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Alumni Spotlight: Evan Dayan (SSDS '16)

On April 27th, just weeks before graduating from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and Human and Organizational Development, Evan Dayan (SSDS ‘16) ran in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee. He stood out by carrying an Israeli flag and pinning photos of Hersh Goldberg-Polin and a victim of the Kibbutz Nir Oz massacre to his running clothes.

When asked what motivated him, he replied: “I saw the climate on my campus at Vanderbilt evolve and saw anti-Israel rhetoric become increasingly prominent. I wanted to keep the hostages at the forefront of everyone’s mind and make a statement supporting Israel — not only to my Vanderbilt community but also to the greater Nashville community.” 

Evan also noted that in March he went on a trip with Birthright Israel Onward, where he visited the site of the Nova Musical Festival. He was determined to visit one of the kibbutzim that was attacked so that he could bear witness to the atrocities at the kibbutz. “There are students on my campus that are denying the events of October 7th and I wanted to be able to show what really happened. I wanted to come back with photos and say ‘I took these photos on my very own iPhone — the same phone I use daily to call my parents and check my email. This is real.’”

Unless you are someone of ‘importance,’ visiting these kibbutzim is now extremely difficult, Evan explained. Thanks to his tenacity, Evan was one of five college students from his Birthright trip invited to Kibbutz Nir Oz. “Our tour was led by a 22-year-old named Ofri Atzili, a native of Kibbutz Nir Oz whose father was killed on October 7th and his mother was taken as a hostage. After the tour Ofri said to us: ‘You have a mission to be our voice when you go back to the United States.’ His words and message really hit home with me. That’s why I decided to pin an image of Ofri’s father to my back during the race.”  

Evan said he only received one negative response during the race and that was when he crossed the finish line. Otherwise he was gratified by the support he received — especially from other runners. “Hundreds of runners and bystanders said: “We support you” and “Go Israel.” It made me feel really proud to represent Israel in this way.” 

Pictured above: Ofri, two other kibbutz members, and Evan. Ofri is the one standing up, his two friends are both in black, and Evan is in purple. Ofri and his two friends were, at the time (March 16th), the only three people from Kibbutz Nir Oz who had returned since it was evacuated to try and rebuild their home.

Up close with Evan

Looking back, how did your Schechter education shape your Jewish identity and connection to Israel?

My Schechter education was the foundation for my identity and love of Israel. It gave me a lot of confidence to advocate for Israel and to be openly Jewish on campus. It’s actually noticeable on campus that I am in a much better position than my non-day school Jewish friends to be able to interact with people who challenge my stance on Israel and Israel’s legitimacy, and I owe a lot to Schechter for that. I’m able to talk with people who challenge me because I have that background and knowledge that all started at Schechter. I don’t think I realized what a gift my Jewish day school education was until I got to college and met others who didn’t have that day-school experience.  

How did Schechter prepare you for your next steps in high school and beyond? 

Schechter definitely prepared me for high school. I gained such strong skills that started way back in kindergarten. I also had a strong work ethic and — once I knew what I wanted — I was able to do what I needed to accomplish my goals. I used to always tell my father how I felt Vanderbilt was easier than I expected – and that is no doubt attributed to my learning that started at Schechter. 

What would you say to students like you at Schechter right now?

I would say to absorb as much as you can while you have the chance. I didn’t always understand how valuable the dual curriculum at Schechter would be. It helped me think critically, stay organized, and know who I am. Once you get into a world full of diverse backgrounds you will have the toolkit you need to be confident in who you are as an individual and as a Jew, and advocate for whatever topics you are passionate about.  

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