorizes Jewish students and other supporters of Israel.

However, it's crucial to not lose sight of a parallel narrative. I am uplifted to share that numerous university presidents have reached out with unequivocal support, sorrow, and a brave condemnation of the terrorist attacks. It's a powerful testament to the enduring value of academia as a force for good.

The university presidents who have reached out with their support and solidarity include:

  • Michael Crow, Arizona State University
  • Ching-Hua Wang, Bielefeld University
  • Ronald Liebowitz, Brandeis
  • John Fry, Drexel
  • Walter Rosenthal, Friedrich-Schiller Universität
  • Rachelle K. Keck, Grand View University
  • Noureddine Mouaddib, International University of Rabat
  • Jiří Pokorný, Mendel University
  • Daniel A. Wubah, Millersville University
  • Timothy Rahilly, Mount Royal University
  • Bonnie Ball Copenhaver, New River Community and Technical College
  • Teik C Lim, NJIT
  • Geraldine Rauch, Technische Universität Berlin
  • Hicham El Habti, UM6P
  • Santa J Ono, University of Michigan
  • Udo Hebel, University of Regensburg
  • Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, University of Rochester
  • Joan Gabel, University of Pittsburgh
  • Diego Quiroga Ferri, Universidad San Francisco de Quito USFQ
  • Carol Folt, USC

If you have any connections with these institutions, I would highly encourage you to reach out and express your appreciation.

In addition, I received heartfelt, personal letters from our recent Honorary Doctorate Laureates including President Ursula von der Leyen, Dr. Chelsea Clinton, and Timotheus Höttges.

This is just a small sampling of the support my colleagues and I have received from provosts, deans, research institutions, and individual researchers from around the world. During a period marked by encroaching anti-Semitism and wavering intellectual and moral rigor from some academic corners, it's crucial to remember we are not alone.

The support from these academic leaders is illuminating the darkness we currently face. This gives me immense hope.

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Monday, October 16

Dear Friends,

As we move into the second week of the developing war, I wanted to bring you up-to-date on the remarkable resilience that Ben-Gurion University has displayed.

While the initial shock of the devastating attacks on October 7th is giving way to a sobering understanding of our current reality, the university has stood strong as a beacon of resilience in the Negev. What began as an immediate response from our medical and paramedical staff and students in Ashkelon, Be'er Sheva, and Ashdod hospitals has now evolved into a plethora of organized, impactful activities. Indeed, we go boldly in all we do.

We have initiated a designated resilience center to offer emotional and mental support, boosting resilience amid these traumatic times. Recognizing the challenges that our new and continuing students are facing, we have initiated phone contact with each of our 18,000 students to assess their needs and offer any assistance they might need.

Our commitment to crisis preparedness includes the implementation of Crisis Management Workshops and ongoing staff training. On the volunteering front, we’ve achieved significant strides. For instance, we’ve set up a hub for the Lev Ehad organization and a logistics center in the Zlotowski Student Union building. Students lead these operations, and we are seeing an inspiring turnout of staff and volunteers pitching in.

Moreover, we are providing housing for medical staff, families of the wounded, soldiers, and volunteer teams, ensuring we play our part in bolstering the Negev's resilience during these unparalleled times.

This conflict is unlike anything we've ever faced. However, as we've demonstrated in past crises, including the pandemic, the indomitable BGU Spirit "that anything is possible", fueled by our shared belief in the Power of Together, is guiding us through this challenging period.

Rest assured, your university is more committed than ever to leading in crisis and serving as a steadfast community partner. Thank you for your unwavering support and trust.

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Thursday, October 12

What do you say to parents whose daughter was kidnapped by the terrorists to Gaza?

Noa Argamani is a BGU student in the Department of Information Systems Engineering. She was, unknown to her parents, at the Peace Rave (an open dance party) that was overrun by a blood-thirsty band of terrorists early Saturday morning. We now know that at least 250 were murdered and mutilated at point-blank range. Some were taken hostage, and Noa was filmed pleading for her life, while being carted off to Gaza on a motorbike.

The terrorists grotesquely turned it into a tiktok post.

I sat today with her parents Leora and Yaacov. They are a lovely couple, very modest. Noa is their only daughter, who they had relatively late in life. Leora is originally from China, where she was known as Li. To add to the tragedy, she suffers from an inoperable brain tumor which has left her partially paralyzed. Somehow, she smiled at me throughout our conversation.

Yaacov, who dons a small black kippa, retold the horror of Saturday, how with the early morning sirens, he saw Noa wasn't home, but assumed she went back to her campus housing. How he tried to call but got no answer. How after two hours he got her boyfriend Avinatan on the phone, who said "we're ok, I'll call back in 10 minutes", a call which never came. How he ran, and then got a ride, to Soroka to see if she was injured. How he was even relieved that she wasn't there. Until when a friend showed him the video, at which point he fainted.

Throughout our conversation, this was the only time his voice started breaking, "She looked so scared, so horrified! She was trying to reach out, maybe to Avinatan, and then I hear her crying, 'don't kill me!' My baby girl!"

Today, October 12, is Noa's 26th birthday. Her friends were at the house, celebrating for her. Noa's absence filled the room with a solemnity that words cannot describe. In that space of sorrow, the best we can offer is the assurance of our unwavering support and love for Noa and her family.

So, what do you say to parents whose daughter was kidnapped by the terrorists to Gaza?

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Wednesday, October 11

Dear Friends,

The harrowing events currently unfolding in Israel have cast a pall across our academic community and indeed, our nation. Today, I engaged in discussions with several of my counterparts, university presidents from all corners of the globe. I expressed our deep gratitude for their support, but more urgently, the necessity for an unambiguous condemnation of the heinous actions we are witnessing by Hamas terrorists. The unspeakable acts, coupled with a celebratory spirit of violence, evoke dark memories of our history, reminiscent of the likes of pogroms and the Holocaust.

My colleagues and I, the presidents of all the public research universities in Israel, reached out to university leaders across the world. Our message highlights the unparalleled barbarity of Hamas' attacks on innocent Israeli civilians, ranging from the youngest to our elderly. Beyond just sporadic violence, we were confronted with deliberate abductions, tortures, and executions. It's crucial to underline that this isn't the familiar narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian tensions we know. The extent of cruelty displayed is akin to the inhumanity we've seen from extremist factions like the Taliban and the Islamic State.

Of great concern is the potential stance of academic institutions abroad. There's an emerging narrative that could display an unbalanced view, possibly leaning towards sympathy for these terrorists. As part of the global academic community, it is their duty to strongly denounce any endorsement or justifications of such terror.

In my dialogue today with Barbara Snyder, President of the Association of American Universities, which includes 69 major institutions, and former president of Case Western Reserve, she assured me of her unwavering support. She committed to ensuring that there is no false equivalence made between Hamas's and Israel's actions.

The insightful book, "Jews Don't Count" by David Baddiel, aptly highlights the unique nature of antisemitism, especially in left-wing politics. Baddiel's arguments underscore that antisemitism often faces double standards, leading to distinct discrimination against Jews. This resonates strongly with our present reality. We must ensure that the actions of Hamas aren't explained away or equivocated with any actions taken by Israel. We derive no pleasure from this conflict, unlike Hamas who displayed the macabre act of celebrating over the corpses of children.

To those who wonder, "What can we do?", remember that many of you are valued alumni of prestigious universities. Wield your influence. Reconsider your support for institutions whose leaders do not explicitly condemn Hamas's actions, and of those who support them on their campuses.

With heartfelt appreciation and hope for a peaceful tomorrow,

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Tuesday, October 10

Dear Friends,

Today, amid the profound challenges our nation faces, I had the solemn duty of paying condolences at the shiva for the husband of one of our amazing students. She is currently working on her PhD in social sciences, researching the critical issue of personal autonomy for women concerning birth control.

Her husband, a commander in an elite unit, leaves behind their four children, all under the age of ten. The weight of her loss and the responsibility she now carries is unimaginable. Words failed me as I struggled to offer any consolation, and I could only extend the unwavering love and support of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev community.

Concurrently, our Rector attended the funeral in Ofakim for the brother of one of our valued employees from our Sde Boker Campus. He was a brave policeman who made the ultimate sacrifice during the defense operations on Saturday.

In light of these tragic, unimaginable events, we have been impelled to establish a mourning protocol. It is essential for us to ensure that no funeral goes unattended and that no shiva remains unvisited. Our senior leadership is deeply committed to attending these wrenching, sad events, ensuring that every individual in our BGU family receives the support, respect, and solidarity they deserve during these awful times.

These heart-wrenching moments serve as poignant reminders of the human cost of conflict and the intertwined lives of our BGU family members. As we grieve these irreplaceable losses, we are reminded of the importance of community, support, and solidarity.

With a heavy heart,

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Monday, October 9

Dear Friends,

I just got off a heartening zoom call with many of you. Your belief in us and support of Israel helps us in this time of crisis. As many of you heard a more in depth update, here I want to share a heartening update from the frontlines of our university's commitment to aiding the affected during this crisis.

Today, I had the profound privilege of visiting and witnessing the exemplary efforts of our students, the heart and sole of BGU. More than 500 of them, hailing from the fields of medicine, nursing, emergency medicine, physiotherapy and social work, have volunteered their skills and time in the Soroka University Hospital ER, to assist the thousands who have been wounded. Their dedication, paired with their academic and practical expertise, is making a tangible difference in the lives of many.

From Soroka, I traveled to the other side of Be'er Sheva where numerous other students were tirelessly coordinating a substantial logistics operation to ensure the distribution of food and vital supplies to soldiers around the Gaza area. This immense undertaking is a testament to the spirit of camaraderie, community, and humanity that defines BGU.

Seeing our students in action, navigating adversity with resilience, compassion, and unwavering commitment, fills me with immense pride. It stands as a powerful testament to the values and ethos we cherish and uphold at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In the face of such challenges, the BGU community continues to embody hope, solidarity, and the determination to make a positive impact. Our students' endeavors are indeed a badge of pride for our beloved institution.

Until tomorrow,

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Sunday, October 8

To our dear supporters and friends,

In the midst of the unfolding crisis in Israel, I am heartbroken to share a deeply personal account from Prof. Ilan Troen. Many of you know Ilan, an "old immigrant" from the US, from his involvement in the BoG, and his numerous contributions to BGU, including founding the program in Israel Studies. His family has suffered an unimaginable loss with the murder of their daughter and son-in-law during yesterday's attacks.

Yesterday, as alerts rang out, Ilan and his wife Carol were in Jerusalem, only to receive harrowing text messages from their grandson, Rotem, from Kibbutz Holit. He relayed the terrifying events as terrorists invaded, leading to the shooting of his parents who protected him till their last breath. He managed to hide for several hours amidst the chaos, surrounded by smoke and fire, narrowly escaping with a gunshot wound.
Upon arriving at Soroka University Hospital in the evening, they found Rotem. His face, arms, and hands were covered in soot, smelling of the fire that had consumed his home. The bullet, which fortunately did not harm any internal organs, was removed, and Rotem insisted on keeping it as a poignant reminder of the ordeal. He has expressed his resolve to ensure his parents live on through him. His older sisters Shir and Shakked, experienced their own horrors, hiding in a different location until they were finally rescued.

Carol's words resonate with strength and defiance: "We will be carrying this between us for the rest of our lives and we'll go on. As in the Partisan's hymn, 'our footsteps will thunder yet again - we are here' ."

Unfortunately, this is just one of numerous narratives I heard today. Far too many in our community have been transformed by unimaginable grief. The weight of this loss is magnified by the collective grief of the nation. As I share this profound sorrow, we are reminded of the resilience of the human spirit, even in the darkest of times of our history here in Israel. Our thoughts are with Ilan and Carol, the entire Troen family, and all who mourn in Zion.

I will be back tomorrow with another update.

Wishing us another quiet night,

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Update - Saturday, October 7

Dear Friends,

I hope this message finds you well, despite the challenging circumstances we currently face.

Today, as the situation in the Negev and Israel at large takes a tumultuous turn, I believe it is crucial to keep you abreast of the unfolding events and our response at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

This morning, as the first sirens pierced the calm of our holiday, our university administration was propelled into swift action, ensuring that critical information was dispatched to our students and staff without delay. I'm sure you are glued to your favorite news sources, which have detailed the gravity of the situation. Accordingly, we decided to close the university tomorrow (Sunday) and will continue to assess the situation daily.

As expected, many within our community, students, staff and faculty, have been summoned for reserve duty. This is a privilege and responsibility that is a rite of passage for Israelis who serve in the IDF (which unfortunately is not everyone). But it brings with it, in situations like this, clear worries. There will not be a family at BGU that is not connected in some way to what will unfold. We stand behind our reservists and are making all accommodations for them.

I would like to take a moment to commend our medical and paramedical teams, including many of our students, who have shown an unparalleled commitment, attending to those in need in the front lines of Soroka, Barzilai and Ashdod hospitals. Their fortitude and selflessness, a true embodiment of the BGU Spirit, shine as a beacon of hope amidst the shadows of this conflict.

It is with a heavy heart that we acknowledge the potential ramifications of this escalating situation on our community. In this hour of need, we have ensured that emotional and social support frameworks at the university stand ready to serve those grappling with the complexities of these times.

This confrontation is unique in its character and challenges. Yet, drawing from our experiences in previous conflicts and during the COVID-19 pandemic, I firmly believe in the resilience of the BGU Spirit and the Power of Together. These guiding principles will undoubtedly steer us through these turbulent waters.

To summarize our immediate actions over the past 18 hours:

  • We've been proactive since the first alarms, despite the holiday.
  • Comprehensive communications were dispatched to our academic community.
  • Emotional and social support mechanisms have been activated.
  • We elected to close our campus tomorrow.

Rest assured, our university's topmost priority is the safety and well-being of our community members. We are in continuous dialogue with security agencies to ensure that our students and faculty are shielded from harm. My commitment to you is that we will remain transparent and keep you updated as the situation at the university unfolds.

In closing, I thank you for your understanding, support, and prayers for our beloved university and for our country.

Together, we shall prevail.

Wishing us a quiet night,

Professor Daniel Chamovitz
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

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