Looking back at the past 12 months, one thing is clear: this year has been very different than any previous year. But looking back also shows, Jewish students have shown the resilience and vibrancy of Jewish life in Europe even in the most difficult of times. This makes me extremely proud.
In an ever-changing world where very little is certain, we, as young Jews, have no other choice than being outspoken. In the last year, we have protested against antisemites and for the interests of young Jews, in Europe’s capital, in the Austrian countryside, and online. When young Jews are in danger, like the brave pro-democracy activists in Belarus, or when Israel is being unfairly targeted, we speak out. According to our core belief that Jewish Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Jewish Rights, we stood up forcefully against racism and potential genocide, showing solidarity with our allies in the Black, Uyghur, Roma, Kurdish and Yazidi communities. We ensured that the UN Human Rights Council and key decision-makers in the European Institutions would not ignore the interests of young Jews.
Very often, when we talk about Jews and Jewish Life – especially in Europe – we only talk about our challenges. We speak about the horrors of the past and about the everlasting hate our people are facing on a daily basis. These are very important topics, but they must never define who we really are. That is why we, as young people, need to shape the debate within and beyond our community. This is why EUJS has been the central organization fostering a positive foundation to European Jewish Identity for over 40 years. In December, we released a guide, endorsed by Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the European Commission, on which steps European Universities can take to best support their Jewish Students. Of course, it includes fighting antisemitism forcefully – but it goes beyond that. We need to make sure that when we talk about Judaism in our Schools and Universities, it is not just done in classes on history and on religion, but also in art, literature, politics, or physics! We need to make sure that positive Jewish narratives become normalized in Europe!
The most important part of our work will always remain working with our Unions. That’s why we established a new position of Union outreach officer for the first time in our history. Seeing the incredible work young Jews all over Europe are doing every day, and being able to support them is so inspiring.
Of course, this last year has also been very challenging. Because of the Corona-Pandemic, 2020 is the first year in 37 years that Summer U, the largest gathering of young European Jews, is not taking place, denying hundreds the opportunity to celebrate their Jewish Identity in such a positive, collective setting. But this pandemic has also, once again, demonstrated the power of Jewish Student activism. After we launched the EUJS Community Challenge, it was young Jews who led their community’s response to the pandemic, delivering food, taking care of those most affected, and coming up with inspired (and inspiring) ways to continue fostering Jewish life.
Also, we at EUJS had to adapt. We started running online programming in early March, reaching 150.000 people in the process and regularly engaging key decision-makers to continue our advocacy while also trying to provide a sense of community. We tried new online seminars and united Jewish leaders via Zoom.
The next year will be full of challenges. But whether it is fostering a positive Jewish Identity, fighting the Far-right, combating BDS, ensuring that there´s kosher food on your campus, avoiding exams on Jewish holidays, finding a Jewish response to today’s big questions, such as climate change – but also, ensuring that Jewish Students have fun – EUJS, thanks to our friends and supporters will be at the forefront and will always be there for the 160.000 young Jews across Europe that we represent.