I first met Lian Najami in July when she was lecturing to sixty American college students who were interning in Haifa, Israel for the Summer. Sitting close to the back of the classroom, I was interested in what she was assigned to talk to us about, formally her perspective on the supposed coexistence among the jews, muslims, and christians in the city as well as her experience with being a political science teaching assistant at Haifa University. Other positive qualities quickly came to mind when I was listening to her speak. It was more than her identification as a muslim arab Israeli, but it was also her authentic point of view and relatability that caught my fascination.
At twenty-two years of age, twenty-one at the time, Lian has earned herself the title as one of Forbes’s thirty under thirty to look out for in entrepreneurship. She has also been a guest on a german television talk show and invited to the Knesset to discuss diplomacy. I did not waste time in contacting her. After inviting me to coffee, we quickly became close and soon talked over meals and spent time on the beach together with her family. Lian is affiliated with the CJP (Combined Jewish Philanthropies) and is coming to America to spread her knowledge and philosophy to American college students like me. Some schools she will be visiting include Northeastern University and Amherst College. As a preview to her visit, I asked her a few questions.
What brings you to america?
Lian: “I am flying to America for a number of speaking events on university campuses. I am a public speaker and I address the twisted image of Israel in the international media. As an Israeli citizen, I want to make sure people have all the facts and hear out about our daily life before forming an opinion about our country.”
How is life in Israel?
“Life is Israel are pretty cool! I come from Haifa City, which is known in Arabic actually as “The Bride of the Sea” thanks to its beauty. I am an Arab young Israeli woman, coming from a liberal Muslim family. People normally ask how is it to be living in a war zone whenever I say I come from Israel and then I have to explain to them that it is pretty normal here, people go out, work, innovate, build families, just like in any other country. Yet, I must say that after travelling and living abroad, Israelis seem to be like a one big family, for the better or for the worse.”
Describe a time that you’ve been the most proud of yourself? /Your biggest accomplishment in life?
“I would have to answer this question on two levels, the professional level and the personal one. Professionally speaking, the year of 2016 has been one of the best years of my life, filled with many great achievements such as: Being featured at the Forbes 30 under 30, Graduating with a BA in Political Science and Getting the Lantos Congressional Fellowship in Washington, D.C. On a more personal note, I would say overcoming my illness. 10 years ago I started dealing with a chronic nerve disorder (Peripheral Neuropathy) and looking back and seeing how much I have come and what I have achieved makes me proud of the individual I have become and I continue to work on my personal development.”
What are your life’s biggest goals?
“That is a tough question, there is so many that I don’t know which one to choose! I guess I would have to stay starting my own academy, education is a subject that is very near to my heart and I believe that we need to adjust the education system to the future, yet not abandoning the role of education in fostering a generation that is connected to its global citizenship and sense of responsibility to help make this world a better place for us and generations to come. I want to know that my life meant something, that I helped complete the global puzzle we all are a part of by bringing my pieces to the globe. I also want to raise awareness to people with different abilities. I always stress that I am not disabled, I am just differently abled and I want to be able to advocate for a better integration of people with different abilities in today’s society.”
How do you feel about the quality education in the Middle East?
“I feel dissatisfied about the quality education system in the Middle East. I believe many people are still stuck in the past and refuse to move on and adjust. People are afraid of change, of the unknown and it is preventing them from progressing.”
What is one thing you would change about the government of Israel?
“That is a smart question! I think I would like to change a few things, but if there is one thing I would change it would have to be to limit and reduce the number of ministers. And then investing the money that we would save on improving our educational system and listen to our younger population.”
How important is family to you?
“Family is important to me! I know that I am who I am today partly because I was blessed with a supportive, loving family. I think that my family has kept me very grounded and down to earth, but it is also the same family that pushed me to pursue my goals and believed in me. At some point I want to be able to build my own family and share this wonderful life with my significant other.”
What netflix show would you watch the moment you find a break in your busy schedule?
“Well, ever since I was notified that I am among the eight people who got the Lantos Congressional Fellowship, I started re-watching all the seasons of House of Cards and Scandal (though I know it is not a netflix show, but still :D) It is just I want to be prepared for my upcoming move to D.C. on January 2017…Don’t tell anyone though ;)”
What are some things on your bucket list that you’ll want to cross off when you get to America?
“I want to cross off “Whale Watching” and “Seeing the Northern lights” when I get to America this time.”
If you want to hear Lian Najami talk, she will be visiting Amherst next friday, November 4th at 7pm. Or if you’re interested in Lian’s involvement with human rights and Israel visit http://www.israelcampusroundtable.org/humanrights.html for more information.