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.


Peoples’ Protest

November 2, 2010

Working in Israel is a learning experience. Meetings are interrupted by cell phone conversations with nonchalance. As frustrating as this can seem at times, it’s simply a cultural difference.

In Israel there exists a level of informality in both everyday life and at work. In fact, following your meal at most restaurants, the waiter is likely to place toothpicks on the table. As my Mom pointed out at her first meal in Tel Aviv, “Only in Israel would it be okay to pick at your teeth at a nice restaurant!” Even as I write this I’m sitting in a pair of jeans at my desk, snacking on carrot slices and humus. This informality is pervasive in everyday Israeli life, and in my opinion is at the root of the problem of inpunctuality; or more precisely, “Israeli time.” Things here tend to start at least fifteen minutes after their scheduled commencement. Weddings are known to begin at least an hour after the time on the invitation. How does one know to show up at 5:45pm for a 5pm ceremony? These are the questions I ask myself everyday.

Working at a university in Israel is one of the best ways to learn about the culture because I am interacting with both my peers and superiors and thus can gauge the overall feelings on campus about culture and politics. The latest issue in the news and on campus relates to the stipends for Yeshiva students, a law that is currently under evaluation by the Prime Minister. The Yeshiva student law is a perfect example of the rare clash between traditional and modern life and religious and secular values in Israel.

One would assume that a country for and by Jews would be relatively supportive of its religious population. However, this population, theYeshiva students, are exempt not only from working (instead they study the Torah) but more importantly from participating in the necessary and unifying experience of every other Israeli citizen: service in the Israeli Defense Forces. Men are required by the country to give at least three years to the IDF and women are required to give two. For an entire population of the country to disqualify themselves from the service that exists for their protection is obviously a segregating factor.

After hearing about this dichotomy, it came as no surprise to me that the students at Tel Aviv University were planning on protesting the law. Israel has the highest number of academic degrees in the world; its students work hard after the army to save up money and continue to work at restaurants and bars throughout the school year to put themselves through college. It is surprising that a country that places such a focus upon education is essentially ignoring the financial needs of its students in order to give millions to support a population that will never serve in the defence forces or hold a job. In addition, this population gets pregnant early and often.

Last evening there was a protest in Jerusalem that drew over 5,000 students, something that rarely occurs in the United States. Israelis may be laid back and informal, but I guess they know when it’s important to get serious.


Protest at Tel Aviv University, November 11th, 2010