The perceived linkage between Judaism and Zionism can be a turn-off for some
students, believes Chaya Esther Pomeranz, newly elected chair of the World Union
of Jewish Students.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Pomeranz
said that despite having been raised as a religious Jew in Israel, where Zionism
and Judaism are “one and the same,” such cannot be said for many of today’s
Jewish students on campuses worldwide.
“I’m not saying that this is an
ideal situation, but there are Jewish students whose Jewish identity is
important to them but they are not necessarily in line with the Israeli
government’s policy, which is perceived as globally, to the uneducated eye, the
Zionistic cause,” Pomeranz said.
While WUJS is a Zionist organization,
she said, “we have to allow these students to formulate their own
We try to educate students and take these two values
and try to incorporate them into one. But it’s a decision that they make..and we
have to assist them in that choice.”
While many in Israeli believe that
an attack on Zionism is by definition anti-Semitic, Pomeranz disagrees. There is
a difference between “fighting [for] Jewish issues and when it is that [our
members] are fighting for Zionism,” she says. “It’s the same thing when the line
is blurred between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.”
affiliates, WUJS represents students in Israel, Australasia, South Africa, South
America and Europe.
The organization does not have much of a presence in
North America, where Hillel has filled the same campus niche.
part of the organization’s efforts today are focused on building partnerships
with various groups to strengthen the impact of Jewish activism on campus,
“We try to form coalitions on campus with the LGBT
community or with woman empowerment organizations that are popping up right now
on all these different campuses,” she explained.
In South Africa, WUJS’
local affiliate has made an end-run around campus Muslim groups and formed a new
organization comprising Muslim and Jewish students.
WUJS’ focus varies by
country, although the issue of boycotts against Israel looms large in most
places, Pomeranz said.
“Today, we are looking at BDS [Boycott, Divestment
and Sanctions] as a central problem that we’re facing pretty much
That’s something that consensus-wise is an issue in Europe,
where students don’t actually live on campus, to Australia, Chile, pretty much
everywhere,” Pomeranz said.
“Today we also have issues like Jewish
identity, mainly in the Former Soviet Union, where BDS is less of an
You have issues of anti-Semitism, primarily in Hungary and Sweden,
it’s a very big challenge that we’re dealing with in France. In the UK, BDS is
the largest issue.”
Among all of the issues facing Jewish students on
campus, Pomeranz said, the biggest challenge is cultivating the next generation
of leaders, a “perennial challenge,” in her words. While there are Jews
attending various forums and functions, they go as individuals and not
necessarily as Jews.
When attending such events, she said, she knows
“that there were other Jewish students there, but they weren’t standing up as
“We want to empower our students to take on these Jewish values of
tikun olam [fixing the world], or lagoyim [‘A light unto the nations’]... that
have kept us alive all these years.”
Allie Shafran contributed to this
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