Yesterday I returned from our first CUFI on Campus trip to Poland and Israel. Our goal was to educate our campus leaders about the tragedies and triumphs of Jewish history and inspire them to greater activism. I have no doubt that this goal was accomplished. These 34 students — an already impressive bunch — returned home more committed than ever to speaking out for Israel and better equipped to do so. I look forward to seeing the fruit of their energy and dedication in the coming months.
Yet what impressed me most about our trip was not the impact that it had on our students, but the impact that our students had on those they met. Their ability to touch, and comfort, those on the front lines of the struggle for Jewish memory and survival is a credit to them and to all of the members of CUFI.
Our time in Poland was far from fun. Our mission was to visit the death camps where the Nazis murdered Europe’s Jews, including Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Majdanek. On these difficult days, we were blessed with the company and insights of Mr. Irving Roth. Mr. Roth was born in Slovakia in 1928, and he suffered and survived the hell of Auschwitz. Most of his family — including the brother who was his constant companion — perished in the Holocaust. Yet Irving is a man filled with a love of God, life and humanity. You will find no greater exemplar of the love at the core of our Judeo-Christian tradition than Irving Roth.
Yet despite all of his optimism, Irving reads the newspapers and worries about the future. Once again he sees the world rising up against the people of Israel with precious few prepared to resist the tide of hate and lies. Thus it was of enormous significance for him to meet a group of young Christian leaders who were both deeply touched by his story and clearly committed to preventing its repetition. He saw in our students a “bulwark” against the renewed “demonization” of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. It is as if his prayers of 65 years ago for sympathy and support were finally being answered.
After Poland, we flew to Israel. From the valley to the peak. From destruction to rebirth. When one flies from Poland to Israel, one tastes the reality of miracles.
The ongoing Israeli struggle for security was reflected in the fact that we, like most other tour groups, had an armed security guard with us at all times. Our guard, a young man named Ohad Shem Tov, recently finished his service in the Israeli army and had seen action in Gaza. Ohad longs for peace, but he does not shrink from defending his country when called upon to do so. Ohad has seen hate and bloodshed, but he still loves his fellow man and bears no ill will towards his Arab neighbors. Ohad is remarkable, but he is hardly atypical. Like Irving, he exhibits a love of life and humanity that is central to our shared faiths.
Yet the constant fighting and universal condemnation faced by Israelis takes its toll. It feels sometimes like the whole world is against little Israel. Thus meeting so many Christian students so committed to Israel had a deep impact upon Ohad. He shared with us that CUFI ‘s existence and the strong Christian support for Israel gave him and his colleagues the courage to keep up the fight. For them, CUFI’s presence blasts a hole in the wall of rejection and distortion through which light streams. Once again, our emergence was an answer to prayer. And this time, prayers are being answered in time to make a difference.
Our campuses remain dangerous places, where the next generation of leaders are being taught to hate Israel and our own cultural heritage. We will continue to build up a campus network that can help reverse this tide. We will continue to comfort those who have been, or are, on the front lines of this struggle. And we will continue to move beyond providing comfort to providing concrete support that will make a difference on the ground. If our efforts could inspire men like Irving Roth and Ohad Shem Tov, we know that we have begun a work of enormous importance.