Our life fundamentally changed on October 7, 2023, when terrorists from the Hamas organization attacked Israel and murdered more than fourteen hundred people and took more than two hundred others captive, agree the young Israelis who decided to study medicine in the Czech Republic. The good reputation of the Czech Republic in Israel, the feeling of safety and the quality of studies brought them to study at the 3rd Faculty of Medicine of Charles University.
It was the beginning of another academic year that young Israelis spend in Prague, where they came to study medicine. But when they woke up on October 7, everything was different. “I woke up to hundreds of messages from everyone I know. As I watched the terrorist videos, I felt physically sick. I knew that if something like this happened, terrorists would kill everyone, regardless of gender or age, but I never thought that a person could use such brutality against a person,” describes Ofek Gill, who studies at the 3rd Faculty of Medicine of the Charles University . He himself, like most Israelis, completed compulsory military service and continued to serve. He spent a total of five years in the army.
“My heart is broken and I think of all the dead and abducted, including the elderly, children and infants. During my time in the military, I did everything I could to keep people, regardless of age or gender, safe. The army is something that unites us in Israel, because as soldiers we get to know the people we protect, regardless of whether we are Jews or Arabs. Every soldier feels responsible for the Israeli people and their spirit, regardless of whether they are fighting or not,” he explains, adding that Jews, Arabs and Christians serve side by side in the Israeli army, and the army’s task is to protect all citizens of the country regardless of religion. Reservists and medical professionals are now being drafted into the Israeli army, who see their deployment as an obligation.
Like other Israeli doctors studying at the same faculty, with whom the Zdravotnické deník editors are in contact, they talk about what it’s like to be thousands of kilometers from home and fear for their loved ones. Despite the shock they experienced, they agree on one thing. They are grateful for the opportunity to study in the Czech Republic, and at the same time, you can feel the determination not to give up.
After October 7, I already perceive the sounds of sirens differently
“Physically, nothing changed for me, but mentally, I wasn’t the one who went to bed the night before. From half past seven in the morning, I browsed social networks to make sure I knew about everything that was happening,” describes Karina Mohr, adding that in an effort to get as much information as possible about what actually happened, she also got on Palestinian channels on social networks. “I saw the most horrible things happening to defenseless people, I saw them celebrate the terrorist attack in Palestine and now when I close my eyes I see the videos again.”
She herself thought (in hindsight a bit naively) that since high school had been taught in detail about the horrors of the Holocaust, she already knew evil and what people are capable of doing to other people. “On the seventh of October, my view of the world was shattered. I was naive to think that such absolute evil could not exist, but with each subsequent video I became convinced that evil has no limits. My only hope is that even goodness has no limits,” he adds. She’s lucky her family and friends are safe (for now), although realistically she realizes it may not be like that forever.
Life in Israel includes the knowledge that safety is not a given. However, many people simply got used to the present risk. “Before Black Shabbos on October 7, the sound of sirens announcing rocket attacks and the fact that you had to run for your life for cover was actually routine. We knew that the sirens would go off in no time, we would come out of cover and life would go on. After October 7, everything is different. In the morning my mother called me and told me that we are at war. I saw all the news and among them the news about my friend who was among the first to try to save as many people as possible. So now when I hear the sirens it has a whole different meaning to me. It reminds of the horror that happened,” says Haim Roffe. He calls his family every day.
Good academic level and safety, essential advantages of the Czech Republic
All doctors agree on the reasons that led them to study medicine in the Czech Republic. The good relations that have existed between the two countries for a long time were essential for them. “Studying medicine in the Czech Republic was the best decision I could have made. I was looking for a place that would have a high academic standard and at the same time make me feel safe. Unfortunately, and not only because of the war in Israel today, Israelis abroad are not always safe because you don’t know how the other side will react,” adds Haim Roffe, adding that he was motivated by the rich Jewish history associated with Prague.
Karina Mohr also talks about the need to feel safe: “It was clear to me from the beginning that if I was going to spend six years somewhere, it had to be a place where I would be safe as an Israeli and a Jew, even if there was a military operation going on at home. In addition to security reasons, I was also looking for a place that would meet high academic standards. The only place that met both of these criteria was the Czech Republic, and I am happy to say that it still meets them.” The feeling of safety is even more important to her now, also because, according to her, it is not a given for Israeli and Jewish university students in Europe: “Fortunately, I have not experienced negative reactions here because of my origin, but many of my friends abroad have unfortunately had these experiences. It is sad, but as Israelis we are used to this. Even to the fact that anti-Israeli claims are actually anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, this is not the first war we have experienced.’
Ofek Gill perceives the strong alliance between Israel and the Czech Republic even more strongly now: “The Czech Republic has always been among the first to help Israel, and this is true even now. That’s also why I wanted to study medicine here, and not in other EU countries, with which I have mixed feelings, because of how they look at Israel.” According to his words, he encountered abroad that “Israel is carrying out ethnic cleansing.” “The reality is that almost two-thirds of Israeli doctors are not Jewish and only about 15% of Israeli Jews come from Europe, the rest came from Arab countries where they were expelled and killed. But many people turn a blind eye to these facts,” he adds.
Volunteerism as a response to war
Five years of military experience, which led Ofek Gill to Gaza, among other things, has a significant impact on how he feels now, even though, unlike many of his peers in Israel, he was not called up as a reservist in the army: “I saw with my own eyes the terrorists there who bags of candy filled with explosives would be passed around and given to children, thus sending them to their deaths. It’s disgusting, but it helps me understand that if terrorists hate Israel more than they love their children, Hamas is the organization to fight. My unit is now fighting and I am not with them to help them. All my savings went into becoming a doctor and if he came back now, my dream would be over. The Israeli government knows this and that’s why it doesn’t send students to similar positions, but it’s still hard for me to know that I’m not helping my country now,” he adds, adding that it’s important for him to think that he can become a good person thanks to studying in the Czech Republic a doctor, and thus take care of the needy.
According to him, it is important to understand from the outside that Israel stands on the mutuality of the people who live in this country. This feeling is even stronger now. “People in Israel are volunteering now more than ever before. They help in agriculture, which is affected by the war. They provide food and shelter to those who have had to leave their homes. Everyone is ready to help. The pain of the fallen is the pain of all of us, and we in Israel are one big family,” he sums up.