Meeting fellow Jewish students, diplomats and Jewish leaders from around the world at the 2002 UJC General Assembly in Philadelphia was a welcome change of pace for Southern Illinois University, Carbondale student Ben Scherr. "Seeing this many Jewish people together, especially coming from a small school with only 20 Jews and seeing people take off from work and school to come together has been my favorite thing," he said.
More than 400 Hillel students attended eh GA whose theme was "Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof" or "Justice, justice, you shall pursue." This theme was coupled with a strong focus on the current situation in Israel.
Students participated as leaders on panels on everything from the state of Israel affairs on campus, to the debate on going to graduate school after college or going straight into the workforce. Students also participated in sessions designed specifically for their needs. These workshops helped students learn how to advocate, bring tools back to campus, and most importantly network and dialogue with others at the conference. Tal Rosen of Dickinson College and others enjoyed the caliber of speakers at these sessions. "They are people you don't normally see coming to campus which makes it a great and unique experience," Rosen said.
On Wednesday night, Avraham Infeld, Counsel for Jewish Affairs of Hillel, and Alan Hoffman, director-general of the Jewish Agency for Israel Department of Education, answered questions from students ranging from how to combat anti-Israel/anti-Jewish sentiment on campus to the importance of making aliyah in modern Zionism. Thursday night, Richard Joel, president and international director of Hillel, and Stephen Hoffman, president and chief executive officer of the United Jewish Communities, held a similar session speaking about networking, the federation system, and how to best maximize one's potential as a Jewish student leader.
Maya Sobolev from Quinnipiac University was "blown away" by what Infeld said. "What he [Infeld] said, goes along with what I stand for and what I believe. The ability for us to just stand up and talk about our Judaism to one of the greatest Jewish speakers is really amazing." Ari Bronstein of Queens College agreed, but was most impressed by an Israeli soldier who stood up at the end of the session and spoke about the needs of Israelis. The soldier encouraged students to not simply send money to Israel, but to take Israel to heart and visit the country.
In addition to the regular plenaries of the GA, many students took part in related conferences sponsored by some of Hillel's partner agencies. Nearly 50 student journalists from the United States and Canada took part in the "Do the Write Thing" conference sponsored by the World Zionist Organization's USD/Hagshama and the Jewish Agency for Israel. These students heard from leading Jewish and Israeli journalists, and had the opportunity to network with many of the larger jewish news organizations in the country. After the GA was over, over 250 students took part in an "Israel Is Real Teach-in" also sponsored by WZO and JAFI in addition to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Jewish National Fund. The Israel activists in attendance learned about more than just the political situation in Israel, but a broader view of the country from many influential speakers.
The ability for students to meet their peers across the continent and find out about events on other campuses was a primary reason for many students to go to the GA. As Charlotte Davis from George Mason University said, "That's why I love these conferences; they give me a chance to get feedback from a lot of different people."