Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers trends among youth and millennials, progress and pushback in the Orthodox world, women's issues, the Jewish LGBTQ community and Reform and Conservative Jewish life. She also heads the Investigative Journalism Fund, a special project of the Jewish Week to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting, and 36 Under 36, an annual special issue profiling 36 exceptional young leaders. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Adela Cojab Moadeb, an NYU junior, likes to say she’s “majoring in her identity.”
That is: international, Middle Eastern, Judaic, Latin American studies, or “Middle Eastern Diasporas.” She speaks four languages fluently — Spanish, English, Hebrew and Portuguese — and is currently studying Arabic.
Cojab Moadeb uses her distinctly “intersectional” identity — a term frequently used by the liberal left — to fight for her right to be an “unapologetic Zionist.”
“Zionism is an ideology, not a political position or policy,” she said. “No one should ever have to apologize for thinking the Jewish people have a right to a Jewish state.” People frequently misinterpret her advocacy as a defense of the current administration, she said. “My job is not to defend any particular administration; it’s to fight for a Jewish homeland.”
That fight comes at a cost. As the president of Realize Israel, a pro-Israel student group, she’s on the frontlines of increasingly vituperative attempts to delegitimize and boycott Israel. A recent Realize Israel-run rave in Washington Square Park to celebrate Israeli Independence Day turned ugly when one protestor lit an Israeli flag on fire.
“When the open goal is to make me personally as a Zionist feel uncomfortable on campus, things start to feel unsafe.”
“When words are backed with actions, threats are felt in a different way,” said Cojab Moadeb, who has also been the subject of personal attacks on social media. The protester who was arrested was a fellow classmate in her Arabic seminar; they had been friendly. Fifty-three student groups have opted to boycott Realize Israel; fliers to boycott her events featured a man wearing a keffiyeh and holding an assault rifle. “When the open goal is to make me personally as a Zionist feel uncomfortable on campus, things start to feel unsafe.”
Though her work on behalf of Zionism on campus — including her position as an alt-senator representing Jewish students on NYU Student Senators’ Council, a chairperson for the American Union of Jewish Students and a 2018 “emerging leader” at the World Union of Jewish Students — she’s gained recognition.
However, her greatest sense of accomplishment comes from defending a cause that she knows is her own. “I’m trying to make a difference,” she said of her Israel advocacy. “I was the kid who said, no, not everyone can be president. But somebody will be, and maybe that somebody will be me.”
Sound track. Cojab Moadeb favors an unlikely musical mix: Latina tracks and punk rock from the 2000s — think Zumba mixed with Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco and Bon Jovi.