A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Israeli student visiting WashU wins $3,000 in thesis competition, donates it all to IDF

Bill Motchan
Yarden Avnor

Yarden Avnor is a Tel Aviv-based Israeli-American. For the past week she has been staying with her father, who lives in St. Louis. Avnor is an Ph.D. clinical neuropsychology student at the University of Haifa and she is associated with the Washington University Social Policy Institute.

Last week, Avnor, 30, attended a conference at Washington University to compete in a thesis competition, which she won. The $3,000 prize would have helped pay her student loans, but Avnor immediately decided to donate the money to support Israeli military teams. She also happens to be a former lone soldier in the Israeli army and has a special understanding of the stresses Israel Defense Forces soldiers face, especially now.

None of Avnor’s family members in Israel was killed or wounded, but she already has reports of the loss of friends of friends. As she anxiously waits for a return flight to Israel, Avnor shared her thoughts with the Jewish Light on the Hamas attack and how Jews in the United States can support Israel.

When you found out when you got the news last weekend, what was your first thought?

I woke up last Saturday and looked at my phone. I had over 200 messages. I understood that Israel has been attacked, but Israel has been attacked before with missiles, so I still didn’t understand the severity of it. And then I started seeing pictures and videos. And I ran over to my dad’s bedroom and woke him up, and I started crying.

You grew up in the U.S. and decided to join the IDF as a lone soldier when you turned 22. What motivated you to enlist?

After I got my degree, I felt like I needed to go and be part of the army. It was so much a part of me, and it was the best decision I ever made. I was a basic training commander for two years in Israel, and it’s a very special base where all the commanders are female. We were the ones that trained our trainees how to shoot. We taught them about the values of Israel. We taught them about war and history.

You specialize in studying the human brain and empathy. You have invited both Palestinians and Israelis into your lab to form social activity. Is one of your goals to live in peace?

It’s to live in peace among civilians and not among terrorist groups. My training involves how to understand people, how to see things from different perspectives. I can understand what the civilians in Gaza are feeling, but what is very frustrating is to see hundreds of thousands of people around the world supporting Hamas, a terrorist group. This is not an issue of Palestinian civilians. This is an issue of Hamas. And people are not separating it. It’s because people are misinformed because of social media.

What’s important for what do you think is important for St. Louis Jewish community to know how it can support Israelis?

We need their support. WashU is a leading university in the U.S. They are not taking enough action. They are not coming out with statements against Hamas. They’re coming out with very vanilla statements like ‘We hope the two sides come to an agreement.’ And that can’t be possible because you would never say that about Al Qaeda, you would never say about ISIS. And people need to understand that proportionately, the amount of people massacred in Israel right now is much more than what happened in 9/11. I think Americans don’t understand the extent of the violence that took place.

This represents the highest number of Jews massacred in one day since the Holocaust, correct?

That’s correct. That’s not fake news. And it’s going to take generations to clear this trauma. It’s not going to be fixed in a lifetime. And we have so many things to build now from zero. We’re going to do it. But it would be nice to have support from our American friends. I’m proud to be American, to help us in any way possible. You can’t help by physically being there but help from far away.

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About the Contributor
Bill Motchan, writer/photographer
Bill worked in corporate communications for AT&T for 28 years. He is a former columnist for St. Louis Magazine. Bill has been a contributing writer for the Jewish Light since 2015 and is a three-time winner of the Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish Journalism. He also is a staff writer for the travel magazine Show-Me Missouri. Bill grew up in University City. He now lives in Olivette with his wife and cat, Hobbes. He is an avid golfer and a fan of live music. He has attended the New Orleans Jazzfest 10 times and he has seen Jimmy Buffett in concert more t han 30 times between 1985 and 2023.