The Jerusalem College of Technology’s (JCT) 2023-24 academic year kicked off on Sunday, featuring changes to accommodate students and faculty impacted by the Israel Defense Forces’ “Operation Swords of Iron.”
To assist those who are serving or who recently served in the IDF reserves, JCT rector Dan Bouhnik and his senior staff adjusted course schedules and requirements for students whose studies will be impacted by their service and for women students whose husbands are serving. The school will offer asynchronous courses (online courses where the instructor and student don’t need to be present at the same time) as well as increased personalized mentoring to assist those who need help completing their coursework. First-year students will receive extensive supplementary assistance, instructional videos and tutoring from fellow students to ensure that they start their college career on a positive note.
Despite the late start, the school will still offer two complete semesters, but all vacations and breaks (other than those associated with Jewish holidays) have been dropped.
“A significant number of the students have completed their reserve duty and will be able to begin their studies alongside their classmates. However, those that are still on active duty will gradually return over time depending on the reality on the ground,” Bouhnik said. “We’re committed to providing a customized academic experience for each soldier in the reserves so as to optimize their acclimation back into civilian life.”
Additionally, the school will provide subscriptions to online academic reinforcement, access to psychologists who specialize in trauma, food vouchers for draftee families, army service grants to students upon their return, dorm fee waivers and a tuition discount. To fully accommodate the needs of its reservist students, JCT has embarked on a campaign to raise $3 million.
After a two-month delay, JCT marked the opening of the school year with a moving prayer ceremony in its beit midrash to welcome students. The emotional service included remarks from JCT president professor Chaim Sukenik; Bouhnik; Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, rabbinic head of JCT; Rabbi Amnon Hedri the head of JCT’s Beit Midrash; Rabbi Doron Perez, executive chairman of World Mizrachi; and Rabbi Menachem Kalmanson, a teacher in the Ohr Otniel Yeshiva High School.
Hedri spoke about the significance of attending JCT, a school that values both religious and secular studies. “We are all fighting for a strong Jewish state where one can worship God, value science and also experience the power of Torah. This is a life that will bestow good and kindness to the entire world,” he said. “Just because we try to resume normal life, doesn’t mean we’re forgetting about those fighting for us in Gaza. It is because of them that we are able to go back and resume our studies. What’s more, JCT is dedicated to ensuring that soldiers receive the support they need so that the school year is not lost.”
Sukenik added that the school chose to begin the year with collective prayer because the entire nation is praying for their loved ones and coming together solidifies the notion “that all of Israel is responsible for one another.”
He added that “the combined perspectives of different individuals praying together enriches and enhances the power of the prayer”.
Perez spoke to the audience about his two sons who are both IDF soldiers. He hasn’t heard from one of his sons since the war began, and he is presumed to be captive in Gaza. Meanwhile, his other son (who had been injured in battle) recently got married. The rabbi described the bittersweet moment of standing under the chuppah as his son got married while the other son’s fate remains unknown. In many ways, he suggested, his experience represents the collective experience of the country that is in grief but still wants to celebrate life.
Also speaking at the ceremony was Rabbi Menachem Kalmanson who, along with his brother Elchanan (OBM), was responsible for saving more than 100 people in Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel.
He recalled the harrowing experience when he broke into one of the houses in the kibbutz by throwing a washing machine through the window. While under fire from terrorists, the rabbi begged the family who locked themselves in the safe room to come out. Suspecting that Kalmanson was a Hamas terrorist pretending to be an Israeli, the family refused to open the door. It was only when Kalmanson recited the Shema prayer that the family believed him, came out of the shelter and allowed themselves to be ushered to safety.
Elchanan was killed by a terrorist who hid in one of the houses.
“After these words, we can see who the people of Israel really are,” Rimon said in closing. “But we can’t go back to the way things were before Oct. 7; we must be unified as one family. We can have different opinions, but we must love each other.”