Culture & Community

Weizmann on the Homefront: The Student Experience in Israel

On March 26, the Weizmann Institute hosted a conversation with Prof. Gilad Perez, dean of the Feinberg Graduate School, and several Weizmann graduate students who shared how their lives have been impacted in the shadow of October 7.

Perez, a professor in the Department of Particle Physics & Astrophysics, explained that there are three different stories – stories of students who were drafted, international students and postdocs and how the Institute is supporting these different communities, and the thoughts and process for the day after the war.

“We are facing an array of challenges but also…a few opportunities,” he added.

Noa Yaffe, a first-year PhD candidate studying physics, shared her experience as a student and the ongoing challenges she faces in the aftermath of October 7 and how this has impacted her research. She recently returned to Weizmann after serving for five months in the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit at Sheba Medical Center where she gathered news stories and arranged interviews with wounded soldiers for national and international media.

“The fog of war and the uncertainty is not something that’s easy to deal with,” explains Yahel Cohen, a fourth-year PhD student studying molecular neuroscience. “For the past six months I would say I have two hats. One is a PhD student, and the other is a combat engineer fighter and mine and explosive demolition expert.”

Cohen expressed his appreciation for the school’s compassion and concern. “Initially, as I got injured, the fourth or fifth call was from a representative from Feinberg saying, ‘Are you okay? Is there anything we can do?’”

Born and raised in Spain, Rebecca Gonzales Rolfe, a master’s student in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department, became an Israeli citizen in September. She shared her experience of a “fragmented identity” which involved trying to reassure worried friends and family back home while dealing with the ongoing uncertainty in Israel.

The Weizmann’s Feinberg Graduate School, which Prof. Perez describes as “the little elite boutique university which is embedded in the Weizmann Institute,” was established in 1958, grants around 1,000 MSc and PhD degrees each year to outstanding young scientists from dozens of countries and produces more than one out of every four PhDs in science and math in Israel. Its postdoctoral program brings talented researchers to Weizmann to continue their studies in the labs of the Institute’s renowned scientists.

The American Committee and the Weizmann scientific community remain grateful for the continued support and compassion of friends and donors around the world.