Photo by Paul Takizawa

Miriam Waghalter: A hope for peace in the Middle East


AGE: 17
HIGH SCHOOL: YULA Girls High School
GOING TO: Rutgers University

In the summer of 2015, Miriam Waghalter and three girls from her Arabic language class at YULA Girls High School went to Israel to meet and travel with four Muslim girls.

“It was very eye-opening in terms of coexistence between Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs,” Waghalter said. Before the trip, she was apprehensive about going to Arab villages, “but I realized the Muslim girls were just as scared as we were because of all the stereotypes they have about Jews. We overcame those together and we became really good friends.”

That experience gave her hope for the future and solidified her determination to work toward mitigating conflicts in the Middle East.

“When I was there, I saw we could push past our barriers. Talking to adults who say there’s no chance, the high from the trip faded,” she admitted.

“But I always try to remember how I felt when I was there, and I don’t want to lose that hope for peace. I think a big part of what has to change is education in schools and communities; there’s a lot of false perceptions. There needs to be more participation in coexistence programs, like Arabs and Israelis playing on the same baseball team. When you’re friends with somebody, you’re much less likely to want to fight with them.”

Waghalter first became interested in international affairs as a Hillel Hebrew Academy student, when she participated in a Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth summer global studies program. But she never thought of it as a career until YULA began offering an Arabic course, which she’s taken for three years. Knowing Hebrew helped, she said. “A lot of the letters and words are similar.”

This year, Waghalter began participating in the high school leadership program MAJIC — Muslims and Jews Inspiring Change. “We’re in the second semester now and we already have relationships, so it’s much easier to talk about conflict and be honest with each other,” she said.

A straight-A student and YULA Girls’ valedictorian, Waghalter received a double college scholarship at Rutgers University in New Jersey. As of now, she plans to major in political science and get a master’s degree in international studies.

“I want to do some sort of advocacy, specifically for issues in the Middle East,” she said. “It could entail working for an NGO (nongovernmental organization) or a lobbyist or government at some level, probably at first in America but eventually, Israel.”

She has visited Israel four times, including twice on family trips and once last summer with Helen Diller Teen Fellows, a leadership development program for Jewish teens. She also enjoys participating in Model U.N. and attending lectures on Israel.

But she has many interests outside of her primary focus and course of study.

Waghalter is a section editor of The Panther, YULA Girls’ newspaper. She takes part in Moot Beit Din, Jewish mock trials that decide modern cases — who is at fault in a driverless car accident, for example — based on halachic sources.

From eighth to 11th grade, she competed in the national Bible contest Chidon Hatanach, and she volunteers with Chai Lifeline’s Big Siblings program, which assists families dealing with illnesses. (She cares for the children of an Israeli family new to the U.S.) Interested in fashion design, she’s president of the YULA Fashion Club and served as a Nordstrom Fashion Ambassador.

After graduation, she’ll be just as busy, though her summer plans are still solidifying. She has a part-time job at Karen Michelle Boutique and she applied for a fellowship with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

“I really like to push myself to my limits,” Waghalter said. “I have more stress when I’m not working as hard as I could be. I don’t want to settle for less.”

— Gerri Miller, Contributing Writer

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