Truman Scholar Elijah Kahlenberg speaks in front of a chalkboard with colleague Jadd Hashem

UT’s Newest Truman Scholar Bridges the Israeli-Palestinian Divide

  • Apr 19, 2024

Elijah Kahlenberg, a junior triple-majoring in government, Middle Eastern studies and Jewish studies, is The University of Texas at Austin’s latest Truman scholar. 

The federally funded  Truman Scholarship  provides $30,000 to students pursuing graduate studies in public service fields. The U.S. Congress created the scholarship in 1975 as the official memorial to President Harry S. Truman. 

Kahlenberg had an inkling he had won when the head of postgraduate scholarships at UT called and asked him to show up at the Tower in two hours in a suit. “I thought, either I’m being expelled or I’m getting Truman,” he joked. It was the final step in a rigorous process of essay writing, recommendations and interviews. President Jay Hartzell presented him with the award in his office.  

“I was on the verge of tears,” Kahlenberg said. “It was a surreal experience. I’m still in shock. It seems like a dream.” 

Kahlenberg is the 26th UT student to be named a Truman scholar since the award was established 49 years ago. UT’s first recipient, Carmen Marie Serna, who won the scholarship in 1979, also was a government major. 

Each year, 50 to 60 college juniors are named Truman scholars. The scholarships traditionally have been awarded to one student from each U.S. state. U.S. universities may nominate four students annually.  

The prestige is worth much more than the money, but Kahlenberg said he plans to use both to pursue a joint J.D. and Ph.D. at Columbia University. The J.D. will focus on international law, and the Ph.D. will focus on Middle East studies and government. Columbia has the advantage of being in New York, the hub of most international legal institutions, but he told Hartzell during their meeting he would love to teach at UT one day. 

Truman Scholar Elijah Kahlenberg speaks on mic in front of a building

Kahlenberg has been studying the Israeli-Palestinian issue since he was 12. At UT, he is the president and founder of Atidna International, an organization dedicated to bringing together Jews and Arabs to have civil dialogue on “anything and everything” pertaining to Israelis and Palestinians. 

“It’s my personal belief that Jews and Arabs are cousins," Kahlenberg said. "When you look at our culture, our identity, our aspirations, not only do they not conflict, they’re more similar to each other than any other people,” he said. 

Kahlenberg said his career aspiration is to become a professor of international law, and if he had a magic wand, the culmination of his career would be to win the Nobel Peace Prize while working for the U.S. government or an independent organization to bridge the gap between the two peoples.