Northeastern student served as a camp counselor for children in Sderot, Israel. Now, she’s doing what she can to support them

Headshot of Elizabeth Zhorov
Elizabeth Zhorov, vice president of Northeastern Hillel, poses for a portrait. She was in Sderot, Israel this summer as part of summer camp designed to help children who live in the city. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

This report is part of ongoing coverage of the Israel-Hamas war. Visit our dedicated page for more on this topic.

Elizabeth Zhorov needed to know if the kids were safe.

The Northeastern University fourth-year student woke up on Oct. 7 to a barrage of notifications on her cellphone. Many of those were texts from her fellow counselors at Boston-Sderot Camp, a summer program organized by the Russian Jewish Community Foundation.

Students posing on giant letters that spell out I (heart symbol) SDEROT.
Elizabeth Zhorov has served as a counselor for Boston-Sderot Camp for two years. Courtesy photo

For 10 days every summer, a group of students from Boston travel to Sderot, a city of about 30,000 in southern Israel, only 2,760 feet from the Gaza border. There, they take about 65 to 70 children from Sderot to a safer location in the country so they can partake in some summer camp fun. 

Zhorov was last in Israel in August. As a counselor, she helped lead a variety of activities, most notably ballroom dancing. She loves the kids and needed to know if they were safe after Hamas’ surprise attack. 

“That bond is instantaneous,” she said in an interview with Northeastern Global News.  

Many of the kids who live in Sderot suffer from PTSD and are robbed of having real childhoods, Zhorov said. 

While in Sderot, she said it’s hard to miss Israel’s mobile air defense system, the Iron Dome.

“Seeing the reality of how close all these kids live to the constant threat of war felt indescribable,” said Zhorov, who spoke at a recent student-led rally in support of Israel on Northeastern’s Boston campus.

After Hamas’ surprise attack, Zhorov quickly connected on Whatsapp with fellow counselors and many of the kids. Luckily, she said, all the kids she knew from the program were safe. 

But nearly all of them had been affected by the conflict. 

“Everyone knew someone who had been murdered, kidnapped or injured,” she said. “I have friends who were campers at one point who are now in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and they were called to serve.” 

Zhorov is devastated by the Israel-Hamas war, and said she is doing what she can to support those who have been impacted. 

She is the vice president of Northeastern Hillel and played a role in helping plan last week’s student-led gathering of solidarity. That helped her feel like she was making a difference, she said.

“I felt really helpless. I still do,” Zhorov said. “I’m doing a lot but I will always feel helpless, and I really do think that being able to organize something like that on Tuesday was incredibly empowering and it made me feel a lot better about what is going on.”

She added that she felt she was able to speak on behalf of the kids in Sderot during the event and let them know there are people in their corner. 

“It was my way of trying to do something immediately,” she said. 

Zhorov also published an article in the Jewish Journal recounting her experience as a summer counselor. As a Jewish student leader, she feels it’s “important to create a safe space for students of any community who need a place to process their emotion, process what’s going on.”

She pointed to Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow, executive director of Northeastern Hillel, and how the organization expanded its hours to let more students come into the building to sit and process the situation. 

Last Friday, Northeastern Hillel hosted a Shabat that included parents and family members of Northeastern students. During the event, they had set up letter writing stations to send to children in Tel Aviv. On Saturday, they set up a station to write letters to IDF soldiers. 

Zhorov also highlighted that the Russian Jewish Community Foundation has set up an emergency fund for families in Sderot to help them evacuate.

“There’s a lot going on. A lot of students have a lot of passion for this,” she said. “We’re just trying to create opportunities for people to feel like they can do something — that might be fundraising, that might be writing. I’m sure there will be even more in the future.”

Cesareo Contreras is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on X/Twitter @cesareo_r and Threads @cesareor.