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FIU Shabbat dinner honoring visiting October 7th Israeli survivors targeted by protestors

By StandWithUs | South Florida Sun Sentinel | March 21, 2024



Photo courtesy of StandWithUs: From left, Neta Zeevi, Neta Fanta and Shye Klein. Courtesy of StandWithUs


Between February 27th and March 10th, StandWithUs hosted the “October 7th – Survival and Resilience” Tour where eight Israelis traveled throughout the United States recounting their harrowing experiences surrounding the brutal attack on October 7th where Hamas tortured and murdered 1,200 Israelis and took 250 hostages into Gaza. StandWithUs is an international nonpartisan organization that supports Israel and combats antisemitism with a chapter in the Southeast. The speakers are graduates of the flagship StandWithUs Israel Fellowship, a year-long program that identifies, educates and empowers Israel’s future leaders from universities throughout Israel.


Together, with 500 students from around the world and community members, they attended StandWithUs’ annual International Conference: “Israel in Focus” in Los Angeles, February 29th through March 3rd, 2024. The student leaders are members of StandWithUs’ Emerson Fellowship for college students and the Kenneth Leventhal High School Internship. Attendees heard from celebrities, renowned world speakers and participated in breakout sessions where they exchanged best practices.  By sharing their experiences throughout the weekend, attendees were better able to relate to the October 7th attacks through the eyes of these brave Israelis who lived through it.


After the conference, Shye Klein, Neta Fanta, and Neta Zeevi traveled to the southeast to continue sharing their stories. StandWithUs Senior Campus Regional Manager Jess Green organized for Shye, Neta and Neta to speak at the University of South Florida in Tampa before traveling to the east coast of Florida to speak at Temple Beth Kodesh in Boynton Beach and Temple Beth Emet in Cooper City.


Shye, a Canadian-born survivor of the Nova festival, then traveled to Canada. Neta and Neta were joined by Danielle Pinto, StandWithUs High School Regional Manager, who organized presentations at Sha’arei Bina Torah Academy for Girls in Hollywood, Temple Shaarei Shalom in Boynton Beach, David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie and the Scheck Hillel Jewish Day School in North Miami Beach. They also spoke at Nova Southeastern University. The trouble began at Florida International University (FIU), where Neta and Neta were invited by Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at FIU and FIU Hillel to its Shabbat dinner on March 8th.


Thursday night, prior to the dinner, the speakers were notified about a post by the Students for Justice in Palestine club at FIU. They posted on their Instagram page “Israel Occupation Force (IOF) Soldiers off our campus now. Genocidal criminals are not welcomed.”


Authorities were alerted immediately. FIU Police and the Department of Homeland Security attended the event.


Melanie W., the student president of FIU Hillel, noticed that SJP was planning to table the same day. She took a few of her peers to try to discourage the protestors. She told the members of SJP that this was a religious event and there were going to be families with children present. The SJP members expressed no remorse and stated, “we are going to show up anyway.”


Over fifty students and community members gathered for dinner on Friday night. They were met by an equal number of protestors surrounding the room on both entrances. Every person who tried to enter the room was met with a statement such as “oh look, another genocide supporter” or “IOF supporters off our campus now.”


FIU Police escorted the speakers through the back entrance where they were met with a cold welcome from members of SJP, the Young Democratic Socialists of America and external group “Jews for Ceasefire”. Their banners read “IOF War Criminals Off Our Campus” among other harmful statements.


When the event began, the group stood outside the room reading names into a microphone which could not be heard inside the room. Neta Zeevi began sharing his October 7th story of survival and the atmosphere shifted. The moment Neta started recounting stories about those who were murdered on October 7th, the crowd outside the room erupted. They began chanting “Israel, Israel, you can’t hide, you’re committing genocide” among other already familiar chants. The group attempted to barricade us in the room by blocking both entrances.


The police escorted them off the premises quickly. Yet, many protesters stuck around outside the building until the event concluded.  Their goal was to harass the speakers, however, the Chief of FIU PD escorted them to the car. Thankfully, neither Neta, Neta nor I had any contact with any of the protesters.


Following the event, Neta Zeevi stated, “I was disappointed when they decided to disrupt my presentation during a solemn moment where I shared the story of my best friend’s grandmother who was murdered. I’m not asking them to listen to our story but at the very least show respect for those that we lost.”


“I lost one of my best friends and all I want to do is honor her memory,” Neta Fanta stated.

John Warech, President of FIU Hillel told the student paper, “We put together the Shabbat program once a month at FIU and each time is a different theme. It is unfortunate that we cannot celebrate our program without them bothering Jewish students just because they don’t like the topic. That does not mean that they can harass our students.”


Unfortunately, the protestors who waited outside confronted the Jewish students as they were exiting the building. Melanie W. shared that they were followed to their cars by members of SJP and YDSA.


“I feel unsafe on campus,” Melanie says, “and now I’m hesitant to go to class. The members of these clubs know who I am and I worry that I will encounter them again.”


Neta, Neta and Shye shared their recollections of October 7th


Neta

On October 7th, Neta Zeevi’s Moshav (agricultural community), Sde Nitzan, was nearly infiltrated by Hamas terrorists – but their invasion was pushed back and stopped right outside of the entrance to his community. On that day, Neta lost many dear to his heart, including friends from the community and former teachers. Despite the devastating situation, Neta’s commitment to Israel remained unwavering. He enlisted in the reserves and had just completed serving in Gaza for 86 days in a unit responsible for evacuating wounded soldiers, providing logistic support and mobilizing forces. Neta exemplifies resilience and dedication in both his academic pursuits and service to his country.


Neta is a third-year student studying business management and entrepreneurship at Ben-Gurion University (BGU). He was born and raised in Moshav Sde Nitzan, one of the closest communities to the Gaza border. He served in the IDF as a combat soldier in the intelligence special forces. Post-military service, Neta worked as a sports counselor in Baltimore, Maryland. As a student, he was deeply involved on campus co-founding and managing “Game Changers,” the BGU Sports and Sports-Tech community.


Netta shared his experience serving in Gaza

“Serving in Gaza meant a lot to me because I was directly defending the home that I grew up in. Gaza is a dangerous place and you need to stay alert at all times – no exceptions. The hardest thing is when you experience a loss of someone you know personally but you still need to remain alert. Serving in Gaza was a challenge, but I was protecting my home”.


Neta

On October 7th, Neta Fanta, 27, was alerted about the war by her family and received panicked phone calls from her friends group trying to track down friends who were declared missing. Unfortunately, Neta lost Niv, her best friend and other dear friends from Kibbutz Kfar Aza which was infiltrated by Hamas terrorists who proceeded to massacre the residents. She was drafted into the IDF as a reserve officer overseeing all Special Operations from the IDF headquarters throughout the war. She is proud to share her first-hand account of serving her country during the war and to ensure Niv’s story lives on.


Neta is majoring in government, diplomacy and strategy at Reichman University. She is also serving as the Israeli Fellowship Coordinator for StandWithUs Israel. Neta is the youngest child among her four siblings. Her parents made aliyah from Ethiopia in the 1980s to fulfill their Zionist dream. Throughout her childhood, she was involved in Zionist youth movements and volunteering. In the army, she served as a training officer in the Battalion Commander Course concluding her military career as a captain in the IDF overseeing her brigade’s international operations.


Neta expressed why serving as an Israeli Fellowship Coordinator for StandWithUs Israel is important to her

“I have always been a Zionist and I love to talk about the importance of Judaism and Israel. After participating in the StandWithUs Fellowship, I gained a lot of knowledge about the conflict in Israel as well as personal skills to tell my own story. The fellowship left such an impact on me that I am now a fellowship coordinator. October 7th took me off guard like most Israelis and it’s not a cliché that everyone knows someone who was either killed or kidnapped. I always knew the importance of my job, but now more than ever I feel the sense of responsibility for the work that I’m doing”.


Shye

On October 7th, Shye Klein, a 26-year-old Israeli-Canadian photographer went from capturing photos of joy to witnessing chaos at the Nova Music Festival attacked by Hamas. Shye’s viral footage helped identify survivors and victims. He is working on a project interviewing and recapturing photos of individuals he photographed moments before the tragedy. He remains committed to telling these stories and contributing to the healing process. Shye’s mission is to illuminate the stories around the world of those he connected with who were shocked by the October 7th massacre.


Shye recalled surviving the Nova Music Festival

“I’m glad that I went to the Nova Music Festival with my cousin Mordechai and his friends. It was one of the most fun experiences that I had ever had since arriving in Israel. It’s very possible that if I was not there my cousins and friends would not be around”.



Read the full article here.

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