Colorado college student takes battle again antisemitism to Israel, meets with Netanyahu

Jun 28, 2024 | Article, Newsletter

Talia Boyle

Photo by: Jacob Chandross (@Chandyfotos)

In late May, 20-year-old Talia Boyle traveled to Israel with a group of college students from around the country at the invitation of Olami. The trip included the opportunity to speak to the Knesset about their experiences with antisemitism on U.S. campuses in the wake of October 7. The group also met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Boyle is a graduate of George Washington High School, where she was president of JEWISHcolorado’s Jewish Student Connection club. In her own words, she shares an unfiltered look at the antisemitism she has faced as a student since middle school, and now, at a large public university during months of protests. She also brings messages of hope and support from her experience speaking to Israeli leaders.

In middle school, I only knew two other Jewish students in my school—and they were twins. It was a very small Jewish population in a very big school. I would find swastikas drawn in my notebooks and had pennies thrown at me. To me, it was just normal. When you are such a small minority, you become isolated, so while I experienced antisemitism at a young age, I really didn’t understand what was going on.

As I grew older, I went to JCC Ranch Camp and connected with many other Jewish students. Through JEWISHcolorado and the ADL, I began to understand that what had happened to me was not okay. I learned to be proud of being Jewish. My family raised me to be someone who was not afraid to speak my mind and share my voice so in high school, I felt the need to step up.

Olami group at Knesset

Photo by: Michal Nordmann – Tzvi Simcha Photography

When George Washington High School was vandalized with hate speech and swastikas during my senior year, I contacted Jillian [Feiger, Director of Jewish Student Connection and IST] and the ADL, and within hours, we organized a student forum that happened the next day.

When I went to college at the University of Arizona, I thought to myself, “It’s a big campus, there is a significant Jewish population, I think I will be able to live a more normal life.” My freshman year, I experienced no antisemitism. But the moment the October 7 attack happened, I immediately thought, “Next comes the antisemitism.” At the same moment I was trying to contact my friends in Israel, I was trying to prepare for what would happen to me and my friends in America.

I will give the University of Arizona credit. On October 8, they put out a statement saying they stood with Israel. But then the protests started. At first, they were small, and they felt harmless, so I would just avoid them. But by spring, they got louder and scarier, and we got the first encampment. The school administration handled it well. They said, “No tents,” so the protestors used canopies. The school said the protest had to end by 10:00 p.m., and when it didn’t, they turned on the sprinkler system.

Talia Boyle

Photo by: Michal Nordmann – Tzvi Simcha Photography

The second encampment ended with the SWAT team firing tear gas and rubber bullets. A lot of people—many of them were not students—had put up tents and barricaded themselves with wooden boards. Streets were blocked off throughout Tucson. The university told them to leave by 10:00 p.m. At 10:30, they were warned about the SWAT team. They gave them warning after warning until 2:00 a.m., and then finally, they fired the tear gas.

To me, though, the greatest issue isn’t necessarily the encampments but the actions of individual people saying horrifying things. Protestors would scream slurs like “kike.” I received hateful messages online. People who knew I was Jewish stopped being my friend. When I put up a sign for Hanukkah in my apartment window, my next-door neighbors put up a sign that said, “Stop the genocide.” I finally quit my job because people kept asking me about my name, Talia, and where it was from, and I never lied. Customers I did not know made me feel unsafe.

Israel, the Knesset, and Netanyahu

When I first received the invitation from Olami to travel to Israel, I wondered if it would really be worth it. In my mind, the issues felt exhausting, and I didn’t have much hope for any change coming out of the trip.

Olami with President Herzog

Photo by: Michal Nordmann – Tzvi Simcha Photography

The first person we met was President Isaac Herzog. I thought it was good that he was showing solidarity with Jews of the diaspora and what is happening to young college students. But I was still discouraged, wondering if his action of public solidarity would bring any type of action. At the moment, it was hard to see.

Then we met with Amichai Chikli, who is the Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism. Each of us began speaking with a one-line speech. I said, “Someone that was my friend messaged me that Hitler did not do his job right and now someone is finishing it.”

He listened to us and said, “I hear your stories.” He told us that he will work hard to find funding for our initiatives.

Talia Boyle speaking at the Knesset

Photo by: Michal Nordmann – Tzvi Simcha Photography

There were smiles around the room, and I know my face just lit up. This was such a moment of hope. We realized that Israelis see us, they care about us, and they are not just thinking about the war. They are thinking about the well-being of Jews around the world.

At the Knesset, I spoke to the Shas party. I had the attention of every single person in the room. Their eyes grew wide when they heard what American college students were experiencing. They had seen the news, but they didn’t realize it was as bad as it looked. When they heard first-hand accounts from students, they said “We pray for you every day.” Imagine! They are fighting a war, and they are praying for us. That demonstrates how frightening things are in the U.S.

When we went to the official building of the Prime Minister, I had never been through so many security checks in my life. Prime Minister Netanyahu came in with several other public officials. We each gave our one-line speech and a couple of students spoke about their experiences with antisemitism. He told us that hearing about this from real students was shocking. He said that it was important for Jews to stand together, united, because we are stronger together. He seemed happy to be there with us, making it clear he is concerned about us and every Jew in the world. He understood that we are fighting also, fighting uneducated people who do not have the facts.

Olami speaks with Netanyahu

Students, including Talia Boyle, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Screenshot from video posted on X by Netanyahu’s office)

We went to the Knesset to humanize for an audience in Israel what is happening to us in America. Everything we requested serves to bring the Jewish community together and build Jewish community connection to Israel.

We asked for resources that we can use to combat antisemitism on campuses. We spoke about program and project ideas with a goal of bringing more people to Israel to renew their pride, excitement, and connection to Israel. We would also like to see young Israelis connected to students on campuses. We advocated for access to truthful media. We also would like to have resources to get Jews involved in Jewish activities on campuses.

I want to be clear that the point of this trip was not political, it was strictly business. Antisemitism is not political. It’s hate. Talking openly about antisemitism is not new for me, but these days I feel like it puts a bigger target on my back, so it is scary. I do it because it’s needed.