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Romy Ronen, 20
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TOLERANCE36 Under 36 2020

Romy Ronen, 20

Denouncing Anti-Semitism on Campus

What you do:

I am a student at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, studying Film and Jewish Literature, respectively. I am the vice president of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at Columbia University, and have interned and worked for many Jewish and pro-Israel organizations.

Quote you live by:

“All that glitters is not gold.” — William Shakespeare

How you got here:

I grew up with a single mother and with no siblings. I wouldn’t have such an independent mindset or a strong voice without my mother’s influence. My grandfather immigrated to Israel from Baghdad during Operation Ali Baba. He once wrote a poem in Arabic about the moon and won a prize for it when he was a teenager, which is why literature is so important to me. When I was seven or eight, visiting my grandmother’s grave in Israel, I stood there with my mother, waiting for a sign of sorts. I never met my grandmother; she died of cancer before I was born. But I knew her story, how she survived the Holocaust: a little girl hiding in the Black Forest, losing her entire family, completely and utterly alone.

When I speak up against anti-Semitism, when I hold an Israeli flag up with pride, there’s not a moment of hesitation pulling me back. I’ve never once felt nervous and it’s not because I’m great; it’s because I know she’s watching, and I know that it’s my purpose.

Setbacks, errors and lessons learned:

I always felt this fire inside me, waiting to burst out whenever I heard an ignorant statement made about Judaism or Israel or both. Kids would make jokes about my nose or about matching me with a “nice Jewish boy.” I swallowed my anger, not out of fear, but out of exhaustion, out of being “used to it.” I told myself: “It’s fine, they don’t know. They don’t get it.” But as soon as my boots clicked on Columbia’s campus, the first step of my first day of my first year in university, I realized that my boots had a voice, and so did I.

When the prime minister of Malaysia came to the World Leaders Forum last year at Columbia and made anti-Semitic remarks and I denounced him, it was my first time defending the Jewish people and Israel in a very powerful way. I talked about how much that meant to me on i24 News and the work SSI had done at the time to denounce his remarks (passing out flyers, publicizing petitions, reaching out to deans, etc). It was probably the “loudest” I’d ever been.

Follow me: @RomyRonen

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