Joshua R. Fattal, 20


Activist on the green.

Joshua R. Fattal, a sophomore at Columbia, took the year before college to attend Yeshivat Har Etzion in the West Bank, where he studied Talmud and Jewish philosophy.

While there, his interaction with both Jewish and Palestinian residents shopping side by side in grocery stores and living as neighbors made him start asking big questions.

“My year spent in Israel, and specifically living in one of the settlements, served as an intellectual awakening,” he said. “I began to think of myself as a thinker — as someone who could change things in the Jewish world.”

Entering Columbia in the fall of 2011, he noticed that while there was significant pro-Israel advocacy on campus, there was no forum exploring the difficult questions surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. “While there was room to support Israel, there was not yet room to ask why,” he said.

Since then, Fattal has been promoting dialogue about Israel on campus and beyond. In November 2012, he initiated a relationship between Columbia Middle Eastern studies professor Rashid Khalidi and the pro-Israel student community on campus, the first time in recent history that the pro-Israel community developed a sustained relationship with a Palestinian professor on campus. In December 2012 he initiated and moderated an event at which five students debated hot-button topics in Israeli politics including settlements, the peace process, and the status of Jerusalem. The event attracted over 100 students, winning Fattal a nomination for one of Hillel’s most prestigious annual awards. In January 2013, he founded a new student group at Columbia’s Hillel called Garin Lavi: The Student Center for Israel and Zionist Thought. Currently, he is in the process of founding The Herzl Society, a new project run by Tablet Magazine with the goal of sparking conversation and meaningful debate among a select group of New York City college students about the history and future of Zionism.

“I believe it’s incumbent upon the next generation of Jewish thinkers and leaders to raise the level of discourse about Israel,” concluded Joshua. “Simple answers only work for simple questions.”

“24”-Obsessed: Throughout high school until today, Fattal has been fascinated with the TV show “24.” No matter how much homework he had, he never missed a Monday-night episode.