Delegates to the WUJS 2006 Congress visit an elementary school in Dimona, Israel.
by Avi Richman
As the Bronfman Fellow at Hillel’s Schusterman International Center, I spent my week along with American students at the World Union of Jewish Students’ Congress in Beer Sheva, Israel for what proved to be an eye opening, incredible experience. WUJS is the representative body of Jewish student unions around the world. Highly engaged in political activities, such as Israel advocacy and combating anti-Semitism, WUJS serves as the voice of Jewish students in a variety of Jewish and non-Jewish global forums.
For an American who considers himself relatively cultured and has spent a considerable amount of time abroad, I did not expect to be so educated and amazed by the other Jewish students attending the Congress. There was a Macedonian student who translated a prayer book into his native language for the first time, a Swiss student who kept a live blog about Judaism and a French student who dealt with anti Semitism on a daily basis.
The great diversity of the Jewish people was exemplified as we all explored the concept of global Jewish peoplehood. While learning what it is to be Jewish in today’s global society, I was able to share a Macabbi beer with students from Venezuela, speak with students from India and dance with students from Turkey, Australia and South Africa - all in the same day. And I realized that as we explored the vast cultural, denominational and geographical differences between us; it was uncovered that we share more similarities with each other than ever imagined. We all truly felt like family.
Other Highlights from the WUJS Congress include:
• David Steinberg of the University of Appalachia- College of Pharmacy, Adam Daum, a recent graduate of Cornell University, Danielle Rugoff of the University of Texas, Sari Bourne of Stanford University, and Jacob Merlin of Brandeis University, and Inna Kolesnikova of the University of Indiana were the American representatives to the Congress.
• The American Union of Jewish Students (AmUJS) was accepted into the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) as a member union on December 25th. This motion marks the first time American Jewish students will represent and advocate on behalf of themselves within WUJS, and establishes a one hundred percent student led organization that allows American students to communicate needs and represent themselves domestically and abroad. AmUJS will be able to represent American student interests and establish worldwide connections with other Jewish students. Hillel has supported the development of the American Union of Jewish Students (AmUJS) under the lead of David and Adam, who are the co-chairs of AmUJS.
• Tamar Shchory, a Hillel activist and student body president at Ben Gurion University, was elected chairperson of WUJS.
• The Spanish Union of Jewish Students (JUE) was also admitted to WUJS.
• All 150 students were engaged in a day of community service. Projects included dancing with children at a diverse school in Dimona, painting old homes and buildings, and planting trees.
• Subliminal, a very popular Israeli hip/hop group, played an exclusive concert at the hotel for all the Congress participants and invited everyone up on stage with them at one point.
As I reflect on the WUJS Congress, I recognize even more the necessity to leverage the nature of global Jewish peoplehood and am excited to be working with Hillel to instill this concept. Over the past few years, Hillel and WUJS have expanded their relationship allowing both organizations to widen their available networks and provide students with more resources around the world. Hillel sees this relationship as an incredible opportunity to ensure meaningful Jewish experiences for students everywhere.
I am thankful for this opportunity to learn about the vibrancy of Jewish life around the world and hopeful that all students will be able to share a similar experience before graduation.
Avi Richman is the Bronfman Fellow at Hillel's Schusterman International Center.