Talia Khan (left) speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu./COURTESY PHOTO

Students facing on-campus antisemitism gain strength during trip to Israel

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Students facing on-campus antisemitism gain strength during trip to Israel

Talia Khan (left) speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu./COURTESY PHOTO

Six Boston-area Jewish students – among a delegation of around 20 from throughout the United States – recently met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a part of an Olami student leaders’ mission to Israel.

Olami is an organization devoted to sustaining Jewish community around the world, and imbuing young people with a strong, positive connection to Judaism.

“The goal of the government of Israel is not only to serve the people in Israel, it’s to serve the people of Israel, which means the Jews in the diaspora also,” said Talia Khan, an MIT grad who is now pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering there and is president of the MIT Israel Alliance.

Khan was one of 15 students selected to attend the fully subsidized mission to Israel, as a part of Olami’s #ZeroTolerance for antisemitism on campus campaign. Four additional students from Boston University already in Israel on a different Olami trip joined the delegation as well.

The group visited the sites of the Nova Music Festival, Ofakim, and Kfar Aza, all of which suffered devastating attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7, in addition to meeting with family members of victims and survivors. Students also held meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, and other Knesset members, during which they were given the chance to share their experiences on American college campuses.

Participants hailed from around the country – Arizona, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Berkeley, Michigan, New Jersey, New Orleans and more – and students shared their experiences of antisemitism on campus, which included being physically pushed up against a wall and being told to go back to Poland.

“It’s clear to them, even from [Israel], how big of an issue it is – everything on campuses,” said Khan, 26, who has been a vocal advocate for Israel at MIT and nationally. She spoke at a House Republican press conference in December in conjunction with the congressional hearing about antisemitism on college campuses.

Rabbi David Markowitz, executive vice president and managing director of vision and partnerships at Olami, was one of three staff members who led the trip. “We understand that the government sees it as their responsibility to care for Jews around the world, wherever they may be, and wherever they may be struggling,” he said.

“The students, who have been really dealing with a lot on the college campuses, came out feeling so empowered,” said Markowitz. After seeing the reality on the ground in Israel, these American students gained the realization that “If our brothers and sisters who are our age, in Israel, are fighting in Gaza and dealing with everything that they’re dealing with, we can stand up to the terror on the college campuses in America.”

This is not the first student leader trip Olami has organized since Oct. 7. Back in March, the organization brought 25 students to Washington, D.C., on a mission to speak with members of Congress. Markowitz said that he plans to bring more students to Israel to meet with government officials in the future.

“The more that we bridge the gap between Jews in general, but specifically, Jews in America and Jews in Israel – we believe very strongly that that is the secret power, the superpower, of the Jewish people,” he said. “The more that we connect the student leaders from America with students and officials in Israel, the stronger we’re going to be as a people.”

Khan, following the conclusion of the trip, elected to extend her time in Israel to enjoy her summer break there. “It’s nice being here,” she said. “You don’t have to constantly be worried that the people around you are antisemites or are going to yell ‘Free Palestine.’

They’re not going to call you ‘a dirty Zionist,’ because everyone here is a Zionist.” Θ

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