The Conspiracy

Student Leaders Move the Campus Conversation Beyond Israel

Jewish students are ready to talk about more than Israel. How do I know? I asked a room full of Jewish student leaders.

Earlier this month, Jewish activists from eight tri-state campuses gathered at NYU for the American Union of Jewish Students #CampusTentNYC Town Hall, a student-led effort to bring diverse young Jewish leaders under one tent, regardless of political or religious affiliations. The moderators – myself included  largely took a step back and let the conversation steer itself.

“How do I know? I asked a room full of Jewish student leaders.” | By Misha Vilenchuk

Many students shared a frustration about the lack of unity in campus Jewish life, pointing to fragmentation among Jewish groups and apathy outside of them. Overall, we agreed that New York lacks an organized, peer-led voice to address uniquely Jewish issues on campus.

As a Mexican Jew of Mizrahi Syrian descent studying in the United States, I resonated with their passion. I have watched the peer-led activism of my Jewish friends abroad – among them the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS), European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS), and the Mexican Union of Jewish Students (FeMeJJ)  become a force on Jewish issues in their countries and wondered why New York, or more broadly, the United States, lacked a unified Jewish student voice.

One student from City College hoped an independent Jewish student union could help her mobilize against anti-Semitism after finding a spray painted swastika on campus. A student from Rutgers University wanted to empower young Jews beyond Jewish campus spaces, strengthening Jewish student activism and interfaith dialogue under an independent voice and bridging the gap among New York and New Jersey-area schools. Students were excited for AMUJS to serve as a platform for cross-communal partnerships, both within and beyond our immediate Jewish communities.

I could feel students’ excitement vibrate through the room, ideas bouncing from one person to the next, transforming proposals into plans. I had never seen so many Jews in agreement; we were ready for a broader Jewish campus conversation. This small group of students promised to bring their friends and peers to the next AMUJS town hall to better represent the New York constituency, take on regional board positions, and offered to volunteer for our Jewish Students 4 Racial Justice initiative.

These students were already leaders that cared deeply about the Jewish community, but they still felt their voices were not sufficiently heard and their input was restricted to Israel activism. Ultimately, students came to our town hall  because they believe AMUJS can improve their Jewish communities as a cross-campus Jewish student coalition with a vision as diverse as its students. They did not want to upend existing campus structures but rather strengthen them through an independent Jewish student voice that works alongside organizations like Hillel and Chabad.

As a student activist at New York University, I have felt the same way for a long time. Centering campus conversation on Israel advocacy efforts has diminished our sense of commonality, and unfortunately, placed issues we care about beyond Israel on the back burner. Students have so much more to say, but few platforms to say it  and as chairperson of the AMUJS New York branch, I am excited and proud to help such a platform develop.

Adela Cojab is a student at New York University and is the New York chairperson of AMUJS, a peer-led movement promoting Jewish student activism across the U.S.

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