What we Learned from the Latinos y Judíos Unidos Summit

By Seffi Kogen and Phillip Brodsky

On the first weekend in March, AJC and The David Project launched the first phase of a new programmatic partnership called Latinos and Jews United/Latinos y Judíos Unidos, a summit for 30 Jewish student leaders and Latino student leaders from 10 schools across the U.S. There, at the University of Miami Hillel, students learned one another’s stories and, crucially, learned how to support one another’s advocacy.

At the outset of the planning process we identified three prime points where the stories of our two peoples and the interests of our two communities overlap: both Jews and Latinos are historically immigrant communities, and believe strongly that the flow of immigrants into the country should not be substantially impeded; both communities wrestle with the tension between loving their homeland and living in diaspora; and both communities are sadly and increasingly the targets of hate crimes.

Conversations over the weekend addressed all of these topics in myriad ways. In the process, we learned three things:

1. Its time to act – Much ink has been spilled since Election Day opining about the new necessity facing the Jewish community to build broad coalitions with other communities – people of other races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. For over 111 years, AJC has been building such coalitions, while The David Project has brought relational advocacy to campus. Together we believed that it was possible to cut through the urge to fret over the liabilities and challenges of such partnerships and instead seize the possibilities. Now is not the time to worry about what the future may bring – it’s the time to act to ensure the future that we want.

2. We share issues – Immigration is a Latino issue, Israel is a Jewish one, right? Wrong. The Jewish story is historically as much an immigrant one as the Latino story. Indeed, even today there are undocumented Jewish college students who benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. And while Israel may be the Jewish state, there are people of all faiths who love and admire it. The prevalent theme of the weekend, unfortunately, was hate crimes, as students from both communities have lately grown used to responding to heinous hatreds expressed via spray paint or shouted epithet.

3. It is possible to talk about Israel – There exists, in some corners of the Jewish community, a battlefield mentality that says that Jewish students must be trained to respond to all threats to Israel’s legitimacy, to make the case for Israel. But Israel makes its own case. Instead of teaching talking points, we need to train passionate advocates in building relationships and coalitions. Then, those new ties in place, Jewish students can introduce their friends to the beauty of Israel. AJC and The David Project both bring campus leaders to Israel to see the Jewish state for themselves; they leave with a deep appreciation for the country. In the words of one recent trip participant: “Too often in America … we don’t stop to recognize that a country only 68 years old was able to build an incredible space for technological innovation and social entrepreneurship that countries twice its age have yet to achieve.” This is a sentiment that can be spread, with or without a trip to Israel. It’s certainly one that was shared by all students, Jewish and Latino, by the end of Latinos and Jews United.

Now, more than ever, Jews need friends. And we’re not the only ones. Vulnerable religious groups, racial groups, ethnic groups, genders, and others across the U.S. are looking to unite, to form a more perfect union. The Jewish and Latino students who came together in Miami showed us that now is the time to reach out and stand together. Let’s follow their lead.

Seffi Kogen is AJC’s Assistant Director of Campus Affairs. Phillip Brodsky is the Executive Director of The David Project. To learn more about Latinos y Judíos Unidos please visit The David Project blog.