Action Every Day – My First Year as EUJS President

One year ago, today was one of the most important days of my life so far – I was elected President of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS). Today is the halfway point of my term – and what a ride it has been so far!

Becoming EUJS President changes your life drastically. Within two weeks of my election, I moved to Brussels, without being able to prepare anything in advance, leaving me crashing on couches for almost a month. Without having any time to think about it, I went from being a university student to running an NGO. But actually I’m incredibly fortunate – because working for EUJS and representing the 160.000 young Jews between 18 and 35 across 36 European countries is the most fulfilling task I have been doing so far.

In an ever-changing world where very little is certain, we as young Jews have no other choice than being outspoken. One of my main campaign promises was to make EUJS even more activist and loud against discrimination and injustice. In the last year, we have demonstrated against antisemites and for the interests of young Jews in Europe’s capital, the Austrian countryside, and online. When young Jews are in danger, we try to speak out. Right now, we are raising awareness about the brave young Jews protesting for democracy in Belarus. 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 community. 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, 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 in history and religion classes but also in art, literature, politics, or physics! We need to make sure that positive Jewish narratives become normalized in Europe!

Out of the over 30 trips I took in the first half-year of my EUJS Presidency – I obviously took zero visits in the second half of the year – the 12 Unions I could already visit in person, and the conversations with Union Leaders from 36 countries were by far the most fulfilling experience. Because at the core of EUJS is supporting our member Unions, we established a Union Outreach Officer in the Office for the first time in our history. Seeing the incredible work young Jews are doing all over Europe is so inspiring and enabled me to learn so much. I know that the people representing the future of Jewish life in Europe don’t get enough appreciation, so I want to thank each and every one of you who is active in the Jewish Student World. We need you.

Of course, the last year has also been very challenging. Today is not only the anniversary of my election but also the day when Summer U 2020 – the largest gathering of young European Jews – was supposed to start. Because of the Corona-Pandemic 2020 is the first year in 37 years that Summer U is not taking place, denying hundreds the opportunity to celebrate their Jewish Identity. 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 lead their community’s response to the pandemic, delivering food, taking care of those most affected, and coming up with ingenious ways to continue fostering Jewish life.

Also, we at EUJS had to adapt. We started running online programming in early march, having reached 150.000 people so far 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. But giving speeches to just a webcam will always be weird.

The best part are the great people I get to work with. I have a super-engaged Board of Vice Presidents – volunteers from all over the continent – who think and breathe EUJS every day. And I especially have the best office team, led by Executive Director Mila Stojanovic, which managed to adapt as quickly as anyone to the new challenging circumstances and remaining united while physically distant.

We live in challenging times. Antisemitism and racism arent just a notion of the past. Liberal Democracy is under threat all over Europe. The pandemic and the incoming economic crisis accelerates all these trends. And yes, also here it is the responsibility of our generation to do something.

I have a big request to each and every single one of you: If you aren’t already, get active in your local Union, get active with EUJS. Whether you care about Jewish Identity, fighting the Far-right, combatting BDS, ensuring that there´s kosher food on your campus, avoiding exams on Jewish holidays, finding a Jewish response to today’s big questions of humanity, such as climate change – but also, ensuring that Jewish Student has fun – there’s space for each and every one of you. We need each and every one of you! Together we can transform the future of our communities, our campuses, and our continent.

There’s much work to do – I can’t wait for next year!

About the Author
Bini Guttmann, from Vienna, Austria, is the President of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS), the umbrella organization representing more than 160.000 young Jews between 18 and 35 in 36 countries.
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