WUJS Conference

December 30, 2010

From December 26th to December 29th, I attended the annual conference of the World Union of Jewish Students.  WUJS is an organization of student leaders from campuses around the world that was established during the 1920’s.  Aside from their annual conference in Jerusalem, the group’s day-to-day operations remain unclear; in fact, of the one hundred students at the conference, less than a quarter of them knew of its prior existence.

However, the fact that its representatives were able to bring together and educate coalitions of Jewish student union leaders from several countries is an important and incredible accomplishment.

An impressive list of politicians and activists spoke throughout the week, including Tzipi Livni and Natan Sharansky.  Each guest lectured on the de-legitimization of Israel, the conflict, and modern antisemitism using different approaches and information.

Although we were never given the opportunity for a formal discussion amongst ourselves, I was able to gauge the feelings and experiences of the students through the questions they posed.  I was completely blind-sided by the stories they referenced of discrimination and anti-Israel sentiment on their university campuses.  Students told of the apartheid accusations against Israel, the universities voting to send aid to Hamas, and the bigotry they experienced as Jews in their classes.

We were told repeatedly by each speaker that the situations on campus in Europe, South Africa, and Australia were far worse than those at American universities.  I can’t help but wonder if my prior apathy towards the situation in the Middle East may have shielded me from the anti-Israel climate on my own campus.  I was surrounded by students that had had to spend each day at their universities advocating Israel amidst the threats of their peers, and yet I had never once had to hide my opinions and religion.

After hearing what the speakers had to say about the United Nations, I felt as though I had been violently thrust into a world of lies and distrust.  These are the greatest leaders of the free world, joined together in a democratic union, and yet they have completely cornered Israel with criticism.  Israel exists–despite the terrorist attacks, its fanatical neighbors, its size, its age; and not only does it exist, but it thrives and is at the forefront of every technological and medical accomplishment.

Israel has become a free pass for the world and is openly, and often, discriminated against.  Is it so naive to think that this could never happen in the 21st century?  The speeches, albeit one-sided, left me frustrated and helpless and opened my eyes to the veiled hatred that builds up each day against this country.

I know I’ve rambled about injustices and negativity, but I did come away from the conference with a bit of positivity.  I feel so privileged to have spent time in Israel, to see the country and its people for myself, to form my own opinions far from the poison of the international media, and to be able to return to the U.S. as an ambassador and activist for Israel and its right to exist.

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The Israeli Hanukkah

December 6, 2010

Ask anyone who knows me well–I have an insatiable sweet tooth.  However, it’s anything but ordinary; I usually pass on cakes, chocolates, pies, and cookies.  My weakness is candy.  Pre-packaged or bulk, I’d be willing to bet I’ve tasted almost every artificially flavored option out there.  It’s a love that has brought me down the aisles of CVS Pharmacies and Walgreen’s across the country.  Because of this, I’ve been exposed to every seasonal item and decoration (the “holiday” aisle is always next to or inside of the candy aisle, isn’t it?).

Thus I anticipate each holiday, waiting for the day when the pumpkin-shaped Snicker’s becomes a Christmas tree, a heart, an Easter egg, and so on and so forth.  America has made its holidays into a marathon of consumerism.  (I would like to point out that I have no problem with this and seriously enjoy anything with a theme, especially candy).

Well, here I am; it’s December in Israel and I’m thousands of miles from a CVS.   I’m in a Jewish country and to tell you the truth, I couldn’t wait to see what they had in store for Hanukkah.  But as November drew to a close, I was yearning for a symbol of the next holiday; blue and silver wrapped candies, chocolate gelt, anything that would tell me of Hanukkah’s approach.

To my surprise, Hanukkah arrived quietly and tastefully (no spray-painted frost in the windows or reindeer on the lawn).  On the first day I began to notice small menorahs in store windows and tables of sufganiyot, or donuts, at the front of gelato shops.

As the sun sets on day five, I’m loving every bit of this non-Hallmark holiday.  Town squares across Tel Aviv have evening candle-lighting ceremonies with singing and dancing.  Every bakery window is filled with trays and trays of sufganiyot.  Children walk home from school with construction-paper menorah headbands.

Hanukkah in Israel is all about gatherings.  Each night I have experienced Hanukkah in a different way and with different people; every celebration includes songs, candle-lighting, and plenty of sufganiyot.  I have yet to see anyone walking down the street with gift-wrap and presents, a staple of December in America.

Maybe it’s the lack of Christmas competition, but Israelis don’t seem to care about making a big fuss over the holiday.  And although I’m left craving peppermint candy canes from Walgreen’s, it has all been a delightfully pleasant change.

Sufganiyot at the bakery by my building...