Beyond Israel: Moving Conversation on American Campuses

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

Last Thursday, Jewish activists from eight tri-state campuses gathered at NYU for the American Union of Jewish Students (AMUJS, the peer-led movement promoting Jewish activism across the US) #CampusTentNYC Townhall, a successful 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.

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 antisemitism after finding a spray painted swastika on campus. A student from Rutgers University wanted to empower young Jews beyond Jewish campus spaces by 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 that 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 Townhall 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 care 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 Townhall  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 non-Israel related issues on the backburner. 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.

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Adela Cojab is a student activist at New York University, The American Union of Jewish Students (AMUJS) is the peer-led movement promoting Jewish activism across the US.

About the Author
Adela is a student at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study concentrating on the Middle East. She is the Chairperson of the New York branch of The American Union of Jewish Students and President of Realize Israel, downtown Manhattan's award-winning pro-Israel organization. Adela is a Syrian Jew born in Mexico City, Mexico, and raised in Deal, New Jersey.
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