By Alex Jakubowski
This past week, KAHAL: Your Jewish Home Abroad, and EUJS: The European Union of Jewish Students, hosted our second annual 2nd EU Activism seminar. Bringing together European Jewish student leaders and American Jewish students studying abroad in Europe, the seminar is a unique annual opportunity to bring these two communities together for a common purpose.
Sponsored in part by B’Nai B’Rith International and supported by organizations including the European Jewish Congress (EJC), American Jewish Committee (AJC), and others, students spent the week together in Brussels learning about issues facing global Jewish communities, meeting influential European decision makers, and lobbying on behalf of Jewish students worldwide.
Among the many leaders students met and lobbied during their 5 days in Brussels include, M.E.P Terry Reintke, Giacomo Fassina, the Press Officer for European Parliament President Martin Schultz, Deputy Ambassador of Israel to the EU Shuli Davidovich, M.E.P and Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Security and Defense Afzal Khan, M.E.P. and Chair of the Parliamentary Working Group on Anti-Semitism Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, Daniel Brown, Deputy Head of Cabinet for Vera Jurova, the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumer, and Gender Equality, the European Commission’s Coordinator for Combatting Anti-Semitism Katharina Von Schnurbein, and officials from the U.S. Embassy in Brussels and Mission to the European Union.
Bringing with them powerful personal stories and challenging questions, students made demonstrable impacts on these officials over the course of the week. After hearing nearly a dozen students share their personal stories of anti-Semitism and its connection to the BDS movement, said Daniel Braun, “It’s extremely important that we could speak. I did not realize the seriousness of BDS and campus anti-Semitism, and this is now an issue on which Katharina [Von Schnurbein] and I will surely follow up.”
As important, however, was the week’s Impact on the students themselves. Not only did students learn invaluable lessons about the European Union and how its decisions affect the Jewish community, but each student developed a comprehensive understanding of the role they can play in shaping the Jewish future. In post-seminar evaluations, 100% of students attending the seminar said they “felt closer to a global Jewish people.” 100% of participants also said that they are “more likely to be involved in Jewish student activism.” From one American participant, Abigail Young, “The seminar taught me so much, not only about the EU, but also about what it’s really like to be Jewish throughout Europe. I have a renewed sense of how strong the Jewish community is and the support it brings, and I can’t wait to get more involved.”
The success of this past week comes not from the strength of the program, however, but from the nature of global cooperation. Representing nine nationalities and studying in eleven locations across Europe, no two students in the group brought the same perspective. What was most powerful about the week was that students were never asked to present a particular point of view or advance a particular agenda. Instead, the program allowed the students to set their own terms, ask their own questions, and create their own impact.
What resulted was a remarkable convergence – an appreciation by each student that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. By learning from one another and presenting their views as a diverse collective, rather than a set of talking points, students brought much-needed nuance and personality to their discussions with global leaders. The impacts of these discussions were extraordinary, demonstrating the immeasurable value of international Jewish collaboration.
What is truly striking is the replicability of this model. Each year, more than 25,000 American Jewish students study abroad outside the United States. More than 50% of European Jewish students will at some point leave their home country for studies or employment. These tens-of-thousands of students represent a significant communal opportunity. By facilitating communal exchange and activating these students’ capabilities for leadership, our community can create dozens of opportunities, ranging from seminars to Shabbatons, to create long-lasting impacts both internal and external to the Jewish world.
On our final day of the seminar, inspired by lessons learned from the Jewish nonprofit accelerator Upstart, we ran a “design session” for students. During this session, we asked students to identify and solve for three of the most pressing opportunities to improve global Jewish communities. The students identified three main areas of focus: redefining global Jewish identity; creating and empowering Jewish student leaders; and creating a global network of Jewish student collaboration. Over the next 12 months, these students, in conjunction with EUJS and KAHAL, will form three distinct working groups to address these critical topics. With the full support of the coalition of EUJS, KAHAL, B’Nai B’Rith,EJC, and AJC, there’s no telling the impact their diverse backgrounds and varied perspectives can have on the global Jewish future.