The World Union of Jewish Students has always been the laboratory for training the brightest and the best in the Jewish world. Founded in 1924 to combat the anti-Jewish quotas in European Universities, WUJS has moved from high profile political campaigns to focus more on student welfare in the diaspora and combating the delegitimization of Israel on college campuses. Last night in Jerusalem a small, but still active group of its alumni met to discuss their past campaigns, their current endeavors and how they can help move WUJS into the future.
Having founded the organization in central Europe in the 1920’s, WUJS first Chairperson, Zvi Hersch Lauterpacht, stood aside so as to allow Albert Einstein, who was far more high profile, to lead the Union. Following the disaster of World War Two and the Holocaust WUJS found its feet once again under Manfred Gerstenfeld (a decade long chair of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs) in the early 1960s.
With David Makovsky (now at the Washington Institute) and Yossi Abramowitz (now of Better Place fame) the Union broke new ground in social activism, Jewish leadership and action to assists members still stuck behind the Iron Curtain. Following his release from the Gulags and his immediate aliyah Natan Sharansky chose is first public appearance to be at WUJS Congress, thanking the students for their efforts in keeping his name in public profile and the pressure on the Soviet authorities.
As world Jewry’s attention turned away from integrating the Russian aliyah into Israeli society money started to slowly bleed away from key Zionist organizations. Those international Jewish communities that were still large and active enough to understand that aliyah was not going to deplete their numbers in any serious fashion began investing in local projects, thus reducing WUJS core budget from the late 1990s and into the horrific period that was the second intifada.
With former chairs still active, some in high positions, in politics and the Jewish non-profit world WUJS is now trying to make a more solid and institutionalized relationship with its alumni. Attending the event last night both Tamar Shchory, number two on the Labor Parties Tel Aviv Municipal Election List, and Benjamin Rutland, former Spokesperson to the IDF and Jewish Agency, offered to assist the new WUJS team in moving their projects forward and implementing their goals.
The next meeting of the alumni is scheduled to be during the WUJS Congress that will be held from December 29th to January 2nd. Details will be advertised closer to the date but those who are interested in joining our mailing list can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. WUJS is particularly keen to be in touch with former Chairpersons, Directors and Executive Members of the Unions.