When Talia Dror was a senior at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School (NSHAHS) in 2020, the school’s website was hacked, and riddled with antisemitic slogans and slurs. The incident had a lasting impact on her. She wrote about the experience in her college application, stating she wanted to go into labor and employment law, “because no one should feel unsafe to be able to walk into their school or workplace because of their ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation.” That essay led to her acceptance at Cornell, where she is currently an industrial and labor relations major, now in her junior year. The incident also spurred Dror’s on-campus activism as a student leader with Cornellians for Israel.
Now, just a few years later, Dror has emerged as a leading Jewish student voice in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack on Israeli civilians, working to ensure Jewish students on campus feel safe and have the right to stand up for Israel — even following death threats. On Oct. 31, 21-year-old Cornell student Patrick Dai was arrested for online antisemitic threats against the college’s Jewish community.
As a result of her ongoing tireless work, Dror has been vaunted into the national spotlight. She was invited to speak on Nov. 15 in front of Congress about the horrific antisemitic incidents on her campus since Oct. 7. Dror was part of a panel that included Israeli-American actress, activist, and Israel’s former special envoy for combating antisemitism, Noa Tishby, and Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
Asked by Tishby before she spoke if she was nervous, Dror responded that she wasn’t because, “I know that even if these members of Congress are the 50 most important people I ever speak to, at least we can agree that Jewish students on campus deserve to feel safe, and Jews in Israel deserve to not be killed. That’s more of a common ground than I have with most of the students in my classes right now.”
Speaking assuredly, Dror told Congress, “I am the child of an immigrant who fled Iran after facing religious persecution, dreaming of an America where she could openly raise a Jewish family… but I never thought the horrific antisemitism that they faced would follow us to the country they fled to for refuge.”
She went on to say, “When universities fail to recognize the inextricable link between antisemitism and anti-Israel activity, they reinforce the idea that violent threats against Jews are acceptable.”
Dror says she’s had to drop a class since Oct. 7 because she’s working to help Jewish students feel safe. “You have professors who are preaching terrorist sympathies to their students and showing biased media and claiming that it’s fact. We’re working on ensuring that those professors are held accountable.”
Dror as well as other students’ efforts have made a difference. According to Dror, the university has integrated more antisemitism training into its diversity, equity, and inclusion practices, as well as increased security on all Jewish facilities on campus.
Nonetheless, Dror feels it’s a case of too little too late. “If the university would have been stronger and said that there is no room for hate on our campus, we wouldn’t have even seen those death threats in the first place,” she said.
Dror has no plans to stop her efforts any time soon. In fact, she was recently interviewed by Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC on three separate occasions, and she co-wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about antisemitism on campus. She’s also heard from Jewish students at other colleges following her address to Congress. “I’ve received tons of messages from students that said things like, ‘Thank you so much for speaking for the students who can’t speak for themselves.’ Those have meant so much to me.”
She credits much of her advocacy and activism to her education at NSHAHS, which she attended from first to 12th grade, and which gave her the foundation for a strong Jewish identity. “In my graduation speech from North Shore I quoted Rabbi Hillel from Pirkei Avot: ‘If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when?’ These are core Jewish values that I absolutely stand by and were taught to me and reinforced by my time at NSHAHS.”
It’s why, she says, all Jewish students need to take a stand on campus. “Don’t let them win,” she urges. “This should be a call for Jewish students to propel themselves into an environment where they can make change because change needs to be made. And strong Jewish students are the ones who need to make it.”
Success, she adds, will be when Jewish students feel safe and wanted on campus. “As soon as I see Jewish students feeling like they belong here and wanting to be here, that’s when I’ll know my job is done.”
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