Student Spotlight: Alanna Peykar and Alexandra Ahdoot
Meet Alanna Peykar and Alexandra Ahdoot, co-presidents of Students Supporting Israel at Duke University! Alanna is a sophomore studying financial engineering, and Alexandra is a freshman with a double major in public policy and economics. They are both continuing to stand strong through the antisemitism they are facing at Duke. According to Alanna,
“SSI Duke may have faced quite the challenge, but it has only made us stronger and more passionate. We are more motivated than ever to share our voice on Duke’s campus no matter what obstacles get in our way.”
Alexandra further explains the situation on campus as it relates to these past couple of months.
“The biggest struggle facing me on campus today is the apathetic and hostile environment surrounding Israel-related conversations or events. A prime example of such is the fact that our SSI chapter was vetoed by the Duke Student Government (DSG) a mere four days after being officially approved by the DSG Senate. After making a social media post in which we called out a student’s antisemitic remarks and invited her to engage in a civil dialogue, our chapter was vetoed on the grounds of failing to act in “good faith behavior.” We were gaslighted into believing that we had done something wrong when in reality there was a total double standard applied to our group. This situation is reflective of the larger issue at hand, which is that the climate on campus surrounding Israel is often characterized by this same application of double standards.
The veto of our SSI chapter only made it clearer that antisemitism is omnipresent, and it only strengthened my conviction to continue fighting this good fight.”
Alanna adds, “Our own institution silenced our voice and our platform. We were stripped of the resources needed in order for our club to prosper on campus.”
To reiterate their sentiment, the antisemitism they have experienced has only made them stronger as they continue to fight for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Zionism is a major core of their Israel activism. Students at Duke University have two resilient Zionists to follow. Alanna emphasizes the importance of building up a team of strong Zionists.
“It is so important to be a proud Zionist on a college campus. Many students are afraid to share their feelings and devotion towards Israel because of others students’ hatred that is so loud. By creating an environment for discussion and an open conversation, students are more open to sharing their opinions. I have personally seen our Zionist community unite in times of adversity and it is truly a beautiful sight to see. It has encouraged me to be a louder and prouder Zionist.”
Alexandra also serves as a ZOA fellow and an ambassador for Jewish on Campus. She has loved Israel for a long time, but there was a drastic turning point in Alexandra’s life. She shares her journey of Israel advocacy:
“I have become a much more active advocate for Israel on campus in the last year, especially because of the conflicts that happened in Gaza last May. Watching these events as an outsider from America, my eyes were truly opened to the hostility and ignorance that so many people exhibit, especially through social media and the news. Unfortunately, it seems that many people have become more reluctant to join this mission for fear of being “canceled” or treated differently for Supporting Israel. This same sentiment is present with college students on campuses all over our country, so I knew that it had to be my mission to partake in activism and be proactive in Israel education at Duke and try to teach these students to not be afraid to do the same.”
Alanna is very involved in Jewish Life at Duke as she serves as the Hillel intern and is on the executive board for Chabad. This past Fall, Alanna found out about Students Supporting Israel from a friend, had a meaningful conversation with Ilan Sinelnikov, and was inspired to start a chapter at Duke University!
“A friend of mine put me in contact with the SSI National President, Ilan, at the beginning of the fall 2021 semester. I had never heard of SSI before, but after speaking with Ilan and learning more about SSI I knew I had to bring a chapter to Duke’s campus. Having only experienced college during COVID, I did not think there was a prominent Israel narrative on campus. Therefore, I thought it was important to start the discussion and educate students about the beauty of Israel.”
Alexandra was eager to start the chapter with Alanna. Through this process, Alexandra came to realize how Students Supporting Israel stands out from other Israel clubs on campus. She then explains the strong difference, even on her campus.
“While there were two other Israel-related groups that already existed on our campus (DIPAC and Duke Friends of Israel), Duke did not previously have a group that was dedicated to simply educating people about Israel and encouraging students to have conversations about Israel. SSI is unique because it is a pro-Israel, grassroots movement that is led by students, for students. By starting SSI, I hope to create an opportunity to help combat false narratives about Israel, to educate people who merely do not have any background knowledge of Israel, and to make them understand why supporting this tiny country is so incredibly important.”
Israel is embedded in Alexandra’s identity. She shares her deep connection to Israel, and how it affects her life at Duke.
“I have lived all of my life in Great Neck, New York. Yet at the same time, Israel is my home. I get the chills every time I sing the HaTikvah, as it so deeply resonates with the fact that even though I live hours away, my heart lies, and will always lie, in Israel. The small things in my daily life are a constant reminder of my connection to Israel: the necklace I wear every day bears my last name, אחדות, which means “unity” in Hebrew, the mezuzah on my doorpost, and praying in the direction of Jerusalem. As a proud Jew and Zionist, Israel is not only part of my identity, but it is my duty to support it in any way I can. This has become especially significant as I have entered my college years. In Israel, boys and girls do not go to university right after high school because they get drafted into the Israel Defense Forces at age eighteen. As an eighteen-year-old Jew in America, I think about all those my age who are courageously serving in the IDF, including some of my own friends who are lone soldiers. I have realized that if I am not physically there serving in the IDF, the least I can do is go to college, get an amazing education, and capitalize on the opportunities at hand to support Israel from home and be that strong, pro-Israel voice wherever I go.”
In a similar way, Alanna’s Zionism is a huge part of her life.
“Zionism is a part of my Jewish identity. I consider Israel as my home away from home. I was bat mitzvahed there with my three cousins, and two of my siblings have been bar mitzvahed there as well. I have gone on seven trips to Israel and still counting! Each time I return, I feel an even stronger spiritual and emotional connection to Israel. Ever since my first time exploring Israel, I have wanted to live there and I hope to be able to do so in the future.”
Alanna continues to explain how Israel will affect her life looking towards the future!
“After graduation, I would love to take a year off to travel. Ideally, I would live in Israel for a bit and explore other countries and cultures. After enjoying my time off, I hope to pursue a master’s in real estate or asset management in New York.”
Alexandra hopes to combine her interest in law and economics with her passion for advocacy, especially pertaining to Israel. These interests and passions line up with their upcoming goals at Duke to pass the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Alexandra further explains,
“In light of the recent events that unfolded after DSG’s veto of SSI, I think that our main priority at the moment should be to pass legislation through the DSG Senate in order to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The IHRA definition can be used as an educational tool by the Senate to identify antisemitism and hopefully prevent situations such as ours from happening in the future. In terms of SSI events, I would like to aim to host purely educational events at least once a month — there will be a mix of educational lectures and guest speakers. On top of these, it would be fun and engaging to host social events that tie in Israel and SSI’s goals. For example, we have already hosted “Unite and Light: Stand With Duke SSI,” which was a Hanukkah event centered around the resilience of our club.”
We are grateful to have two strong and proud Zionists at Duke University continuing to fight against antisemitism and to stand up for the state of Israel!
To read more on SSI at Duke’s recent removal of charter, VISIT HERE.
To sign the petition to reinstate SSI at Duke, CLICK HERE.