New York, New York: peer leadership at the World Jewish Congress

'Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity for speaking today. My name is Josh Seitler and I am the elected president of the Union of Jewish Students of the UK and Ireland and an Executive Member of the World Union of Jewish Students. I stand here in front of you representing the 8,500 Jewish students across 64 university campuses in the UK.

I would like to open by echoing the sentiment from yesterday’s plenary session regarding the difficulties that Jewish students face on campuses worldwide and I want to make special reference to online abuse and hate that we are seeing against Jewish students across social media. We are definitely seeing a similar trend to that mentioned by Moshe Kantar and the research that the Kantar Center in Tel Aviv recently released and it is a problem that needs to be addressed.

However, today I want to recognise the incredible work that comes out of our universities; grassroots initiatives that fight antisemitism, promote Israel, improve interfaith relationships and projects that educate non-Jewish students about Judaism.

Off hand I would like to give one example from the London School of Economics. Jewish students created Antisemitism Awareness Week as an initiative that engaged hundreds of fellow students and teaching them about dangers of misinformation, racism and prejudice. This project was entirely student- run from beginning to end and illustrates the power of peer-led student programmes.

I would also like to raise an issue that is often ignored. In the UK we have 64 elected Jewish society presidents and hundreds that sit on J-Soc committees. They give up their own time to fight on behalf of Jewish students and this is true across the world. The World Union of Jewish Students is full of member unions who are peer- led, run by students for students, a distinctly unique model (Compared to Hillel) and I want to highlight this.

These Jewish students face problems on a daily basis and we should be giving them as much opportunity as possible to speak out on these issues. We should not be telling students what we think they need but listening and giving them what they actually need.

This is why we should be supporting this motion and empowering peer-led Jewish student organisations such as WUJS and maybe we could actually learn a thing or two from our incredible young leaders.'

Josh Seitler, UJS President, speaking in favour of a motion that proposed to 'Support the Worldwide Jewish Student Movement', at the Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress in New York in April 2017. Josh attended as part of a delegation from the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

 

As I near the end of my time at UJS, I am used to being one of the youngest around the table and I am so proud to be able to represent the Jewish Students in the UK and Ireland. At the World Jewish Congress (WJC) Plenary 2017 I was, once again, one of the youngest - but at least I had some fellow Jewish student leaders for company (right.) Sometimes it’s not easy to teach older people lessons; they can be reluctant to listen and prefer to do things ‘the old-fashioned way’, but at this conference we took the opportunity to change that.

I used the WJC as the chance to raise an issue that I think is so important: recognising the essential need for peer-led movements. I spoke about the incredible things that Jewish students do in the UK and worldwide, not because I want to show off, but because these young people deserve some credit for the work they do. I know I’m lucky, I get all the perks of working at UJS, like jetting off to NYC for 2 days but my work pales to insignificance when you pit it up against the immense projects and initiatives that Jewish students undertake themselves, alongside their study, across the UK and beyond. Leaders of world Jewry are so often talking about the difficulties that Jewish students face on campuses, but they rarely talk about the unbelievable projects that they are pioneering on a daily basis.

Leadership is not easy. It means getting up and actually putting effort in to making things happen and doing that whilst juggling study and a social life is no easy feat. I truly believe that the global Jewish community has a lot to learn from the way Jewish students tackle the challenges they face and that is why I took the opportunity to speak in New York.

Jewish students continue to lead the fields of interfaith, anti-racism and social action across the UK. This is something that we should continuously recognise. I believe that if people want to challenge the problems on campus then the first port of call must be the students on those campuses themselves. There is no use in trying to use out-of-date experiences to tackle complex and diverse difficulties; rather, we should be relying on the expertise of our thousands of committed students. I am so proud to be able to represent such an incredible group of people and it’s impossible to give an accurate representation of all they do, but they are a real example to the rest of the Jewish world about how to tackle complicated problems and in some cases, actually change discourse that has been engrained in centuries of prejudice.

As I near the end of my time as UJS President, I am proud to have been able to speak in favour of this motion, doing my part to change perceptions of Jewish students and hopefully, leaving a positive impression of you all behind me

Josh Seitler

UJS President 2016-17

About UJS

We are the voice of over 8,500 Jewish students, spanning 60 Jewish Societies (J-Socs) on campuses across the UK and Ireland. We are traditional, progressive, cultural and spiritual; we come from the left, centre and right and can be found across religious and political spectrums.

Together we create and deliver powerful campaigns; fighting prejudice, advancing inclusion, and inspiring education and action on the issues that matter to us. 

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