(Photo: Nir Landau for Combined Jewish Philanthropies via JTA)

(Photo: Nir Landau for Combined Jewish Philanthropies via JTA)

By Andrew Tobin - December 16, 2017

Originally appeared here in the Times of Israel 

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Lian Najami, Israel’s first Arab Rhodes scholar, is the kind of person who can be optimistic about just about anything — including having a needle stuck in her spine.

As she waited in a Haifa hospital Wednesday morning for a lumbar puncture, Najami expressed hope that the procedure would finally put a name to her degenerative neurological disorder. After that, she said, anything was possible.

“Once we know what it is, we should be able to treat the symptoms better, and maybe one day we will find a cure,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m really excited to see where the world is going to take me next.

“As an Israeli, I guess I have that chutzpah,” she added. “I always have in mind: What can I do from here?”

When Najami, 23, won the prestigious Rhodes scholarship last month, it was the latest of many affirmations of her relentlessly forward-looking worldview. The honor, which provides a free education at Oxford University, was also an opportunity to advance her advocacy work to make Israel a more inclusive place for people like her: a disabled Arab Muslim woman.

Najami has become a sought-after public speaker on behalf of her country. In recent years, the Haifa native was a featured speaker on leading US campuses like Harvard and Brown, at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit EMEA in Israel, and at events in Germany organized by the Israeli Embassy.

Her message: Arab Israelis, who make up some 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry, can succeed in the Jewish state. She has held herself up as living proof. Read More