With the sound of the siren blaring over the school’s loudspeaker, a somber mood set over YULA Boys for the commemoration of Yom Hazikaron. The entire student body gathered in the Beit Midrash for a short video from One Family, with surviving family members speaking about lost loved ones.
Rabbi Emerson then introduced the powerful speaker for the day, Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, a former IDF soldier who spoke at last year’s AIPAC Policy Conference and founded the non-profit organization Our Soldiers Speak. A pin drop could have been heard as students listened in rapt attention to Sgt. Anthony’s booming voice and moving message. Addressing the students as equals and as the future Jewish leaders in America and the world, Sgt. Anthony relayed his own personal story, beginning with a horrifying anti-semitic encounter he experienced as a teenager growing up in the United Kingdom. A group of adults attacked him and his brothers, and Sgt. Anthony learned from an early age the value of self-defense and protecting oneself against enemies set to destroy you. It is that same value system that carried him through the Israeli army, leading troops into battle on the front line, putting his life in danger to protect innocent civilians asleep in their beds.
Amidst the myriad reasons given for the importance of Israel’s safekeeping, Sgt. Anthony stressed that above all else, Israel is the land of the Jews. As such, it is the responsibility of YULA students to do their upmost to protect Israel on college campuses, fighting for her safety and defending her honor whenever possible and whenever needed.
Making the transition from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut, YULA’s basketball court was transformed on Tuesday morning and covered in the blue and white Israeli flags. Students participated in an uplifting davening and Hallel led by Yossi Etshalom and then took part in round robin learning in their classrooms, hearing from different rebbeim on topics relating to the day and its significance.
Then it was time for the celebrations! B’nei Akiva and YULA organized a joint program that included a scavenger hunt for the 9th and 10th graders along Pico Blvd. Stops included a sing-a-long with children at the Nursery in Magen David, listening to a d’var Torah from Rabbi Muskin at YICC, visiting the Los Angeles Mikvah, and Tomchei Shabbos. All the teams worked extremely hard to gather all the pieces to complete the puzzle. The 11th and 12th grade students went to Griffith Park Observatory, where they took part in the well-known Yom Ha’atzmaut tradition of tiyulim, or hiking. After a steep hike up to Mount Hollywood, the boys were treated to a shiur by Rabbi Abramzcik about the mitzvah of living in Israel and wrap up by Rabbi Etshalom about the significance of Yom Ha’atzmaut and its relationship to the 7th day of Pesach. Everyone joined back together at school for a fun and festive BBQ from STUCO. Am Yisrael Chai!