Standing alone requires the courage of your convictions, particularly when you are holding an Israeli flag across the street from a pro-Palestinian rally outside the Israeli consulate in midtown Atlanta.
On Oct. 8, the day after the Hamas slaughter of Israelis in southern Israel, Talia Segal, a fourth-year biomedical engineering student at Georgia Tech, stood on the opposite sidewalk on Spring Street.
In the days that followed, as she tried to make sense of the horrors, Segal penned an essay, a draft of which she shared with a reporter. “Life is spinning around me like nothing has changed, and I sit here watching through tear filled eyes with my heart thousands of miles away, feeling like my world is upside down,” she wrote.
“I’m exhausted,” Segal, president of the Hillel chapter at Georgia Tech, continued. “I’m tired of trying to explain myself. I’m tired of seeing people justify, celebrate, and glorify the murder of my brothers and sisters. I’m tired of trying to convince people that they need to wake up. I’m tired of calling my grandma and hearing the phone ring, hoping she is still there to answer.”
Segal’s grandmother, along with an aunt, uncle, and three cousins live in the Israeli city of Mod’in, located along a highway midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The call by a Hamas leader for a global day of jihad on Oct. 13 against Jews scared Segal. “I thought for a minute that maybe if they killed me, maybe then, people would wake up. I even texted my mom to tell her that if something happened to me, I would be happy with the life I had lived. But then I realized that the people who don’t care about Jewish lives never will, and dying would only cause more pain to the people closest to me,” she wrote.
Segal was feeling alone. “Silence and complacency in the face of evil are the problem. The world sat and watched as 6 million Jewish people were killed. And now, my own friends sit and watch as my people are raped, kidnapped, tortured, and slaughtered— silently,” she wrote.
Standing alone, silently, holding the Israeli flag (its border including the colors of the LGBTQ flag) across the street from where a crowd was chanting, was Segal’s way of making a statement.
Speaking to the AJT, Segal said, “I spent Saturday [Oct. 7, the day of the Hamas attacks] just feeling helplessness, worried about my family in Israel, knowing that I wanted to do something but not knowing what that would be.”
Segal’s grandmother, aunt, and uncle emigrated to Israel from South Africa 25 years ago. Modi’in “is like a second home to me,” a font of childhood memories, Segal said. She spent three months in Israel two summers ago and six weeks there this past summer.
Segal has been calling her grandmother twice a day. “From her perspective, it feels like COVID again,” with people staying home more. Modi’in was subjected to a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza on Oct. 16. Two of her cousins have been called up for reserve duty in the military and her uncle organized the import from South Africa of 650 sleeping bags for soldiers.
Georgia Tech was on fall break and many of the school’s relatively small number of Jewish students were away. Segal had heard about the pro-Palestinian rally and decided to go, even if alone.
Segal said that a few people walking by offered words of support, among them an Israeli who told her that he had lost two friends before in the Hamas attacks.
Early in the rally, Segal heard organizers tell protestors not to engage with counter-protestors, though later several came and stood behind her, some yelling for her to go home, she said. “Atlanta police were around, making sure that everything was kept peaceful.”
Students at Georgia Tech generally are more focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and less politically engaged, Segal said. There has been a pro-Palestinian vigil on campus, and Oct. 11 upwards of 300 pro-Israel students and non-students gathered for rally, despite rain. Georgia Tech President Angel Cabrera spoke to the gathering, as did Royi Ende, the Consul for Consular Affairs and Chief Administration Officer from the Israeli consulate.
I’m tired of trying to explain myself. I’m tired of seeing people justify, celebrate, and glorify the murder of my brothers and sisters. I’m tired of trying to convince people that they need to wake up. I’m tired of calling my grandma and hearing the phone ring, hoping she is still there to answer.
In an Oct. 12 blog post, Cabrera wrote, “I was moved by the vigil organized by Israeli and Jewish students on campus last night to mourn the lives lost to the senseless attacks on Israel last weekend. Like many of our students and colleagues, I struggle to comprehend these acts of unspeakable violence. Having grown up in a country traumatized by terrorism and the anguish it leaves in its wake, I fail to understand how anyone can justify inflicting so much pain onto others on any grounds.
“Amid the pain, I don’t lose hope. I found hope last night in the student leaders who brought our community together and the many non-Jewish people who showed up to grieve with their Jewish friends and let them know they are not alone. That spirit of community will be our best tool to support all whose families and friends are directly affected by this terrible conflict.”
Segal called Tech’s Jewish student community, which numbers perhaps 500 under-graduates and graduate students, “small, but mighty.” That includes Chabad and the AEPi chapter (“Free Palestine” was scrawled on the outside of the AEPi house on Oct. 15). “I really cannot speak highly enough of how appreciative I am of Chabad working with us in Hillel, and the boys at AEPi and everything they’re doing. I’ve really been impressed with how our community has come together.”